Democratic Dominance Or Strangling the "Energy Boom"? Obama's False Choice

CREDO.fracking/CC BY 2.0

Joel Kotkin likes to take a stab at environmentalism's sacred cows. In particular, he's made a lot of noise about the supposed demise of suburbia which he describes as "New Urbanist wishful thinking". Over at New Geography he is now taking on the supposed boom that is about to transform this country into an energy independent utopia, arguing that Obama must choose between decades of prosperity and Democratic political dominance, or strangling this "energy revolution" in its tracks:

Geography also may play a major role here. Outside of Colorado, the industrial Midwest and western Pennsylvania, where the shale boom is widely seen as boosting local economies, the vast majority of energy-producing states tilt strongly to the GOP. In contrast, Obama’s strongest support comes from green-oriented coastal residents whose familiarity with energy production starts and ends with turning on a light or switching on an Ipad.

Obama’s financial base—in contrast to that enjoyed by the Republicans—relies little on the energy industry. The president’s corporate support comes largely from the entertainment, media, and software industries. Many of Obama’s strongest business backers, particularly in Silicon Valley, have become entangled financially with “renewable energy” schemes, many of which can only survive with massive subsidies in the form of tax credits, loans, and surcharges on energy consumers.

Let's leave aside Kotkin's condescending and divisive vision of heartlanders who understand energy production and coastal residents who do not, and look at one simple flaw in Kotkin's argument—climate change.

Kotkin argues, rightly, that many environmentalists had previously supported natural gas as a transition fuel, and that natural gas can offer significant CO2 reductions over coal. But with a slew of studies showing lifecycle emissions from fracking are much worse than previously thought; an increased understanding that energy transitions are incredibly slow and we can't afford new fossil fuel infrastructure that will be operating for many decades to come; and a growing constituency of all political persuasions (including some of the biggest investors in the world) who are increasingly coming to realize that they are directly in harms way as our climate gets more unpredictable; and it immediately becomes clear that Kotkin's description of a choice between pleasing the President's base or unlocking an unprecedented era of prosperity and low emissions is not only over simplified, it's downright wrong.

There might indeed be huge short-term economic gains to be had from fossil fuel expansion. But they are false gains that would undermine the very thing our economy relies on for survival—a stable, habitable planetary climate. As Alex Steffen argued in our recent interview about cities that can save the planet, a lot of money is being spent trying to define what is and isn't possible. Let's not let appeals for short-term political and economic gain get in the way of seeing the true challenge, and opportunity, ahead of us. And that has to be a 100% transition away from fossil fuels as soon as possible. We can't afford anything less.

Tags: Activism | Barack Obama | Economics | Fracking | Renewable Energy | United States