More Republicans Support Expanding Renewable Energy Than Fossil Fuels

Sunset on a wind farm in Blairsburg, Iowa.
Sunset on a wind farm in Blairsburg, Iowa.
Photo: Brian Abeling (Flickr)

When Earther last checked in on Americans’ views on climate change, we found conservative climate denial is a uniquely American trait. A new Pew Research survey affirms the partisan divide is as strong as ever when it comes to accepting basic climate science. But there’s also something that should give you hope: majorities of Democrats and Republicans want to see more renewable energy.

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Oh, and about two thirds of Americans say the government isn’t doing enough to address climate change.

“Robust support for expanding solar and wind power represents a rare point of bipartisan consensus in how the U.S. views energy policies,” the survey authors wrote.

Illustration for article titled More Republicans Support Expanding Renewable Energy Than Fossil Fuels
Image: Pew Research

Indeed, 93 percent and 91 percent of Democrats want more solar farms and wind turbines respectively, while 84 percent and 79 percent of Republicans want to see those technologies expanded. Consensus!

The Pew survey shows that most Republicans feel like the marketplace will create the renewables boom on its own, without government regulations. On one level, they’re right and it’s already happening. On another level, sound policies could help spur wider renewables penetration, and the Trump administration is actively working against those types of policies.

A larger energy divide is visible when we get to fossil fuel sources. A majority of Republicans favor more fracking, offshore drilling, and coal mining while the opposite is true for Democrats. Overall, while support for expanding fossil fuels is lower than support for expanding clean energy, pro-fossil fuel policies remain popular with the Republican base.

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Why? Tribalism is a part of it. The other part is the shitload of money pouring into the Republican party from oil and gas interests.

The Koch brothers—major Republican donors whose sprawling empire of fossil fuel-related industries has made them billionaires—have cheered on the fossil fuel-friendly moves that Republican Congress and the Trump administration have undertaken, from an attempt to kill rooftop solar in the recent tax bill to a solar tariff that could slow solar adoption to going ham with offshore drilling to pulling out of the Paris climate agreement. They’re the tip of the fossil fuel financial iceberg that’s largely putting money and support into keeping Republicans in office.

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It’s this toxic stew of fossil fuel dollars and partisanship that’s separating us from more robust climate solutions. Which sucks, because it turns out we have all the consensus we need to start addressing climate change, on a basic level.

Managing editor at Earther, writing about climate change, environmental justice, and, occasionally, my cat.

DISCUSSION

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If you’ve ever benefited from the glory of living within a political machine, you’d understand the disconnect between those who study policy and those who make policy. Yes, our esteemed educated elites working in academia and at foundations prepare some of the most well written policy treatises. Many times based on excellent data collection, like yet another Pew study on public opinion.

However, Trump and pretty much the entire republican party have adopted the Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago School of machine politics. When Mayor Daley was asked why he doesn’t use consultants, you know, experts he replied, “Experts!?! What the fuck do they know?” Trump, being Queens real estate dude isn’t too different than Mayor Daley. Probably more like New York’s infamous government planner, Robert Moses. Moses didn’t need no fucking Pew study to put a highway through Manhattan.

Trump is making policy right now with or without public opinion supporting his actions. He most definitely isn’t reading all those master’s theses on governmental policy from Ivy League graduate students this year. There’s enough support from the right types of folks - of course as long as he gives them what they really want in return.

Folks bending republican in Iowa support wind, yes. They also support corn ethanol,whether it’s effective at cutting greenhouse gas emissions or not. Conservative folks in the southern central valley of California support solar just as much as gas probably. As long as it’s used to sustainably heat water to generate steam for tertiary crude oil extraction in the California oil patch.

Sadly, many of our esteemed urban environmentalists don’t have a fucking clue or really care how our energy needs are met. It really comes down to discussing whether or not a policy directed towards reducing carbon emissions is supported.

Here’s our fossil fuel dominated energy flow diagram for 2017 at 80% for coal, oil and gas. Wind and solar makes up about 3% of our energy needs. The figure from LLNL here. And just think - this energy flow is after 3 years of Bush energy plan favoring wind and 8 years of Obama’s “all the above.” We have Trump now, who doesn’t give a fuck about this as long as we’re exporting the shit out of stuff to pay for the tax plan. We don’t export renewables be it the stuff to make renewables or the electricity renewables generate.

An public opinion survey should ask the question, “do you support an energy policy that involves wasting 70 percent of the natural resource?” Then follow up with the statement, “if you support this wasteful energy policy than you’re a fucking idiot.” The figure above shows that 66.7 percent of fossil fuel energy gets rejected as heat - or wasted.