The U.S. government must come clean on energy goals and incentives.
The Right needs a total vision overhaul on energy.
For over half a century, the environmental perspective has succeeded in overtaking every other outlook on energy and industry. Even fossil fuel companies and their allies like the American Petroleum Institute cast themselves in the green idiom. In the era of climate change, wherein major news organizations and the courtier class broadcast visions of eco-pocalypse ad nauseum, green hegemony has only deepened. Concerns about the climate are worth attending to, of course—so is environmental degradation. The seriousness of these issues may tempt conservatives to adopt a green politics of their own. Should they take the bait?
The first danger is the most obvious. The American Right does not own the environmental issue, which means it does not own the climate issue, because they are, in practice, the same issue. Some might say that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Maybe, they might say, what’s needed is a more market-oriented version of liberal climate politics. Sadly, they would also be about 30 years too late—major environmental organizations conquered that territory in the fight for electricity restructuring.
This means that if conservatives were to take on a green politics of their own they would have to cede cultural and political ground to the environmental movement’s moral monopoly. Their vision would be cast in the green idiom and appear more like terms of surrender than a unique and organic vision of its own. An example from the Left is illustrative: those who fancy themselves “class first socialists” on the Left always play the junior partner to the woke. Their criticisms of wokeness have the puzzling effect of reifying wokeness’s core premises while letting the non-woke develop self-soothing techniques for their Stockholm syndrome. To bring it closer to home: imagine decades of arguing who the “real planet killers” are the way the contemporary Right argues about who the “real racists” are with the Left. The returns aren’t even diminishing—they don’t exist.
We should be grateful that this is the situation. Climate politics as it actually exists is anti-conservative because it is a politics of permanent emergency built on castigating our past achievements while turning our future into an extended crisis that demands we abandon our values and transform the state into a perpetual baptists-and-bootleggers machine so that we can stave off the end of the world. Plus, it presents American conservatives with a unique opportunity.
After all, the world will not end, we do not need to abandon our way of life, and we certainly do not need some kind of revolution to handle the climate issue. Humankind will adapt. America will adapt. But how we adapt depends on what energy we have at our disposal. And the energy solution is quite simple even though it is also quite difficult—we need more natural gas and more nuclear, and we need far less wind and solar. We need to focus on reliable, affordable, and clean energy projects—in that order. If we’re concerned about emissions, then we should be competing with Russia and China to build nuclear power plants abroad, as the coal boom in the developing world has obliterated the last 15 years of emissions reductions in America.
Now, someone might say, that sounds like a great climate message. Why can’t that be the conservative climate message? Why not own the libs by their own logic? As a nuclear advocate, I can tell you exactly why that’s a mistake.
You will end up in the unenviable “both and” territory that’s a slightly more dignified version of the junior partner Stockholm syndrome. Conservatives will say, “Hey, if we really cared about climate, we would be deregulating nuclear, which is the only proven full-scale decarbonizer the world has ever known.” And they’ll respond, “Why, that’s a great idea…after we finish fragilizing the grid with more wind and solar. The world’s about to end after all and we have no time to waste!” Such a situation is a death knell for message clarity and policy victories.
Moreover, it misunderstands the opponent. Environmentalists don’t actually want to solve climate change or protect the environment. They want to build wind and solar. They might think they’re solving climate change and protecting the environment by building them, but that’s because they’re generally ignorant about energy and energy systems.
Plus, their money flows from the financiers who enjoy wind and solar tax credits. And their Energy Lysenkoism assumes we need to vastly restrict energy consumption and repattern society accordingly. They are as likely to change their minds as they are to meet you halfway. Those two things—tax credits and energy austerity—are the only reasons to build wind and solar, by the way. As California has recently shown us, renewables are a complicated way to make natural gas yet more essential.
So, what conservatives must do—and make no mistake, this is as difficult as it is necessary—is reject the climate framing altogether. They must shatter the moral monopoly environmentalism has on how we think about energy and our society. They must present a solid alternative that can prize these issues from the slimy doom-mongering that has clamped its feral maw around them. Conservatives must instead supply the country with a vision—cultural, political, philosophical, and economic—for the Second American Century.
This vision would center on energy security and energy abundance—the prime movers of the economy. It would mean more gas pipelines, more fracking pads, a flowering nuclear fleet, and a reliable and resilient electricity grid. It would be about real jobs and real work. And it would handle issues Americans actually care about—their livelihoods, their children’s future, and the continuation of the American way of life.
It’s a vision that would communicate three simple truths: Americans are workers, not servants; our energy infrastructure is essential, not incidental; and our future is not an apocalypse only authoritarian control can avoid, but a flourishing expression of our glorious past.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.