On a murky Saturday morning a couple of weekends ago, I took
15-year-old Calvin Nuttall to Palo Alto to tour a world-famous
university named after another adolescent boy. As the drab sky
dripped misty rain, we paused in front of the Victorian statue of
the Stanford family, a bronze sculpture located near their
mausoleum on Stanford University’s northwest corner.
On a murky Saturday morning a couple of weekends ago, I took 15-year-old Calvin Nuttall to Palo Alto to tour a world-famous university named after another adolescent boy. As the drab sky dripped misty rain, we paused in front of the Victorian statue of the Stanford family, a bronze sculpture located near their mausoleum on Stanford University’s northwest corner. The world-famous campus is named after Leland Stanford Jr, who died of typhoid in 1884 when he was a lad of 15.
The statue portrays California Gov. Leland Stanford Sr. standing next to his son, hand resting on the boy’s shoulder. Jane Stanford kneels on a cushion and gazes up at her son’s face. The boy holds a half-open scroll inscribed with the words: “Dedicated to science and the good of humanity.” His right hand points a stern finger down at Calvin. I was struck by the similarity between the Victorian-attired Leland Jr. and the modern teenage Calvin. Give Calvin a haircut and the two might have been brothers.
A little later, we took a walking excursion of the quad area of the campus, guided by a Stanford student. By the end of the tour, Calvin announced his ambitions to attend Stanford after he graduates from Morgan Hill’s Sobrato High School in three years.
After our Stanford trip, we drove a short distance into a Palo Alto neighborhood where we took another tour, this one sponsored by the Bay Area Climate Collaborative of a zero-net energy house on Stanford Avenue. The home was designed and renovated to have a soft impact on the environment in the use of its water and energy consumption. We also inspected the electric cars parked in the home’s driveway, the vehicles on display provided by the EV-advocacy group Plug In America. Calvin took the opportunity to sit in the front passenger seat of the ultra-cool Chevy Volt.
Strolling back to my Ford Fusion Hybrid, I said, “You live in an exciting time. Everything’s changing. There’ll be a lot of opportunity for your future with the clean energy revolution.”
“I know,” Calvin agreed.
“But you also live in dangerous times,” I added. “With the climate crisis and the peaking of oil, your generation faces a hell of a lot of challenges.”
Calvin said nothing.
Exciting and dangerous times always come with opportunity. If America’s leaders could step up and take action and unite us all behind a dynamic goal for our nation to become a clean energy nation, we can in the coming years create a stronger, smarter and more secure America. We and Calvin’s generation will reap the tremendous benefits of greater national security when we’re no longer addicted to foreign oil – especially crude from countries whose dictators hate us. We and Calvin’s generation will reap the prosperity of a clean energy economy that will generate millions of jobs for Americans and a higher quality of life. We and Calvin’s generation will reap the benefits that will come when we protect our planet from toxic fossil fuel pollutants.
And just like it took wealth for Leland and Jane Stanford to build the prestigious university named after their son, it will take dollars to rebuild the United States into a clean energy nation. Perhaps the best way to do this is with a “fee and dividend” approach – or as I like to call it, “a freedom fee and democracy dividend” investment strategy.
Former Secretary of State George Schultz, who worked in President Reagan’s administration and now lives on the Stanford campus, recently started promoting the idea of a revenue-neutral fee on hydrocarbon energy. This tariff on fossil fuels would even the economic playing field so that sustainable energy resources such as solar, wind and geothermal can compete in a free and fair market against coal, oil, and natural gas. One hundred percent of the proceeds would return to American households to protect citizens from rising fuel costs as our nation transitions to alternative energy industries and energy efficient technologies that create jobs and wealth.
As always, when Americans endeavor to upgrade its freedoms, some people who will resist, driven by the all too human fear of change. But, as always happens when Americans strive for a heroic transformation, we will gain greater independence, peace and prosperity when we free our nation from the tyranny of fossil fuels.
As Calvin and I drove home through the rain that Saturday, I thought about our visit to the Stanford family’s statue. I’m sure the spirits of those three people, whose family name now graces a distinguished university, might wish to tell us: For the sake of your children and their future, dedicate your science – and your energy – to the good of humanity.