It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. Charles Darwin

WASHINGTON-Two studies, two very different mindsets: Which will successfully lead U.S. manufacturing into the future?

First, let’s look at a recent study of the proposed Lieberman-Warner climate-change bill, as commissioned by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and the American Council for Capital Formation (ACCF). In the words of NAM President John Engler, the study, conducted by the defense contractor Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC, San Diego), provides policymakers and the public with “a better understanding of the costs of such public policies.” But it looks more like a snow job to me.

According to the study, the Lieberman-Warner bill-which aims to lower greenhouse gas emissions 63 percent below their 2005 levels by 2050-would cut GDP by up to $210 billion in 2020. It would result in the loss of up to 1.8 million jobs by 2020 and 3 million to 4 million jobs by 2030. By 2030, the legislation would cost every household in America as much as $6,752 in lost income-every year.

Come on!

Never mind that the ACCF has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from ExxonMobil over the past decade, these numbers are just plain silly. And, if you don’t believe me, just ask the folks at the 40-year-old Environmental Defense Fund (EDF, New York), a group dedicated to using “strong science” in partnership with business and government to find pragmatic solutions to environmental problems. (The group does not take corporate donations, but does include Deere & Co., Eaton Corp., FedEx and DuPont among its many corporate allies.)

According to EDF, the study “dramatically overstates the potential cost of reducing global warming pollution under the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act and ignores the severe economic impact of inaction.”

Specifically, EDF analysts say that while the basic SAIC model is sound, its conclusions are based on “input assumptions” that result in numbers that are far different from those arrived at by organizations like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA).

“Unfortunately, we’ve seen this sort of scare tactic every time Congress takes up a major environmental law,” says Steve Cochran, director of EDF’s National Climate Campaign. “The fact is, the dire predictions never come true…. Instead of rehashing wrong assumptions about climate policy, it would be much more productive for NAM and ACCF to take a hard look at what it will cost if we do nothing at all.”

I ask you, what is to be gained by muddying the waters? What is to be gained by scaring people? This isn’t about tree huggers. It isn’t about guys in suits or Hollywood starlets or Al Gore or ideology. It’s about being nimble and smart. It’s about assessing threats and opportunities in a cutthroat global economy. No matter what the NAM and ACCF may think about climate change, the fact is that the rest of the world is charging ahead and developing a wide range of new green technologies-think wind power in the UK and Europe, solar panels in Asia and fuel-efficient cars in India. Manufacturers in the United States run the serious risk of missing out on a huge new market if they don't do the same.

Contrast the attitude of the NAM and ACCF with study number two from the Brookings Institution titled "The Vital Connection: Reclaiming Great Lakes Economic Leadership in the Bi-National U.S.-Canadian region."

This study turns conventional wisdom on its head by saying that North America’s “Rust Belt” region, far from being an economic basketcase, still possesses tremendous potential-if the people who live there can only figure out how to wield the many tools already in their possession. This is a area, the study reminds us, that has an economy larger than that of Japan, China or any single country in Western Europe. It is an area that has more top-rated universities than any other in the world. It is an area that has the largest freshwater source on the planet lying right at its doorstep.

“There are many challenges facing the Great Lakes region…but as it rises to meet these challenges, it can leverage assets vital in today’s economy,” the report says. “The opportunity is real for the Great Lakes region to forge a new economic leadership position, and serve anew as a model for world economic and social innovation.”

How refreshing to hear a voice of optimism in a world that seems forever on the defensive. How nice to hear the voice of something other than economic doom!

Manufacturers have long sung the praises of the entrepreneurial spirit of this nation, of the courage it required to make the U.S. economy what it is today. Great! Let’s recapture that same spirit, rising to the challenges of today’s business climate the way our forebears did-as opposed to just stonewalling those things we don’t like because they are different. 

As President Harry S. Truman once said, “Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.”

Or to quote President John F. Kennedy: “Time and the world do not stand still. Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.”

What I’m talking about here isn’t change for change’s sake. It’s about dealing with reality. It's about change for business' sake. In today’s world, a refusal to adapt is tantamount to surrender. Only by moving forward and by being genuinely informed will U.S. manufacturing remain vital. Take some time to study the issues, as opposed to being swayed by the opinions of others-this editorial included! Test the waters and get a feel for what’s coming down the road. Then act, in a constructive manner, as opposed to just digging in your heals and hoping it will go away.