by Richard T. Stuebi
Frank Luntz is an influential pollster in Republian circles. So, it’s notable when Luntz releases findings that support movement on the climate front.
That just what happened in late January, when Luntz’s firm The Word Doctors collaborated with Environmental Defense Fund to announce recent polling data that suggest that a majority of Republican voters continue to believe that human-induced climate change is a real phenomenon and want action to address it.
Some of the more interesting findings in the report “The Language of a Clean Energy Economy” include:
- The concept of “carbon neutral” does not resonate well with the American public. “Energy efficiency” and “healthier environment” carry more weight.
- The statement “it doesn’t matter if there is or isn’t climate change; it is still in America’s best interest to develop new sources of energy that are clean reliable, efficient and safe” is the most compelling framing of the issue.
- National security tops every other reason to support climate action — particularly among Republican voters but also among a large segment of Democratic voters.
As Luntz summarized in his own words, “Americans want clean, safe, healthy, secure energy. That’s why Republicans and Democrats alike strongly support action to address climate change. Sure, Republicans are more concerned about the national security component and Democrats the health component, but support for action right now spans all partisan and ideological lines.”
It’s a fine and pleasant synopsis, but I’m not as sanguine as Luntz, only because energy independence is a strained rationale (not to mention probably more unattainable than major carbon emission reductions) for dealing with climate change. Why? Two reasons:
- One, if you want to maximize domestic energy production immediately and cheaply, you’ll rush right to coal — which only exacerbates the climate concerns.
- Two, until America’s vehicle fleet becomes electrified — a long way off — you can’t run America’s vehicle fleet on coal or any other lower-emitting form of domestically-produced electricity. For the foreseeable future, we’ll have cars and trucks running primarily on (mostly imported) oil, and producing carbon emissions to boot.
I’m not the only observer to be concerned about an unrealistic or even ill-advised pursuit of energy independence — see “Oil Independence: Realistic Goal or Unrealistic Slogan?” for a good summary of the literature, and a nuanced and balanced view of the notion of “energy independence”. This reinforces how unfortunate it is when the seemingly only basis for bipartisanship on climate policy is a principle that is very slippery at best and easily warped at worst.
Richard T. Stuebi is a founding principal of the advanced energy initiative at NorTech, where he is on loan from The Cleveland Foundation as its Fellow of Energy and Environmental Advancement. He is also a Managing Director in charge of cleantech investment activities at Early Stage Partners, a Cleveland-based venture capital firm.