Environmentalists need to focus on issues, not political labels
Last week, I attended the NC Clean Tech Summit, and there was palpable excitement in the air. The overall mood of the gathering left me ever more convinced of what I wrote last week: Renewable energy and clean technology has arrived, and will inevitably become a growing—perhaps even predominant energy source for our economy.
What's perhaps more interesting than the onwards march of the technology, is the broadening nature of the conversation. Senior military leaders were at the summit, explaining that they pay $45 a gallon for gas on the front lines (once transportation logistics are factored in), and that a significant percentage of casualties can be directly attributed to food and water convoys. Our addiction to fossil fuels costs lives, and compromises mission, explained the generals. (That's just one reason why the navy has been so critical of climate deniers recently.)
In another sign of the broadening conversation, I heard several business people and clean energy entrepreneurs sounding fairly relaxed about tax credits and whether or not they will expire. Sure, most argued we still need some form of government support for an emerging industry in the short-term, especially while mature fossil fuel technologies remain subsidized so heavily—but in the medium- to long-term, they all argued, the industry can and must free itself from subsidies and compete on its own.
I share these points because something is increasingly evident to me: support for renewable energy transcends the traditional political divide, and reaches even beyond the typical conversation of whether one "believes" in the established climate science or not. (It goes without saying that "belief" in the established science is a somewhat silly conversation.) In fact, despite a continued perception that environmentalism is a "lefty" issue, from market-based competition to securing our national interests, renewable energy, clean tech and energy efficiency touch on several traditional conservative talking points too.
So next time you're seated next to your conservative uncle at the family celebration, take a deep breath before you start arguing about Al Gore or "climategate." You might find more common ground if you start talking about distributed renewable energy generation, challenging the (government protected) utility monopolies, or promoting local economic independence. There are signs that this type of common ground approach is already taking root. In Florida, for example, Tea Party conservatives are leading the push for a constitutional amendment that would allow residents to sell electricity solar electricity directly to their neighbors, instead of giving the utilities a cut. Similarly, here in North Carolina, the conservative John Locke Foundation has been working with renewable energy campaigners NC WARN to promote competition in the electricity markets.
All this is not to say that we can (or should) give in on correcting the record on climate science, or that bipartisanship and compromise should be an end in itself. And it certainly doesn't mean we shouldn't oppose political forces that stand in the way of a clean energy economy, or support those that are working harder to make it happen. But it does mean we left-leaning greens should keep an eye on our own prejudices, be critical of the Left's decidedly mixed record on energy and environment, and think hard before dismissing someone just because they are from a different "side" of the political spectrum.
Renewable energy is good for (almost) everyone. It stands to reason that you'll find a whole lot of people who support it.