For the last time: no, clean energy is not a substitute for climate change
- Friday, 28 January 2011
by David Roberts.
I was going to let this go after my last post , but it keeps coming up in email and on Twitter: “Obama talked about clean energy. Isn’t that the same as talking about climate change?” Add to that the characteristically smug posts from Innoventioneers congratulating themselves on winning the future, and it looks like I need to take one more run at this.
The basic argument I’m hearing is this: Climate change is controversial and divisive, whereas clean energy is popular. We can get to the same policy goal by taking a smoother political path. DOE Secretary Steven Chu sums it up when he says clean energy—unlike climate change—is a “nonpartisan issue.” That’s the basic pitch of the Innovationeers and it certainly seems to have influenced the administration.
The problem is, it’s wrong. Not only that, it’s pretty obviously wrong. So much so that with everyone repeating it I’m starting to feel like I’m in a Twilight Zone episode.
The fact is, if you put climate change aside, arguments in favor of government support for clean energy are fairly conventional liberal arguments, supported by liberals, mildly opposed by neoliberals, and passionately opposed by conservatives. The only way that well-worn partisan division can be transcended is through reference to climate change.
Let’s step back a minute. What is the justification for policies and public spending to boost the clean energy sector (putting climate aside)?
One answer is that there’s going to be a huge global market for clean energy in the 21st century, which will create lots and lots of jobs. If America wants to compete in that market and claim some of those jobs—i.e., “win” the clean energy “race”—it needs to act now to spur innovation and deployment. In doing so, it can bring down the