What will the 2012 U.S. election mean for the prospects of green energy? Obviously that depends to a large extent on the winners, but the prospects are not particularly encouraging no matter who wins. President Obama, who has not yet put his campaign into serious mode, rarely mentions green energy these days, although it was a key note of his 2008 campaign. Taking a tip from the Occupy movement, he spends a lot more time and bandwidth talking about income discrepancies and the need for greater economic fairness, those being the hot issues of the day. He certainly has not turned against green energy, but he is not emphasizing it as before. If he wins reelection, it remains to be seen how much leadership he will provide on the green energy front in his second term.
His Republican opponents, on the other hand, rhetorically do oppose any government involvement in green energy and instead talk about rolling back environmental protections and other restrictions that prevent fossil-fuel companies from exploiting all of America’s domestic oil, coal, and natural gas deposits. If the president fails in his reelection bid, he will surely be replaced by a president much less friendly to the development of clean technology, even though which Republican will receive the nomination remains far from clear at this point.
At the same time, just how much things will change even assuming a big Republican victory (which we should not assume) is also unclear. To some degree, Republican “brown talk” is rhetoric only, for the consumption of the party’s base, and not an actual policy recommendation, as a report in September in The Huffington Post made clear. Republicans on the House Oversight Committee may talk about Obama’s “job killing” green agenda, but they are also eager to snare job-creating green energy projects for their own districts, showing that clean technology like solar panels continues to have a political constituency among Republicans as a practical matter even when it is opposed by them ideologically.
Perhaps the most hopeful prospect lies not in politics but in the private sector. As oil prices continue to rise (something that should accelerate as the economy finally shows signs of recovery), and as new developments make solar, wind, and other green energy technology more attractive, the development of green power Is getting more attention from corporate investors. From the enormous California solar power projects to increases in corporate venture capital, green energy is showing many of the signs of a maturing industry that may not need as much government support as it has in the past.
One thing is certain. As the economy recovers, the demand for energy will increase. As long as our energy economy remains dependent on oil, that will provoke a price increase in the vital fluid that will act as a negative feedback loop damping down the strength of the recovery itself. We may never have a better opportunity than now to go green.