Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Affordable Energy

I was saying in the run up to Election 2004 that if gas prices around Pittsburgh were at $2.00 a gallon on November 2nd, John Kerry would win. They were around $1.89.

I continue to think that one of the keys to persuasion in the energy policy / climate crisis debate is to thematize affordable energy for consumers. The root of the climate crisis is consumption of fossil fuels--and opening up the door for an effective climate policy necessitates a shift in the current patterns of this consumption. An "Apollo Project"-type approach is needed to massively ramp up alternative fuel sources. A basis for this shift exists: oil and natural gas have seen massive price spikes over the past year or so. If Kerry had emphasized the necessity of affordable energy, I believe he might have won. In my estimation, I think that he 1) noted the high energy prices too rarely and 2) subsequently railed against drilling in ANWR or Bush's energy bill. What he didn't do is put forward much of a positive plan--or frame, as Lakoff might say--for what he believed in.

I don't mean to be too Kerry-centric here. But, since he's the going punching bag for what went wrong in 2004, well...there are lessons to be learned. Interestingly, there is a new report out by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund that outlines the benefits of a robust plan to research and develop alternative energy. They suggest mandating a federal Renewable Portfolio Standard which would require all electricity generators to obtain 20% of their energy from renewables as well as shifting the subsidies that the fossil fuel industry currently secures towards renewables research and development.

Here's what I would like someone focused on climate change to talk about:

--Affordable energy should be a governmental priority. Middle and working class people--not to mention seniors--are squeezed the hardest by high energy bills. This is the big, positive vision. The supplemental material supporting this core value ranks a little lower; as a catch phrase, though, "affordable energy" ought to be prominent in communicating ideas. Put alternatively, the current energy mix that relies on fossil fuels costs consumers money (consumers would save almost $30 billion a year under the PIRG plan).

--Making energy affordable again is part of bringing America into the 21st century. Using technologies developed in the 19th century is no way to provide economic security for the 21st century. In addition to emphasizing affordable energy, advocates must emphasize that an investment in renewable energy is an investment in new, well-paying jobs: the PIRG study suggests such a program would create hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

--More affordable energy is an achievable goal--if governmental priorities were better. A shift in subsidies would activate America's "can-do" spirit of innovation and problem-solving. However, this approach means not letting the fossil fuel lobby write energy legislation. This means not providing subsidies amounting to $20 billion per year to the coal, oil, and gas industries just because they have powerful lobbies in Washington. Advocates must remind the public that these industries are getting subsidies even as they are posting record profits.

--Emphasize the benefits of self-reliance vs. foreign reliance. This is the one argument that John Kerry made well and that was also received well. Localizing energy production in the United States will rebound positively to our economy, whereas foreign reliance sustains others' economies.

Those are some preliminary thoughts on how to make "affordable energy" a centerpiece of an argumentative strategy.



At 7:55 AM, Anonymous Carly said...

Speaking of high gas prices...they're estimated to reach $3.00 a gallon by the summer!


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