Democrat Debates Shy Away from Clean Energy Solutions

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If you listened closely to the debates this week, you may have heard the Democratic candidates for president mention electric vehicles, a carbon tax and something about solar and wind. But these were fleeting moments.

Over the course of four hours over two days in a city beset by rising sea-levels, millions of viewers tuned in to hear 20 presidential hopefuls discuss their plans to address the nation’s most pressing issues. And yet the total time these folks spent on climate change was 17 minutes.

Take a look at the transcript of the debates No. 1 and No. 2 from The New York Times. Climate in any form – with or without “change”– was mentioned 18 times in the second debate, while clean energy as a solution didn’t pop up once. In the first debate, climate change was mentioned 15 times and was limited to a few talking points. At the same time, former HUD Sec. Julian Castro, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Corey Booker all agreed climate change is the biggest geopolitical threat to the United States.

Only Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee, in the first debate, mentioned the words clean energy. He said “… we know that we can put millions of people to work in the clean energy jobs of the future. Carpenters, IBW’s members, machinists, we’re doing it in my state today.”

Sen. Warren mentioned the need for a “tenfold [increase] in our research and development on green energy going forward.” But what she failed to mention is that the clean and renewable energy revolution is already here. Its time is now.

Solar installations are increasing and expected to grow exponentially in the next 5 years. Energy storage technologies that provide electricity when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing are cheaper than ever and readily accessible. We also know the research backs up the economic benefits of clean energy investment, both in the short- and long-term. Technologies improve, energy-efficient products become more affordable and innovations abound. Research and development dollars already dramatically lowered the cost of clean energy technologies in today’s marketplace.

Since 2008, wind energy production has tripled while prices plummeted 40 percent. Similarly, the costs of more efficient LED lightbulbs and large-scale solar systems declined 90 and 60 percent, respectively, while deployment for both increased twentyfold. According to the New Energy Outlook 2019 report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, wind and solar are the most cost-effective options for adding new electricity capacity in roughly two-thirds of the world.

Even with all of this supporting data and research, the messaging on the solutions to climate change has yet to reach the American public from these candidates. In the United States, policymakers, activists and business people need to do a better job communicating the importance of clean energy as a solution to climate change. At Silverline, we understand this challenge and help our clients tell the clean energy story that resonates. We use data from focus groups and surveys to craft messages that hit the mark. While the candidates on the debate stage used words such as resiliency, sustainable, natural disasters  and renewables to describe climate issues, we know people would rather hear about solutions.

But don’t take my word for it. According to a Vox article, 100% renewable energy, and quick, everyone loves renewable energy. It’s cleaner, it’s high-tech, it’s new jobs, it’s the future. This article from 2018 indicates the public loves the clean and renewable energy message.

And yet, from the article: “They do not like the idea of being forced to transition entirely to renewable energy, certainly not in the next 10 to 15 years. For one thing, most of them don’t believe the technology exists to make 100 percent work reliably; they believe that even with lots of storage, variable renewables will need to be balanced out by “dispatchable” power plants like natural gas. For another thing, getting to 100 percent quickly would mean lots of “stranded assets,” i.e., shutting down profitable fossil fuel power plants.”

So that’s the issue. The public supports a transition to 100% clean and renewable energy, but they feel we’re not ready and we need to hang on to greenhouse gas-emitting power plants. That’s where the messaging needs to show how the revolution has already arrived.

Some elected officials get it and are on the record supporting bold clean energy solutions. Here’s former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley in an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun: “Today, we again join the top, with the Maryland legislature’s passage of the Clean Energy Jobs Act last month, requiring that half our state’s energy come from renewable sources by 2030.” Hawaii, California, New York and several other states have also set renewable targets. The Democratic candidates for president in 2020 need to look no farther than their own communities, friends and neighbors for their input of clean energy messages. The public wants to move toward 100% renewable energy—and we can get there with the right framing around the what’s working and how it’s growing.