Climate change campaigners are complaining bitterly that global warming and greenhouse gas reduction were entirely missing from the presidential and vice-presidential debates. However, it was discussed — just under a different title.
In every debate, “clean energy,” “green energy,” and solar and wind power came up at least once, in some cases repeatedly. This is indirect climate policy: the drive to enable these technologies — which happen to be supported by all four candidates — is primarily the result of the belief that it is important to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to prevent a global climate crisis.
Without climate concerns, clean and green energy would refer only to low pollution energy sources, not to low CO2 sources (which is an essential reactant in plant photosynthesis and in no way a pollutant). Developed countries have been very successful in reducing real air pollutants, such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulates, lead, and others. With the exception of ground level ozone, which has been difficult to reduce in many metropolitan areas, even our largest cities have much cleaner skies (and waterways) than they had decades ago.
So, without the climate scare, there would be little reason for wind and solar power to have such prominence now. They would only be considered as niche applications in special circumstances.
Someday, perhaps these power sources will be reliable and efficient enough to complete with conventional fossil fuel, hydropower, and nuclear sources without heavy government subsidies. Yet we are a long way from there.
The approach of boosting low “carbon” energy sources as an alternative path to arrive at the climate movement’s goal — “de-carbonization” of humankind’s energy sources — has been planned for some time. For example, the Nathan Cummings Foundation (NCF), a $10 million-plus donor to climate change campaigns between 2005 and 2010, explained the need for a new, less direct approach in their Annual Report 2009 (see p. 16, “Ecological Innovation Program”). They expressed concern that grantees were overly emphasizing direct CO2 emission reduction and other costly measures to address climate change. NCF discussed how this left organizations they support open to damaging attacks from their opponents when promoting government and industry action on climate change. Presumably, NCF and their allies could see how the public were coming to realize that the costs of CO2 emission reduction were anything but trivial, and the raison d’être for the activities — the science — was also being increasingly questioned. So a new approach was needed.
NCF explained in their annual report that the foundation’s desired focus is on the supposed benefits of low CO2 energy sources, instead of direct CO2 restrictions on conventional power plants. The idea was to change the paradigm of the discourse in America: instead of making conventional energy sources more costly, the objective was to present low CO2 emitting energy sources as inexpensive “in order to engage many more people.”