It will, however, require a national commitment similar to that of the creation of the interstate highway system in the 1950s and a display of moral courage similar to the abolition of slavery in Great Britain in the 1830s, which he believes hastened the Industrial Revolution.
It will also result in a better democracy and a purer free market economy, he explained.
"In a true free market economy, you get rational behavior, and rational behavior is efficiency, and efficiency is the elimination of waste. Pollution is waste," said Kennedy.
One reason that a carbon-based economy is so expensive, he said, is that it does not internalize all of its production costs but passes those costs along to the consumers and citizens.
Kentucky, for example, is one of the richest states in America in natural resources., he said.
"Why do you have the poorest people?" he asked. Among the reasons, he said, are a denuded Appalachian landscape that will not attract investment, higher health care costs due to pollution and political corruption that squanders taxpayers' money to benefit big coal companies.
On the other hand, countries that have "decarbonized" their energy production, such as Iceland, Sweden, Costa Rica and Brazil have experienced strong economic growth in a short amount of time.
Kennedy is on the boards of directors of several green technology companies, and one of them, he said, is building a solar energy plant — "a mirror farm in the desert."
"We're building it for about what it would cost to build a coal plant. … But once you build it, the energy is free forever. Once you build a coal plant … the big costs are just beginning, because now you've got to cut down the Appalachian Mountains."
Kennedy railed against mountaintop removal mining in Kentucky and West Virginia, and recalled that when he visited the region as a boy with his father, the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, D-N.Y., he was told that strip mining was a moral issue because not only was it destroying the environment, but it was impoverishing the people, in part by "breaking the unions" and taking away jobs in traditional mining. Since the 1960s, the problem has only gotten worse.
In addition to solar plants, geothermal energy, wind farms in the Great Plains states and other green energy sources could provide all the power the United States needs and more, he said, but the problem is moving it from one part of the country to another.
In contrast to Western Europe and parts of Canada, the United States does not have the infrastructure for long-range transmission of electricity.
"We need to rebuild the grid," he said.
Energy policy also needs to change so that homeowners cannot only produce their own energy, but distribute it, he said.
He noted that at his home in New York, he uses solar panels that produce far more energy than the home uses, and he thinks he ought to be able to sell the excess back at market rates.
He said that in California, economic growth has increased 96 percent since 1980, but there has been no increase in energy use because the policy now is to reward utilities and consumers for saving energy, not for producing more.
"This is not a radical concept," he said.
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