Making Clean Energy A Personal, Political Priority: Building Online Outreach Centers

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An overwhelming majority of scientists agree that climate change is accelerating into an ever larger man-made problem, and that one of major solution avenues must be a transition to clean energy. The successful Energy Change of Germany, the national program for quickly transitioning that nation towards renewable clean energy, illustrates how powerful national government support can be in creating that transition.

In the US, strides are being made. The 2012 election showed that most candidates targeted as opposing clean energy were defeated, as were most that were targeted for denying climate change. And most of those promoted as environmental champions were elected. A poll shows that clean energy was a significant priority for swing state voters. Yet, Congress shows no signs of supporting a quick transition to clean energy. And while elements benefiting from clean energy development – jobs, the economy, health and security – are often high voting priorities, clean energy itself is not a clearly defined big priority among most voters, nor Congress. How can this change?

Voters create priorities on those issues most personal to them. They vote state-by-state, in national and statewide elections. Reaching out to them and potential mainstream communicators effectively on clean energy means incorporating these two elements in the ways we do reach out.

To date, efforts towards voters on these issues have been unorganized and sporadic. One can rouse people to attend demonstrations about ancillary issues, such as stopping coal or the keystone pipeline, for example, as 350.org and other environmental organizations have done, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into voting in all races with clean energy as a big priority.  It is no better among various statewide clean energy citizen groups (Citizens for Clean Energy [Florida], Citizens for Clean Energy, Inc. [Montana], et al) that offer limited eclectic resources and news.  The Clean Energy States Alliance has reports on clean energy among the states, but no state-by-state breakdown couched in human terms. Multi-state county level reports on the impacts of clean energy in the US also exist, but not for every state.

Politically, major green organizations exhorted their members to vote for 2012 “green” candidates. More specifically, the 2012 PowerVote campaign of the Energy Action Coalition reached out to campuses to pledge their votes for clean energy candidates – as a get out the vote effort, and the One Million Calls organization focuses political pressure on Congress and the President to support clean energy. The “We Are the Clean 99%” effort at www.signon.org  (full disclosure: I am its author) seeks to create a Congressional clean energy voting bloc, asking signers to pledge their votes to clean energy candidates, but lack of major organizational support hampers expansion of this effort.

Thus, neither existing environmental nor clean energy citizen organizations and efforts engender the large-scale citizen education and involvement that translates into visible, respected voting blocs.  To do so requires some basic online resource infrastructure to create the needed outreach.

What is needed is an easily accessible, central online websource on clean energy that presents information to voters (and journalists) in personal terms with which they are most likely to become engaged.  Such a site might have a map of the US, entitled, “What does renewable clean energy mean for you?” that would present not only the benefits already experienced in a state by current clean energy projects, but prospects of future benefits by further clean energy development, again, couched in relevant human terms:

  • Increasing wind power capacity could create xx jobs in manufacturing, maintenance
  • Increasing rooftop solar capacity could create xx jobs in solar manufacturing, installation, & maintenance
  • Increasing clean energy developments could increase state revenues XX percent
  • Decrease personal energy bills XX percent
  • Decrease cost of living xx percent
  • Increase household incomes from the resulting economic growth XX percent
  • Specific opportunities to develop x, y, and z renewable clean energy sources exist in a, b, and c [cities, counties]
  • Funding sources for developing renewable clean energy sources exist (enumerate)

Longterm effects of CE on state:

  • Decrease in health problems xx percent
  • Decrease projected extreme weather, reducing damage in xx economic sectors, and reducing costs xx amount

Voters will want to know that farms with wind turbines in their state can survive through droughts, supplying renewable clean energy while providing revenues to the community, for example. Or that the average household income increases when clean energy developments grow in their area.

Although many of the above effects are difficult to estimate,  they can be created with qualifying assumptions. Reports such as Ex post analysis of economic impacts from wind power development in U.S. counties  could be used in creating these profiles.  Just attempting to create these profiles highlights the information that is most needed and useful at this point.

A final webpage for the site would include an annotated list of political actions that are being promoted by mainstream environmental groups on renewable clean energy, both statewide and nationally, with links for those who wish to participate, and a link to the following, second type of website.

The second type of needed online infrastructure is a media clearinghouse on clean energy to facilitate public awareness of the benefits of renewable clean energy.  Such a website would have an easily accessible pool of resources. It would include a list of graphic resource websites (still and video), and a gallery of graphics (photos, illustrations, clipart, videos) coded so that a journalist knows the conditions under which it can be used instantly – with an included link to automatically request permission or further qualifications, if necessary. Another webpage would be a resource page, that would in turn lead to further pages: an annotated list of relevant cc news outlets, an annotated list of relevant studies, articles, and reports, and an annotated list of informational websites.

Both types of websites would facilitate media and journalists who want to promote clean energy, and, more importantly, inform voters, who want to understand personally how clean energy is relevant to them and their needs. Both websites need to be available in Spanish, and outreach to the Hispanic community. This online infrastructure would also help green organizations to politically mobilize voters around clean energy, state by state, and form the voting bloc needed to pressure Congress to action.

Ideally, an organization should be created specifically to form such a voting bloc.  It’s not enough for Congress to realize, grudgingly after an election, that clean energy might be a voting priority.  Like the Tea Party, clean energy proponents need to create a visible voting presence that motivates Congress to act accordingly, well before elections.

Creating these websites would be a great opportunity for organizations devoted to communication on climate change or clean energy to fill the existing vacuum in education and outreach needed to transform concerned citizens into vocal, empowered voters, and a well-defined renewable clean energy voting bloc that Congress can respect, as it eyes the next Congressional election in 2014.

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About melharte

Mel (Mary Ellen) Harte is a biologist (PhD) and climate change educator. She co-authored the free online book, COOL THE EARTH, SAVE THE ECONOMY, available at www.CoolTheEarth.US, and writes the CLIMATE CHANGE THIS WEEK column at the HuffingtonPost. Living summers in the alpine Rockies, she is on the frontlines of watching what climate change can do. Her diagnostic digital photographs of wildflowers have appeared in numerous publications.
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