Clean Energy Is A Political Juggernaut - It Can Leave Wacky Environmentalists Behind

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TVA. February 18, 1936, Kansas City Star. Owner: Kansas City Star. Link: New Deal Network

It used to be that cleaner energy was something that environmental lobbyists pretended to care about, at least when it came to raising money. Greenpeace, NRDC, you name it, they all put some kind of "alternative" energy in their tool chest of ways to get their hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars in the bank.

Of course, they never actually built anything to help us get clean energy, just like they don't do any science and instead criticize those who know what they're talking about. Embracing whatever isn't shown to be viable and abandoning efforts that succeed, as they did with ethanol and natural gas after they got the uptake they insisted was needed, has been good business.

They have been the horse that pulls the cart of every alternative energy scheme that gets mainstream attention, but now alternative energy itself is so mainstream, thanks to $70 billion in subsidies in the U.S., that solar and wind are a political entity in their own right. For that reason energy companies are in the enviable position of being able to leave wacky anti-science groups behind and appeal to the rational segment of America.

America has shown a great deal of tolerance for higher prices if their values are appealed to - organic food, Mercedes AMGs, etc. - provided there are reasonable limits (California citizens would like to give back most of their green energy and water policies.) Given this new reality about the staying power of alternative energy, there is a hypothesis that it may be in the best interests of Americans on the political right to embrace it the same way they have natural gas. The reasons are simple, and practical. The practical reason is shown by taking a look at a state with a lot of solar power. You are likely to find a right wing governor running it and to go after alternative energy if you don't have it smacks of the kind of Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY-ism) thinking that environmentalists usually engage in. The simple reason is that if the discussion is energy, all energy is good energy, it is the great equalizer in giving people across the socio-economic strata a better life, and embracing the alternative kind would both help the poor and neuter the really wacky environmentalists exploiting fear and doubt about science and technology. As James Agee wrote about the new Tennessee Valley Authority for Fortune in 1933, The US government is in the power business [but] power, important though it is, is to be the mere spine of the whole living animal."

TVA meant cheap energy and within a generation the region around it had improved wealth, education and culture - because they spent less money on electricity, if they could have gotten it at all prior to that.

Conservatives want poor people to have cheap energy but no one is against cleaner energy and less pollution, studies have shown that climate change skeptics conserve energy as much as true believers, but the mantra for the right won't be alternative energy "at any cost" like it will be among urban elites on the left. Embracing all energy sources leaves partisan-funded foundations shrieking about global warming on the fringes, where they can continue doing nothing to help.

As David Roberts at Vox notes, progressives do not want conservatives to figure that out, so smart strategists on their side will try to make sure climate change and alternative energy are inextricably linked - in the minds of conservatives, who will have to be against the latter to combat suspect policy decisions regarding the former.

Conservatives already embrace one kind of emissions-free alternative energy: nuclear power. No less a darling of progressives than Dr. James Hansen, global warming's Moses, says that to-date nuclear power has prevented about 1.84 million air pollution-related deaths.

How the American left came to reject cheap energy for the poor has been well documented, but those on the right have not embraced their alternative legacy the way they could. Oil was once an alternative energy - in the 1850s the debate among the big government contingents was how much to tax alcohol so whale oil could stay viable.