I recently sat down to watch a presidential primary debate with my wife. Although we found the debate itself nearly unwatchable, the commercials were somewhat more interesting. The advertisements airing during this high profile event in the DC market articulate something about the priorities and framing for this year’s political campaigns by the oil and gas industry. A particular ad spot about “energy voters” paid for by the American Petroleum Institute (API) caught my attention. In this ad, a slew of diverse looking actors discuss leading the world in oil and natural gas (NG) production, highlighting perceived benefits to expanding domestic fossil fuel extraction (and here is the troubling part) “for our children and our grandchildren.”
The ad ends with the actors stating that they are “voting for American energy” and are “energy voters”—implying that voters interested in energy security and economic prosperity are inherently pro-oil and natural gas. API’s assumptions and implications, however, are rapidly becoming outdated and I hope that this year’s election season will present a new kind of energy voter—the renewable energy voter.
If it’s clean versus dirty, clean wins
Absolutely nobody (seriously N.O.B.O.D.Y) would ever seek to stymie jobs, opportunity, and economic growth “for our children and our grandchildren.” But, the suggestion that our energy security and job opportunities will be primarily and inextricably linked to fossil fuels such as oil and NG for generations to come is both short-sighted and dishonest; and in the context of global climate realities, it’s offensive. Luckily, our national discussion on energy security is evolving as more and more renewables achieve parity to fossil fuels. API’s “Vote4Energy” campaign, with its cheap nationalistic framing and reckless environmental disregard, may not get the same mileage during this election cycle, and it may, in fact, uncover that American energy voters are actually becoming clean energy voters. Although API is all-in on dirty energy, if the American public begins to see viable choices between clean versus dirty, clean wins and its game over for API. Perhaps this is the reason API left out any substantive discussion of renewables or energy efficiency in its annual energy outlook.
The climate baggage that comes with fossil energy is not easily overlooked anymore
NOAA has concluded that 2015 was second hottest year on record, just behind 2014—the hottest year in modern record. In fact, 8 of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred during the last decade. This is not breaking news to most Americans because it has become nearly impossible to turn on the news without hearing more about hotter seasons, stronger storms, melting ice, and rising tides.
Ironically, the venue that acquainted me with API’s latest campaign, a presidential debate, happens to be the only sanctuary where issues of energy security and climate change are sufficiently severed so as to allow candidates to pay lip-service to fossil fuels without having to acknowledge the very real climate implications associated with burning them. But, much to the chagrin of API, energy-climate disassociation is far less prevalent among everyday Americans than presidential candidates.
It’s going to be a bad day for API when it realizes that energy voters have become renewable energy voters since it depends on backwards-minded dirty energy support to survive; such support is truly a finite and diminishing resource.
Americans are for American energy – the clean, renewable and sustainable stuff
Renewables already represent the single largest source of electricity growth in the United States, and are expected to achieve similar primacy throughout the world in less than 5 years. Sure, API might point-out that renewable energy displacement from wind and solar is occurring rapidly in the utility sector, but what about liquid fuels for transportation? Well, demand for oil has also been lagging a bit as more efficient cars and larger volumes of biofuels are becoming available. And renewable fuel technologies being developed today will provide much more low carbon fuel for the transportation sector in the years to come—in-time for “our children and our grandchildren” to realize new opportunities and economic growth from clean and sustainable resources.
API has chosen to advertise its “Vote4Energy” campaign on TV, so it must not assume that its version of “energy voters” live in caves or under rocks. Such a campaign seems odd in this day and age. Following the historic global climate agreement inked in Paris last month, following the celebration of a new year during which people look forward optimistically to a better future, the energy equation is changing and these changes favor progress. Energy voters in this year’s election may not conform to an antiquated fossil hungry throng without regard for our earth’s climate or our future – after all, I am an energy voter. The campaign that API is running is both wrong-headed and out-of-step with a changing world and changing electorate. This narrow and futile push for more fossil fuel won’t work forever, and I hope 2016 is the election year that proves it doesn’t work anymore.
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