Red State, Blue State,
By John Reynolds, FAIA
The 2008 presidential campaign is upon
us, with all 435 House seats and
one-third of the Senate up for
election. A new administration will bring
new cabinet members, including secretaries
of energy, commerce and transportation,
as well as new appointments in the Environmental Protection
Agency. Our new president will believe that
global warming is real
and serious and will
of renewable energy
and its accompanying
jobs. I am optimistic
about the directions
that a new administration could take us.
I am less optimistic
about the Senate. Several times this year,
renewable energy advocates have come within one or two votes of landmark legislation,
only to founder on the need for 60 votes
out of 100 to close debate. I hope that ASES
members follow these proceedings closely.
When one of your senators obstructs renew-
competition, and they particularly don’t
want their tax breaks eliminated to help support competition. For decades, the fossil fuel
companies have enjoyed government subsidies that now go straight to the bottom line.
The huge profits enjoyed by these established
corporations benefit the very rich, along with
the investment portfolios of colleges, unions
and other organizations. Political support
for fossil subsidies is entrenched.
To my discomfort, renewable energies
have largely become associated with one
party, and traditional energies with the other.
As an example, examine the “Purple America” map showing how we voted in the 2004
presidential election, county by county. The
greater a county’s margin for Bush, the brighter
red the color. Counties
that voted for Kerry are
colored blue. Distinct
patterns emerge, with
blue at the coasts and
major urban centers,
with wide swaths of red
elsewhere. The red areas
cover the majority of the
land area, while population density is colored
Compare it to the
map of states that have
enacted renewable energy portfolio standards. I
see some similarity in
these two patterns. With some exceptions,
notably wind-rich Texas, Utah and the Dakotas, it seems that predominantly red states
come late to renewable energy mandates.
Perhaps they buy into the idea that we
should “let the market decide.” The market,
of course, has been enmeshed with centralized, nonrenewable sources ever since the
federal government subsidized rural electrification during the Great Depression. Sources
that spread our energy wealth, decentralizing
supply and thus raising popular energy
awareness, are a huge departure from business as usual.
My hope in this election is that renewable
energy will gain purple status, favored by
both parties. The reds can tout energy independence and improved national security,
while the blues can tout people power and
environmental quality. The resulting purple
mix can prosper from massive investments in
resources that our own land and sea offer
on a sustainable, not an extraction, basis.
The question is whether this purple power
can only be achieved by a blue sweep of this
year’s elections, and if so, will the red-blue
schism widen before it can merge?
The sooner we invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy, the sooner their
obvious benefits can benefit us all, and political parties can focus on other issues.
able energy legislation, I trust that ASES
members will react first with letters and calls,
and then, decisively, at the ballot box.
Given the promise of renewable energy, I
continue to be surprised that it engenders
such polarization. Renewable energy presents a threat to established extractive energy
sources. Managers of fossil fuel companies
don’t want their markets eroded by upstart
John Reynolds, FAIA, is chair of the American Solar Energy Society Board of Directors. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.