With teams representing 206 nations assembled in Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Olympic games, some Americans are watching every second, entranced by the drama of human athletic competition and the venerated “Olympic spirit.” But even those who were not glued to a screen watching everything from fencing to gymnastics to water polo more than likely are stopping to check the front page of their newspaper to see the daily rundown of the medal count, because whatever else is true of Americans, we like being in the lead.
It is no different with international diplomacy and economic policy. The question of U.S. leadership is always at the front of our minds. Americans are proud of their country, believing it to be the best nation on earth. The question is never whether the United States can lead the world in myriad ways, but whether it should. And usually, the American spirit being what it is, anything less than the best is just not good enough.
Last November, 185 nations signed the Paris Agreement, which committed the nations of the world to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The United States committed to reductions by 26 to 28 percent by 2025 over 2005 emission levels. A key component to reaching this goal is the reinvention of the energy sector. The energy sector of our global economy has long been due for an overhaul. We need cleaner sources, an upgraded grid and new options for energy storage and carbon sequestration.
But is the United States a leader in this effort?
Given that the Clean Power Plan is on hold as the Supreme Court reviews it and congressional action is stymied, it would be tempting to believe that the United States is, in fact, lagging when it comes to transitioning to the 21st-century clean energy economy.
After all, Europe is embracing clean energy sources with gusto, and even the Chinese are implementing market-based emission reduction tactics like cap and trade systems. But the picture is more complicated than that.
Take a look at this infographic that shows the percentage of electric production from wind energy in 2014: