The finite fossil fuel resources of earth, the environmental harms of oil spills, fracking and carbon emissions, the benefits to consumers and technological innovation of cheap and infinite energy – any one of these should be a good enough reason to encourage the cornucopia of budding energy technologies. And yet the green energy industry has found itself the target of conservative ire and ridicule in the media. An essentially non-partisan issue has divided evenly along partisan battle lines, as if any issue that can be phrased “either A or B” can equally well be phrased “either Democrat or Republican.” In fact, if one wanted to make the most mundane issue into a national debate, simply make it part of the platform of one of the major parties. One can imagine if the Democrats came out in favor of the tides, the Republicans would call into question big gravity regulating the moon.
But conservatives aren’t simply denying that renewable energy is a necessity considering earth’s finite fossil fuel resources or climate change and environmental issues; they are going much further and actively working against these technologies. They have made it a fundamental goal of their media platform to discredit green technologies, reveling at every failure of green energy. This isn’t mere indifference or disagreement over the sometimes superfluous good advocates of green energy claim, rather, it is seeking to strengthen industrial revolution era energies and weaken those that would ease burdens on consumers and the environment.
Last year, Gov. Scott Walker ruffled the feathers of whatever birds had not been killed by wind turbines by weakening several sustainable energy initiatives. As Walker was, for example, increasing restrictions on the building of wind turbines, he was simultaneously loosening restrictions in the environmental review process on coal mining. Contrary to any free market principles or honest consistency, the decision can only be understood in the context of the political atmosphere, not the one in which humans live. By discrediting green technologies that have become such a fundamental part of the Democratic economic and environmental platform, conservatives are seeking to discredit the Democrats. This line of political thinking is subject neutral; it behooves the opposition to oppose everything, whether or not it should be contested on moral, utilitarian or policy grounds.
Yet even if we ignore Walker’s actions that put more regulations on green energy and granted the republicans a free-market free pass – that is, supposing that they think the question of renewable energy should be left in the invisible hands of the market – there is a strong case to be made for public subsidy. No revolution in infrastructure has ever happened in the U.S. without the help of the taxpayers. The railroads reaped what amounts to billions of dollars in land grants and subsidies from the federal Pacific Railroad Acts. The automobile as a replacement for rail was only made viable by billions of dollars in highway and road construction, undertaken by both state and federal governments. A similar investment is needed to produce the inconceivable innovation a new technology like this could produce, and Republicans should be able to get behind it. But instead they continue to bicker and complain, hoping to score a few political points. Posterity? As that great queen said, let them eat cake.
Although conservatives are the main culprits, President Barack Obama and his ilk are not blameless in this process. By proffering green technologies as a panacea for the ailing economy they were opening the industry up to criticisms it didn’t deserve. Benefits were still years away, and when they failed to materialize immediately, those seeking to score political advantages went on the offensive. Even now, liberals continue to make the same mistake. A few weeks ago, the university hosted a panel discussion on the green economy, which emphasized the green energy industry was necessary to bringing the country out of recession and creating jobs.
While recovery policies that incorporate the green industry are certainly more propitious than those without, they are once more promising things the industry can’t really deliver to those suffering through the recession, namely jobs, in a timely manner. Beyond the simple Keynesianism that any government money spent is good for an economy in recession, the prospect of getting significant job returns from the renewable energy industry in the short run seems grim. The refrain from the left should be that renewable energy is invaluable irrespective of the state of the economy. If it happens to ease the economic burden for some, so much the better.
Vincent Dumas ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in history and philosophy and minoring in computer science.