As a self-proclaimed East Coast liberal intellectual who drinks Starbucks Grande Nonfat Decaf Lattes on a regular basis, I woke up this morning after the Mid-term elections of 2010 with a heavy heart. I thought to myself, as I took public transportation to my office from my energy efficient townhouse in Center City Philadelphia, what will happen to environmental policy in this country? Now that the Republicans have the majority of the House, and spooked the pants off my latte-drinking brethren on the left, has the green revolution been quashed before it even really got started? Surely cap-and-trade is off the table, and incentives for renewable energy and green building will be scrapped or allowed to sunset without renewal under the guise of “balancing the budget.”
Reading the headlines did nothing to cheer me up. Politico calculated the cap-and-trade losses:
Nearly 30 (and counting) who cast ‘aye’ votes for Waxman-Markey were swept away on Tuesday’s anti-incumbent wave.
As I moped through my morning coffee, considering the appeal of starting a hedge fund or opening a high-end craft store (my secret dream), it slowly dawned on me that the mid-term elections had essentially changed nothing. Even with majorities in the Senate, the House and the White House, cap-and-trade went nowhere.
Incentives are valuable for renewable energy projects and green buildings, but projects that depend entirely on incentives to pencil out are not sustainable in the long run. The incentives would have to end eventually, and this way Democrats will not be forced to make the hard decision about when and how to do it. They will not have to spend political capital and material resources on propping up or renewing stimulus incentives, but can instead devote their energy towards building the political climate which will embrace green.
Not that this helped my mood, but the world is still warming and there are still terrorists in the Middle East. The green revolution may have suffered a setback in yesterday’s election, but the two essential underpinnings for the green revolution and moving to renewable energy have not changed.
Finally, perhaps this is a wake up call to recognize how hard the task of creating a green America really is. The winds of politics are very changeable, and the American people have priorities other than the environment. If Americans are not electing politicians who prioritize the environment, then the revolution has not come yet. Moreover, if the success of the green revolution depends entirely on who is in power politically, it is not a revolution at all. It is a pork project. To have a revolution, the hearts and minds of the people (to borrow a phrase) have to be changed, one person at a time. That process is slow, and subject to lots of setbacks. Just ask Jimmy Carter.