SmartPower President Brian F. Keane has a great piece on Triple Pundit today, examining the fault lines in America’s energy policy and what we need to do to fix them. In short: sell energy to American consumers, just like McDonald’s or Coca Cola. Don’t legislate it to them.
A little over 30 years ago, then-President Jimmy Carter held a press conference on the roof of the White House. The subject: his new solar panels. It was 1979 and the environmental movement was gaining real steam. “Energy” and “conservation” had become cornerstones of the mainstream political debate. A sustainable future, fueled by clean energy, seemed like a reality.
Unfortunately, all it took to crush this momentum was the 1980 presidential election. Carter lost, and the rest is history. President Ronald Reagan wasted no time getting the panels off the White House roof, setting back the sustainability movement for decades to follow.
Now we’re at a similar crossroads – and we’re in danger of marginalizing clean energy and sustainability issues again. A casual observer might call me crazy. After all, anything tagged “green” and “sustainable” finds itself at the nexus of a trendy social movement, making these terms some of the most pervasive political and cultural buzzwords of our modern times. What’s more, our sitting president preaches his own form of the clean energy gospel, even taking an eerily familiar action: announcing plans for a solar installation at the White House.
I’m glad that sustainability is on President Obama’s mind. But he’s not doing anything different. In fact, he’s using the same playbook as Carter: energy is a symbolic political issue that we wield like a stick – not as a force of reason. Let us not forget that Obama is up for reelection in 2012. Even if he wins, no one’s crystal ball has much to say about 2016 and beyond. Who’s to say that, when the next Republican takes office – whether it’s sooner or later – that he or she won’t follow an alternate course of political symbolism?