Sunday, January 06, 2008

Thoughts on the energy question at last night's debate - UPDATED

Watching the debates on Saturday night, I was especially interested in the Republican answers given to the question of $100 oil, and what to do about it. I’m focusing on the Republicans here in part because the Democratic candidates are loudly on the record as being pro-renewable energy, pro-climate change legislation etc, and in part because any far-reaching, paradigm-shifting new energy and climate policy will require significant Republican support (no matter which team wins the 2008 elections).

You can find the text of the entire debate here, the energy question is close to the bottom. I was struck by several things.

  • The focus on energy independence and energy security. Every candidate framed the argument in terms of energy independence, mostly in terms of national security. Moreover, every candidate (with the exception of Fred Thompson) spoke passionately and persuasively on these terms. John McCain was the only candidate to broach the topic of climate change, and no one else dared touch it. I’ve linked several times to reports focused on the national security implications of global warming and I wonder if the overlap between the two could be leveraged. If "saving the planet" doesn't work on some people, then maybe "protecting America" would. Second, for the renewable energy enthusiast, I think it also points to the value in reframing the debate when reaching out to different groups. Of course when doing so, one needs to first make sure that renewable fuels and power capacity is of a large-enough scale that it can actually make a significant dent in meeting our oil demand.
  • The multiple mentions of “solar”, “wind”, “fuel efficiency”. As an anecdotal statement of progress in these industries, would you have expected these technologies to feature as solutions in a question on oil four years ago at a Republican debate? Certainly I would expect mentions of clean coal, more oil refineries and drilling, natural gas exploration, etc. But this took me by surprise.
  • The focus on nuclear power. Looking at the debate transcript, almost every candidate emphasized the value of a nuclear solution. Perhaps it’s the easiest way to support climate change and alternative energy technologies without coming off as “too green”. A way of maintaining a certain political leaning if you will – “Sure I believe in climate change – but I’m a nuclear advocate, so I’m not an environmentalist or anything.” Just a thought that really needs further development.
  • The interest on broad, large-scale national programs. Practically every candidate spoke of the need for and value of a strategic, massive, long-term energy plan. While there may be some political cognitive dissonance for the small-government proponents, all candidates were in favor of significant increases in investment in new energy technologies.
While politics is politics and those running for office have a tendency to write checks they can’t actually cash, the tone, tenor and specificity of these answers were a strong positive to me, and, I believe, bode extremely well for the coming years.

UPDATE: you can find more perspectives here, here and here. (h/t Gristmill). I think the difference in perspective between these account and my own can in some part be explained by the fact that I've given up on winning over many climate change skeptics. At this stage, I'm not sure what other evidence can be brought to the table to convince them, and I'm not interested in waiting 10 years for even more concrete evidence. Contrarians and iconoclasts enjoy that title and typically stand firmer in their positions when pushed. It's how they became contrarians and iconoclasts in the first place. So for me, I'm focusing on reframing the debate to reach the end goal (reducing carbon emissions and "traditional" energy usage).

UPDATE II: thought this a relevant (if old) article germane to my thoughts above.

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