On Tuesday, the Vice President’s office will send Obama a progress report on “The Transformation to A Clean Energy Economy” (PDF). It’s a wide-angle assessment of the stimulus spending that has gone to clean energy projects, the private capital that has been leveraged by those investments, and the jobs that will be saved or created as a result. The document is fairly short and worth reading; it’s impressive stuff. I want to make a general point or two about it, but first, here are the top line results:
Two general points to make about this stuff:
1. Why not a few victory laps? I worry that in all the anguish about climate legislation and Copenhagen, green activists aren’t doing enough to publicize and build on what the administration is doing. They seem to suffer from the weird impression that celebrating anything that doesn’t completely solve the problem will “let the administration off the hook” by distracting or demotivating people. But social psychology tells us the opposite: people are subject to peer pressure and herding instincts; they like to do what other people are doing. When they hear that other people are investing in energy and efficiency, it will make them moreinclined to do the same, not less. It would be better to create the (self-fulfilling) impression that this kind of thing is mainstream than to keep insisting that nothing worthwhile is being done.
2. Investments and regulatory standards create tangible change in the short-term. Everyone is obsessively focused on the exact mechanism for putting a price on carbon, as if it’s the end-all be-all of climate policy. But no politically realistic price on carbon will bite in any substantial way for the next 5-10 years. In the interim, it’s these kinds of investments and standards that will drive immediate private capital deployment and job creation.
Greens should learn the lesson: fight for stronger complementary policies in climate legislation! Larger investments, tighter efficiency standards, higher renewable energy standards. This is the kind of stuff the spurs short-term action; short-term action is what builds political support; political support is what will allow greens to come back later and improve the carbon pricing system. You need a carbon pricing system as the long term engine, but the policies funded by the stimulus bill are spark plugs.