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Can the Market Alone Lead the Way to a More Sustainable Future? (worksheet)

President Obama and Vice President Biden speak with Blake Jones, CEO of Namaste Solar Electric, Inc., while looking at solar panels. Denver, Colorado, 2009. CREDIT: Pete Souza, White House (CC)

Renewable energy is becoming more popular in the United States thanks to new construction and lower costs. According to the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, total electricity generation in the country from renewable sources doubled from 2008 to 2017, from 9 percent of total generation to 18 percent. Meanwhile, coal as an energy resource for electricity generation dropped from 48 percent in 2008 to 30 percent in 2017.

The attached worksheet has students analyze an excerpt from a talk given by Steven Cohen, executive director of Columbia University's The Earth Institute, and his argument about the free market's push towards renewable energy. The activity is meant for students to think about the role of the free market versus the government when it comes to energy policy. Is it simple economics that is pushing the country in the direction of renewables? Are there winners and losers in the move towards green energy? If so, is it the government's responsibility to take care of those who have lost jobs and businesses? How should the government go about helping these people?