Sunday, May 1, 2011

Congresswoman Betty McCollum on Climate Change & Energy Policy

Congresswoman Betty McCollum Spoke on Climate Change & Energy Policy
On Friday, April 29, Congresswoman Betty McCollum visited the Macalester campus to discuss climate change, green jobs and clean energy with students, faculty, staff and other members of the community.

This was a fairly unique opportunity to hear a Congressional Representative talk on policy, which I greatly appreciate being allowed to attend.  The open discussion of the public policy process is a key element to maintaining our republic.  Unfortunately it does not happen often, and usually with very limited access for the public.  Renewable energy development is a fascinating area that I try to follow and attend those meetings that are available.  Last year I also attended and recorded the MNREM (Renewable Energy Marketplace) Conference.  In both cases the meetings have a very strong liberal slant, and somewhat view conservatives as the enemy.  That is a very large mistake, since conservatives have long been strong proponents of clean air, alternative fuels, and "good stewardship" of our environment.  We come to that through different logical paths, and policy decisions are always strongly influenced by what you believe are the driving forces and your world view. 

It is quite clear that the main driving force for Betty McCollum is AGW (anthropomorphic global warming).  In the first video she states this is "primarily caused by humans" at about 3:40 minutes in.
"If we don't start doing things as humans to kind of change the way we're impacting the planet we could make this world a very difficult place for us to live in."  
So this is the underlying basis for why and how she formulates policy. Reducing green house gas emissions becomes the overriding policy.

Conservatives come to energy policy from a very different view.  Fossil fuels are a limited resource. No matter how you look at it, they have a limited lifetime.  Debates about how long until we run out (and it is uncertain when) will serve us about as well as the debate over increased drilling.  If we had started drilling when we began talking about it, more than 10 years ago, the increased supply would now be available.  Instead we keep talking and never acting. Hence the $4 gas we have now.  The AGW argument is far from "settled science" as so many disclosures in the last few years have shown. I will follow up with another post on that issue again. The strident demand for reducing green house emissions, as the overriding goal, distorts the path to accomplishing the goal of alternative energy systems.  For example, it leads us down a very unfruitful path of corn based ethanol.  That has been shown to have as many or more problems than if we simply didn't do it.  We currently have no replacement for fossil fuel, and will not for years.  Punishing the use of oil products, before we complete the research and implementation of viable alternatives, is only useful as a political tool to make people feel the pain and force them to change their behavior prematurely.  It creates great economic distress that diverts resources and energy from the search for alternatives.

Once you get past the different logical paths that inform our world view, to get to the point of actually implementing policy and programs, you find that conservatives and liberals often agree on many issues.  One issue Betty talks about is certainly one of them, that we need a consistent approach, tax credits and policy, that is not short term and does not change from year to year. There are several others that you should hear as you listen to the video.  Among them are incentivizing research and development.

A Gallup poll result somewhat supports that this is the dominant view in the US.
Americans endorse increased government efforts to encourage energy production from alternative sources of energy, but at the same time do not believe the government should reduce its financial support for the production of energy from traditional sources.

Here is the video of this discussion at Macalester College in Markim Hall, home of the Institute for Global Citizenship.  The first video begins with about a 2 minute introduction describing the room we were in, part of a "Platinum building", the highest rating in the green building rating system.

Politics is the "competition between competing interest groups or individuals for power and leadership", so we should not be surprised when it does turn partisan.  At 12:50 into part 2 we see it with questions like:
"why do you think so many Republican's are still in the denial stage about climate change let alone trying to.."? 
The answer to the question is, yes there is global warming, but we believe the evidence is that is is primarily due to natural forcing sources. The AGW argument, how much is due to human activities and how significant is it, is far from "settled science" as so many disclosures in the last few years have shown.

Last year the MNREM organization held a meeting and the then State Rep Jeremy Kalin also spoke on energy and policy in Minnesota.  He spoke of the implementation of the strongest renewable electricity standard in the country, and the Global Warming Mitigation Act's very aggressive carbon emission reduction goals, right on the heels of California's.  But lamented that we didn't see the
"robust economic development we all expected". 
He spoke of some reasons, primarily that policy alone doesn't help economic development.  This is unfortunately the problem with setting mandates, they often do not really result in the outcomes you hope for

So which approach seems more likely to have a positive impact, the carrot or the stick?  As Congresswoman McCollum and the man at the back who I believe was the President of Macalester said, you decide and then you need to find people who represent what you believe in.  If the gallup  poll is remotely correct, I believe America agrees its not the punishing stick, but the encouraging carrot that we should use as policy.

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