After hearing Elon Musk’s views on climate change a few days ago, which were surprisingly moderate and similar to my views, I started to wonder if there is a path to improve climate policy that Republicans and Democrats could agree on, a sort of Goldilocks climate policy .
Recent Pew polling shows that 69% of Americans (there is that number again), including 90% of Democrats and 44% of Republicans, favor the US taking steps to become carbon neutral by 2050. But getting something through Congress would be difficult, since although almost half of Republicans support it, the polling doesn’t measure the intensity of the support.
As a member of the conservative echo chamber, I can tell you that the half of Republicans that support any action are quiet and the half that oppose action on the climate are vocal and loud, so those that support action are afraid to voice their support because They will be labeled a liberal, which is a severe insult in these circles. This is a bit similar to gun control/gun rights. You will see polls saying 90% of people favor “common sense” gun control, but it is very difficult to pass anything. With the narrowest of all possible majorities in Congress, which they have a 90% chance of losing in 6 months, any policies need to be pretty moderate to have any chance of passing.
3 Views On Climate
Looking at the Pew polling in combination with my own discussions with both Republicans and Democrats, I’ve found 3 fairly distinct views on climate.
- Straight-up climate denial: This is mostly conservative Republicans, which are a powerful force in the Republican party. It may only be a third or so of the party, but they vote in the primaries, so politicians have learned to never ignore them. This group has several reasons to oppose action. About half of this group doesn’t believe that humans contribute much to climate change. They just think the warming is natural variation. Then there is another group that thinks we are making it warmer, but that is a good thing (because it extends the growing season in higher latitudes). There is some truth to this, but that is more than balanced by the harm to other regions. But this group also believes (in no doubt because of all the oil-funded propaganda) that climate policies wouldn’t even help the environment. This group loves to publicize the predictions from climate alarmists from 40 years ago that have failed to happen. The more radical believe that the US would follow any international agreements, but that other countries wouldn’t and that would give them a competitive advantage over us in manufacturing goods. This group opposes all efforts to mitigate change by limiting carbon, but would be ok with some spending on it adapting to the change as happens.
- Climate change realists believe that climate change is real, caused by humans, and the effects on the planet are negative. They support becoming carbon neutral by 2050 to mitigate climate change and also to spend money on things like seawalls to adapt to a changed climate. This group includes many Republicans and independent voters and many Democrats too. I would put Elon Musk and myself in this camp. I also see Florida’s controversial Governor Ron DeSantis in this camp. He recently vetoed a utility backed bill that would have reduced the net metering payments made to homeowners that install solar on their roofs. As solar grows in every state, it does become harder and harder to justify that utilities are responsible for paying FULL RETAIL PRICE for every kWh that a homeowner wants to produce. The duck curve means every state, even very environmentally friendly California, will have to consider reducing net metering payments as more solar is installed.
- Climate change alarmists believe that climate change is the most important issue and we need to reduce carbon emissions as fast as we can, even if doing so has a negative effect on the economy. This group is a small but vocal minority of the Democratic party. It is small, but they vote in the primaries, and like the mirror image of the extreme Republicans, they shame those they feel are moving too slowly. A majority of Democrats believe that climate change policies will be good for the economy. They see all the new green jobs, but forget that a similar amount of dirty jobs are disrupted. This group is all-in on preventing climate change and doesn’t want to talk about adapting to it. This group mentions 2030 a lot. I think 2030 is a realistic goal for getting new cars and new power plants to be green, but getting the old cars, trucks, and power plants shut down will take some time.
Goldilocks & Climate Change
To appeal to conservatives and moderates, climate policy needs to be like Goldilocks, not too hard and not too soft. Concepts that might meet that middle ground are:
- Reducing burdensome regulation that is slowing the installation of solar and wind
- Updating electricity regulation that favors utilities over individuals producing distributed energy
- Updating state laws that favor dealers over consumers that hurt automakers trying to go direct to consumers
Tony Seba thinks we can move to clean energy by 2030. Interestingly, he thinks the economics are so positive, he doesn’t worry too much about government action.
If you believe what Tony Seba is saying, we don’t need any tax credits or mandates to force utilities to convert to solar and wind, it will happen over the next few years just based on costs. I do believe in countering the Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt that some conservatives continue to enjoy sharing. But just like traditional automakers were blind to the advantages of electric vehicles until Tesla showed them the way, it does seem like many utility executives are slow to embrace change.
For example, we didn’t have to pass a law in the US to get a majority of people to turn in their flip phones for a smart phone. The products sold themselves without any push from the government. I think it is likely that electric vehicles will do that in the US before we get any help from the government. Electricity generation isn’t going to change overnight. It isn’t as easy to convert as electric vehicles are, where you can trade in your Honda Accord for a Tesla Model 3 and go from 100% fossil fueled to 100% electric in one day. For homeowners, installing solar is a good solution, but for many that don’t live in a place where they own the roof, they are dependent on either community solar or waiting for their utility to use more renewables. Unfortunately, every utility-based solar program I’ve reviewed has increased cost rather than reduced costs. Why should we pay more for the lowest cost source of energy? Because giving the local utility monopoly powers encourages them to think of solar as a premium product for rich environmentalists, not a product that could cut the costs for everyone.
I think we need to celebrate our wins, fight misinformation, work with those across the aisle to pass any pro environmental policy we can (even if you have to accept some things you don’t like to get it), and most importantly, prepare for the disruption of the entire economy that is coming. This clean tech disruption will happen with or without any government action and it will provide us all with much cleaner and cheaper power and transportation. Neither the oil industry or their corrupt representatives in government can stop it (even if they can slow it down somewhat). Prepare yourself for the future and do what you can to make it happen sooner for you and your family.
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