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Coauthored with Dan Cass. Published by The Punch

In his 2011 State of the Union address, President Obama outlined his vision for an America powered by clean energy, traveling by High Speed Rail, and competing in global clean technology markets. Obama set out a clear principle: “[I]nstead of subsidising yesterday’s energy,” he implored, “let’s invest in tomorrow’s.”

Excellent idea Mr. President.

By choosing the future, not the past, President Obama has opened a fierce technology competition with China and Germany, to bring the cost of renewable energy down below gas, coal and nuclear.

Given that Tony Abbott and the Coalition are following the US Tea Party model and reject clean renewable energy on ideological grounds, it’s up to Prime Minister Gillard to follow Obama’s lead.

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Published by ABC’s The Drum.

This week, the Minister for Climate Change Greg Combet argued that if carbon pricing is rejected “climate change policy will become the poisoned chalice of Australian politics for the next decade”.

While it is in the political interest of the Minister and Government to frame carbon pricing in this way, the claim is false. Whatever happens to the carbon price, the imperative for effective climate change policies will remain strong for the simple reason that the problem will not go away.

Combet warns that failure to pass the carbon price “would lock in the status quo and not provide any reward for the innovation, efficiency and technological development that is the only real way of meeting this challenge”. When we look to the United States, it is apparent that the death of cap-and-trade legislation was not the end of climate policies. Measures to decarbonise the US economy are progressing despite the fact that carbon pricing is not currently politically viable.

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Published by On Line Opinion

Carbon pricing has been a difficult policy for Australian politicians to implement and has contributed to the downfall of several senior political leaders. In 2009, Malcolm Turnbull’s own party stripped him of the leadership after supporting the Labor government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. Last year, Prime Minister Rudd’s decision to defer the ETS sparked the loss of confidence that eventuated in his downfall. It is no understatement that the current carbon price push is a risk to the Gillard prime ministership. Though carbon pricing has contributed to ill political fortunes, it’s worth remembering that there is more to climate policy than the carbon price.

Climate advocate Joel Dignam asserts that ‘If Gillard’s attempt to put a price tag on pollution fails, climate change…will be seen as a poisoned chalice from which no sane politician could drink.’ He warns that failure to pass the measure will ‘undo years of progress.’ While I appreciate Dignam’s concern, he conflates carbon pricing with climate policy. There are a host of policies to address climate change and decarbonise the economy, the viability of which is independent to the fate of carbon pricing.

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Published by the US-based clean energy advocate, Americans for Energy Leadership.

On the heels of filing a complaint with the WTO against China’s subsidies for its domestic wind turbine manufacturers, President Obama signed an appropriations law that requires the Department of Defense to purchase American-made solar panels. The move appears to be the first instance of America leveraging its WTO complaint to boost its clean technology industry, and shows that the US is beginning to take the clean energy race seriously.

Some will argue that the ‘buy American’ provision smacks of hypocrisy—that the administration is as guilty of the same behaviour it has criticised China for. Others will argue that the measure counters the Chinese subsidies and is a legitimate way to bolster the US clean energy sector in an uneven playing field. Either way, the move shines a spotlight on the role of military procurement.

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Published by the US-based clean energy advocate, Americans for Energy Leadership.

In an attempt to advance the “new Sputnik” narrative, the Obama administration filed a complaint with the World Trade Organisation against China over its clean energy subsidies in the last weeks of 2010.

The administration’s move comes just months after the United Steelworkers (USW) union filed a trade case with the office of United States Trade Representative. The earlier USW petition argues that China’s generous subsidies and land grants, available only for locally made parts, constitute preferential treatment of its domestic clean energy manufacturers. The current practices, the USW argues, disadvantage American firms and are trade distorting.

Over at Grist, Lucia Green-Weiskel and Tina Gerhardt write that:

“Both complaints ignore the fact that energy industries all over the world benefit from government subsidies. In the U.S. and Europe, the nuclear and fossil-fuel industries get massive public subsidies. And as a percentage of GDP, Spain and the U.K. pump funding at levels similar to China’s into green subsidies.”

While this critique is correct, ultimately it doesn’t really matter whether or not the WTO rules in favor of America. The whole exercise helps to focus attention on the “new Sputnik” narrative that appears to be gaining momentum.

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Co-authored with Johanna Peace and published by the Breakthrough Institute.

Steven ChuIn a speech yesterday at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, energy secretary Steven Chu again repeated his declaration that nothing less than a technological “revolution” is necessary to meet America’s energy challenge and to ensure the US position as a leading global economic power.

Speaking alongside Congressman Ed Markey, Chu told his audience that future US prosperity depends upon widely deploying renewable energy, developing carbon capture and storage capabilities, and increasing energy efficiency–but most importantly, it depends upon becoming a leading innovator in clean energy technologies.

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Published by American clean energy blogs WattHead and The Energy Collective.

US FlagIn yesterday’s Washington Post, prominent U.S. business leaders John Doerr (from Kleiner Perkins) and Jeff Immelt (CEO of GE) became part of the growing chorus calling on the nation’s leaders to prepare America for the clean-energy race. They warn that the U.S. is quickly falling behind in “the next great global industry”—green technology—with the risk of damaging America’s economic competitiveness.

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Published by the Breakthrough Institute, a progressive think tank based in Oakland, California.

Moon LandingThis week marks the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk, the event which made the US the first and only nation to accomplish one of the greatest technological feats in human history. While space-race aficionados will argue that US-Soviet competition continued beyond the 1969 moon landing, for the layperson, Armstrong’s ‘small step’ marked the end of the space race.

In 2009, the United States faces a new global competition, one that will have far greater implications for the future of our nation and the world: the clean energy race

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Published by the Breakthrough Generation.

The financial crisis of 2008-09 has focused the Nation’s attention on the deficiencies of the US financial system. Economists across the political spectrum have called for reform, prescribing the nationalization of banks and re-regulation of the financial sector.

While the focus on the financial sector is justified, perhaps the Nation’s economic woes reflect deeper problems with American economic thought—specifically, the effects of using Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as the preeminent indicator of economic progress and national wellbeing. Perhaps now is the time for America and other developed economies to re-evaluate GDP as measure of progress.

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Published by the Breakthrough Generation.

Did you know that FDR and Eisenhower used market-based approaches to implement policies that advanced America? Well, at least this is case in a series of thought experiments Michael Lind presents in ‘Obama’s Timid Liberalism’. In the piece, Lind discusses how the Obama Administration’s approach to key policy areas like climate change/energy and health care constitutes a ‘timid liberalism’. ‘Rather than fight back,’ Lind argues, ‘most Democrats in the last generation adapted to this hostile conservative political climate by jettisoning “big government” liberalism for “market-friendly” neo-liberalism.’

I’m interested in exploring this point. What will it take for progressives to transcend the ‘timid liberalism’ that we have seen over the last thirty years—a politics that constrains progressive governance? What will it take to ‘fight back’?

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Leigh Ewbank


Climate and energy writer based in Melbourne, Australia.

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