Can Huntsman be a “game changer” on U.S. energy policy?

Despite the unlikely allies of the National Academy of Science, the Department of Defense, and the Vatican, all strongly urging for comprehensive federal action on U.S. energy policy, the issue has largely dropped off the national radar during this season’s political election cycle.

Absent a few notable outliers, the Republican party as a whole has represented one of main impediments to developing a comprehensive U.S. energy policy in recent years.  For a variety of reasons, it has almost become a badge of party allegiance for Republican candidates to vehemently deny the need for action on our interrelated energy issues. For example, in the 2010 Senate elections, essentially every Republican candidate disputed the human induced causes of our changing climate.

However, in recent months, a couple Republican Presidential candidates have broken ranks. Over the summer, Presidential front runner Mitt Romney tepidly acknowledged that that climate change is human induced, only to retract his initial statement weeks later.  This past week, former Utah governor John Huntsman took a much stronger stance, rebuking many in his own party and specifically calling out the leading candidate’s views (Texas governor Rick Perry) on climate science.

Could these developments signal renewed possibilities for bipartisan progress on developing a sensible national energy policy? Or are Huntsman’s statements merely a “hail mary” from a back of the pack candidate that is looking to distinguish himself?

Politics and Science

Regardless of the outcome of the Republican primary, perhaps Huntsman’s comments can be a catalyst in motivating a shift in the discussion of energy policy at the national level. Call me a naive optimist, but at this point any sign of sanity from the “right” side of the isle is worth discussing. Consistent with a recent Washington Post article titled, “Rick Perry’s made up ‘facts’ about climate change,” Huntsman’s remarks on his fellow Republican Presidential candidates were equally damning.

In a recent interview with The Hill, Huntsman labeled Perry’s views as “out of the mainstream,” and essentially laid down the gauntlet for Republican candidates to challenge climate science in future debates. Whether Huntsman’s statements can have a “trickle-down” effect to the current Republican members of Congress remains to be seen – but they are a start.

As previously noted, it is long past time for debate as to whether climate change is occurring or not. Previous attempts to bridge the bipartisan gap on energy and climate by Republican Senators McCain, Collins, and Graham failed, and our country has already lost valuable years in the global race for clean energy by not incentivizing the development of alternative energy at the federal level.

Unfortunately, the recent national energy/environment debate has focused on the extent to which EPA rule-makings under the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act are damaging our economic growth potential. While the forthcoming rules under these acts are often being framed as “new” regulations by media outlets, they are all consistent with the bipartisan legislation passed by Congress in the 1970’s.  Many of these “new” rules – ones that protect our water and air – have already been delayed for decades.

While there are certainly inefficiencies in all of those statutes that could use Congressional amendment, the whole scale destruction of the EPA – something that several leading Republican candidates are advocating for – is simply out of touch with reality. By demonizing the EPA, the Republican party is walking a tightrope by criticizing a government agency that is designed to protect human health – something that should never be a partisan issue.

What may be a politically convenient position on energy and the environment in the primaries may also lead to political defeat in the general election, only time will tell.

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The End of Macro-Economics As We Know It?

Before that question can be answered, a brief history of how human civilization got to this point.

Today the Earth contains nearly 7 billion human inhabitants, most of whom are interconnected via the internet, free trade agreements, and an economic model that requires infinite growth. All of these facts are extremely recent developments on the geological time scale of the planet’s history. The industrial revolution that enabled technological innovation in the extraction and use of energy, which while drastically increasing the health and living standards for a very small portion of the 7 billion – has also brought with it a human population explosion. This population explosion is currently testing the resiliency of the ecosystems on the one planet that we have. While climate change may be a major problem, it simply a symptom of an economic system that cannot stop consuming until it inevitably collapses on itself.

We are now likely living during that major turning point in human history. This post will mainly pertain to the incompatibility of the current dominant economic model and the reality of living on a planet with finite resources. We may not be near the immediate end of economic growth – but we are rapidly heading there. Since my own history begins with the 1980’s, that is where this brief history continues…

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