Solyndra and Somalia

In the United States, energy policy, too, has become a hyper-partisan policy domain. If you’re a Republican, you love carbon-based fuels. If you’re a Democrat, you love wind turbines, solar panels, and biofuels. That, at least, is the caricature.

In late May, the Republican National Committee released a television advertisement that references the now-defunct solar energy company Solyndra. The company received a $500 million loan guarantee from the federal government and soon after went bankrupt. Is there a scandalous dimension to the Solyndra affair? Yes, it does seem as though there may have been improper political motivations in the loan approval.

The Republicans’ spotlight on Solyndra, however, is about more than possible political interference in bureaucratic workings. In highlighting the failure of an alternative energy company, this line of attack suggests that the time is still not right for alternative energy sources (other than nuclear power). But what about the party’s presidential nominee, Mitt Romney? On the candidate’s Web site, the message on energy policy is clear: what America particularly needs right now is more domestic production of oil and coal. Sadly, the “issues” menu on the site does not even have a category for the environment (or environmental issues), or climate change / global warming. The Massachusetts governor who once viewed climate change as a serious threat to the United States and the world is now deferring to the current consensus in his party.

Lest you think that this is an anti-Romney rant, let me insert a bit of personal context here. In fact, I am an undecided voter moving in the direction of the Romney-Ryan ticket. The Democrats are vulnerable on issues of fiscal responsibility, and unlike many voters, social issues like marriage and abortion matter to me as much as the economy.

Now, back to American energy policy and the title of this post. For different reasons, the Republican Party has walked away from the conservationist tradition of Theodore Roosevelt on climate change and energy policy. Instead of following the sensible position of party stalwarts like John McCain and John Warner – bolstered with the support of key business leaders – the party has basically embraced climate change denialism. Yes, the fossil fuel lobby is well-financed and powerful. But, the more important factor is grassroots opposition to climate change action.

This inaction is deeply unfortunate. Instead of a bipartisan politics of vision and action – which we could have – we have a country deeply divided on energy issues. The consequences of climate change are already apparent here in North America. Abroad, the effects of a warming planet will hit weak and failed states especially hard. It may be psychologically comforting to wish these relationships away, but it is intellectually and morally wrong. Drylands like Somalia, Pakistan, and Mali may become more arid in coming decades, adding to the immense challenges these countries already face. Food security crises may be particularly acute in regions such as Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. And we could go on.

If Mitt is elected in November, Americans of all political persuasions should urge him and his party to lay aside the narrow focus on fossil fuels, and adopt an “all of the above” energy policy that puts us on a pathway to global leadership and environmental sustainability.

*** Did you like what you read here? You might be interested in the new book by this blog’s author, Failed States: Realities, Risks, and Responses.

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