Democrats cannot afford to alienate voters in Kentucky and West Virginia — coal mining cultures hard hit by unemployment — even if the coal industry . The language of clean energy there is still a tough sell, with the imagination wanting for images of what a solar or wind energy job would really look like, and industry still calling the political shots.
In , the legacy energy industries have another advantage: They play powerfully inside a global economic system built on the assumption of limitless economic growth, and which is in dire need of boost in the wake of the US mortgage crisis. The coal supply remains a commodity that needs to be mined, shipped, exported and traded — a BTU bonanza for the nations that have it in abundance like the U.S., Russia, China, India and Australia.
Further, with China already leading the world in the export of solar and wind hardware, CCS offers the prospect of being an exportable big ticket advanced technology that even the Chinese will want to buy.
Coal thus also figures into a larger geopolitical calculation, which together with the exploitation of tar sands in Canada — which Obama has not opposed — offers energy security to North America and reduced dependence on oil from the Middle East. It is a carbon-heavy realignment of energy geographies that leaves fossil fuel at the heart of the global economy, despite talk of a coming transformation. In the logic of the financial system, big investments now lock in systemic commitments for a generation or more.
Debate Lacks Transparency
The debate over the clean energy future has for the most part been conducted inside a rhetorical bubble filled mostly with talking points and sound bites. The analysis that Obama gave Caldwell has not been argued publicly. for a moonshot development of solar and wind technologies coupled with have been publicly floated, but none has had the benefit of an independent head-to-head comparison with fossil fuel energy options outside the political process.
These proposals haven't had the kind of political support that CCS has captured, even though one of them published by Scientific American, projects that solar energy could deliver 69% of the nation's electricity by 2050 for $10 billion a year — roughly the cost of the Iraq war. Under the public spotlight, which would look more like the mythical unicorn: A massive buildout of solar capacity or CCS?
Obama for his part has not helped create transparency, blurring meaningful distinctions between types of "clean" energy. In his State of Union message, in the paragraph devoted to clean energy innovation, he omitted solar and wind and instead listed nuclear energy, biofuels, clean coal and offshore drilling. It set off howls of protest, which he calmed a few days later by announcing that the federal government would reduce its own emissions 28% by 2020.
Still, there has been no serious discussion of what the future could look like with a vastly contracted domestic energy sector, one in which, after a period of enormous investment, power is generated at nominal cost from the sun shining and the wind blowing. It is a notion that could sit well with families, imagining energy prices permanently declining a generation from now, but it doesn't fit well with prevailing economic theory that requires limitless growth to imagine future prosperity.
CCS, on the other hand, fits the limitless growth model like a glove, with the technology from its current size, if it is given two decades of government support to grow.
Then, the fossil fuel industry would reap profits from both ends of the energy lifecycle: selling power, as it already does and will continue to do, and getting paid again to dispose of the CO2 pollution underground. It is easy to see why carbon-free energy disrupts this new model of continued fossil fuel profitability.
"A major multi-year campaign against coal seems inevitable at this point," Davies of Greenpeace said. "We're not seeing anyone inside the administration with a coherent climate strategy, with their hand on the rudder. Even energy efficiency — investments that are of the populist, pay-back-the-consumer variety — have taken a back seat to Big Coal."
Behind closed doors, green groups from across the spectrum are re-evaluating climate strategy, with a new young generation of leaders taking the helm of major organizations more aloof from the inside Washington game and ready to question the meager results of the past decade of climate strategy, which seems now to have imploded: Phil Radford at Greenpeace, Eric Pica at Friends of the Earth, and Michael Brune, who will succeed Carl Pope as head of the Sierra Club later this month.