Michael Kanellos at greentechmedia published an article today arguing that the President’s comparison to Sputnik with America’s dependence on fossil fuels is an imperfect one. He later suggests that the New Deal better fits the clean energy narrative.
I think he fundamentally misses the point. While some clean energy policies may be similar to those of the New Deal (the bad ones, in my opinion), not all of them are. For instance, the New Deal did not include a focus on basic scientific research. Like the Manhattan Project and the Apollo Program, current clean energy policy does.
More importantly, the point of the President’s Sputnik analogy was to unite and rally, not to find a perfect analogue for his current policies. Had the President compared his clean energy policies to the New Deal, half the country would have cringed and reflexively opposed him.
The fundamental problem with rallying people to support clean energy innovation is that America’s dependence on fossil fuels and the effects of climate change do not seem as immediate and menacing as Nazis dropping an atomic weapon on New York or Soviet eyes in the sky watching every American move from space.
Don’t get me wrong, when the party finally ends and people really start to feel the pain from crippling oil prices, skyrocketing food costs, and massive flooding, they will see the urgency. But by then it may be too late.
Framing the problem as an existential one, even if it is different than the threats confronting the nation before the Manhattan Project and the Apollo Program, is the only way the President can unite Americans on this issue.
Framing the issue as another New Deal would be a massive policy error. As a strong clean energy advocate with conservative views, I reflexively cringed when I read Michael’s comparison of current clean energy programs to the New Deal. Then I immediately thought about all the recent policy failures: Solyndra, Evergreen Solar, ethanol subsidies, and the appalling percentage of dollars in the government’s loan guarantee program for advanced vehicle development that went to shore up union jobs at Ford and Nissan North America (over 90%).
There have also been policy successes. My only point is that to get all Americans on board with clean energy development, frame the problem as an one of survival, not as one that half the country will see as another manifestation as socialism.