Energy and Independent Thought

This was a really long process! I explored debunking a number of widespread beliefs/myths–environmental legislation costs jobs, people in the US pay the highest taxes, access to family planning increases abortion. The answer to most of these, was not in a single fact that was true or false, but in a framework of beliefs and approaches to viewing the world that foster the acceptance of particular arguments.

Environmental legislation and regulation: It’s complicated–but not really.

Upshot: The majority of new jobs in the energy sector domestically and internationally will be renewable energy jobs and related support services, but there will be and are “losers” (i.e., coal industry miners and related support services). Pro-environment legislation and state subsidies to businesses and private citizens in states like California have created a booming renewable energy market and spurred technological innovation. States like Ohio and West Virginia, which have actively resisted moves toward renewable energy are not well-positioned to take advantage of emerging production or related support jobs in this sector. Renewable energy and related jobs will be global economic drivers regardless of whether or not the Unites States chooses to participate. Other countries have made independent decisions regarding their energy futures and chosen to pursue renewables. Independent, publicly-funded research and policy making efforts attempt to analyze complex issues in a non-partisan manner, but the media (and research) ecosystem is pervaded by partisan think tanks, private money, and even foreign dollars. These factors undermine the credibility of sources of information and correspondingly public trust in those sources.

Why so complicated? 

1. Energy is actually complicated – Energy use and production affects individuals, businesses, corporations, and governments–each with competing and sometimes overlapping interests.

2.  Poor-quality or biased [mis]information – A decrease in publicly-funded science and non-partisan governmental organizations resulting in less transparent, less reliable sources of information. Prior to neoliberal globalization, government agencies, universities, and think tanks were much less affected by corporate interests and lobbying (see Science-Mart for a particularly in-depth treatment of the topic).

The energy sector is an appropriate case study of a phenomenon that has occurred in other previously public areas (i.e., education).

Both renewable and fossil energy lobbying groups and think tanks have a strong presence. These groups are motivated to generate research and studies supporting their economic aims. When the organization is private, the public cannot access records of financial contributions and identify donors. This undermines transparency and credibility.

Domestically, [political, social, economic] a variety of actors have invested themselves in the creation of a research and development framework that favors private, corporate interests over the public good and civic society.

The Think Tank Watch project at the University of Pennsylvania classifies and tracks think tank activity. The think tank picture is further complicated as foreign governments buy influence in American think tanks.

Think Tank Project’s Classification System     

An energy-related project, Think Tank Map, tracks think tanks that conduct climate-related research. The Buckeye Institute is a conservative, pro-fossil fuel private organization with an annual budget of 2.7 million dollars. Members of its Board of Trustees have ties to the fossil fuel and plastics industries. This organization generates reports that would fail to meet basic academic standard as objective research. There’s nothing wrong with lobbying for policy, but to do so under the guise of an “independent think tank” misrepresents the mission of the organization and undermines the work of independent, publicly-funded think tanks. Pro-renewable think tanks and lobbyists further cloud the picture with reports that lobby for their interests.

Energy policy set by Washington only influences but does not dictate the paths followed by other countries and transnational corporations. Failure by Washington to invest profitable sectors, including renewable energy, will have a long term effect on the American economy.

Taxpayers have invested in their own futures and the success of businesses by funding the underlying physical (i.e., highways) and virtual (i.e., the internet) infrastructure upon which corporations rely. Independent and transparent research and organizations are critical to the continuation of cycle of success.