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Half-Baked Alaska: Palin's Confused Vision of Energy & Environment

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Now that Sarah Palin has announced her resignation as Governor of Alaska, you may wonder: What has she been doing? How will she fill her time? In an Op-Ed piece for The Washington Post, Palin kindly provided an answer. She's committed herself to a single task: confusing the American public on energy and the environment.

On Tuesday, Palin's Op-Ed criticized Obama's cap and trade bill -- known as the American Clean Energy & Security Act, or ACES -- and refused to acknowledge the existence of climate change. The article so fully muddles the issues that the best thing one can hope for is that someone else wrote the article, and the Governor simply signed her name.

Behind all the bluster -- and the exclamations! that neatly turn fact into fiction -- are familiar phrases. She appeals to national independence, rising unemployment, taxes, supply side economics and God's creation. In so doing, she positions Democrats as enervating technocrats opposed to prosperity, and herself as rooted in a history of economic growth, rugged independence and faith.

To use talking points is one thing, to rely on them another. This isn't a partisan issue; candidates from both parties have lines they work through. But Palin's argument is so dependent on established Republican strategy that is reads like a grab bag of worn-out phrases.

This is where Palin's argument veers from the path of denial. In making her argument, she ignores mounting, if not overwhelming evidence on energy and environment. She also strays from mainstream public opinion.

The Nobel Prize awarded to the IPCC was an acknowledgment that the fundamental science of climate change is firmly established. Furthermore, a recent survey of American opinion on climate change revealed that 72% find climate change to be personally important, while 90% believe the US should act to reduce climate change.

In her Op-Ed, Palin ignores both science and public opinion. If David Brooks was right in describing the Republican party as intellectually bankrupt, Palin's Op-Ed positions herself as both lender and borrower of Republican subprime arguments. After articles like this, I would hope she's flush out of capital.

Let's take a few moments, then, to review Palin's major points in the article, and trace where she goes astray.

Palin: "There is no denying that as the world becomes more industrialized, we need to reform our energy policy and become less dependent on foreign energy sources."

Palin's argument is afflicted as much by what is not there as what is not. Note here how she discusses the need to reform energy policy without mentioning why - that we live in a world of increasing resources scarcity facing and that we face uncertain risks from a climate that promises to change in the short and long-term, with potentially sever damages.

Palin engages in a critique of ACES without discussing why it's being implemented in the first place. It's like arguing against throwing water on a house fire, by avoiding all mention of the fire.

This shouldn't be surprising. Palin has argued that man is not responsible for climate change. Or, rather, she said:

"I'm not one to attribute every man -- activity of man to the changes in the climate. There is something to be said also for man's activities, but also for the cyclical temperature changes on our planet."

Again, she seems confused, and is trying to confuse the American public.

Palin: "I believe [the cap-and-trade energy plan] is an enormous threat to our economy. It would undermine our recovery over the short term and would inflict permanent damage."

Contrary to this argument, ACES will help to grow the economy. Palin distorts the picture by overstating the costs and ignoring the benefits.

For instance, any costs to the economy as a result of cap-and-trade largely nominal. Aluminum and chemical businesses will see an increase in costs of about 2% by 2030, while the steel industry would see a rise in costs of between 4% and 11%. Similarly, the cost to each American family would be about $174. These costs are real, but not huge.

Far from the crippling burden Paling describes, the cap-and-trade program would create market for carbon, spur investment and expand an already rapidly growing sector of the economy.

For instance, ACES would help spur $150 billion in clean energy investments, help to create 1.7 million jobs throughout the United States. ACES would help to unleash billions of dollars of investment in energy efficiency, renewable energy and clean-car technology. According to Andy Stevenson's excellent piece over on NRDC's Switchboard blog, the result of these improvements in fuel efficiency would be "1.4mln barrels a day by the year 2020...providing a cumulative savings to American households around $1,900 through the year 2020." Those are real savings for American families.

Moreover, Palin seems to ignore that in the clean energy economy, jobs have grown by nearly two and a half times faster than over overall job growth since 1998. It is a field that is already growing. This will help accelerate growth in an already growing field.

For an economy in decline, job creation and the accelerated expansion of markets with demonstrated potential is exactly what this country needs.

Palin: "But the answer doesn't lie in making energy scarcer and more expensive!"

Scarcity isn't the answer. But putting a price on carbon is.

One of the challenges in creating substantive reductions in carbon emissions is generating the capital needed to develop and deploy clean energy technology at scale.

Cap-and-trade helps to provide this capital not by making energy scarce, but to create a market of perceived scarcity that drives up market prices for carbon. That market then provides a revenue stream to be invested in R&D measures for clean energy technology. It's one of the best, and only, ways to generate the kind of revenue needed.

But this move is cute. It's the rhetorical equivalent of Palin winking her way through the presidential debate. Too bad an exclamation point doesn't magically convert fiction into fact.

Palin: "Those who understand the issue know we can meet our energy needs and environmental challenges without destroying America's economy."

To judge from all of the above, we know Palin is describing someone else. She clearly doesn't understand the issues.

Palin: "We are ripe for economic growth and energy independence if we responsibly tap the resources that God created right underfoot on American soil."

This is not only offensive, but reflects a shockingly limited theological vision.

In the first place, it is offensive to claim a responsible use of God's creation is to limit our economy activity to only those fuels which are dirtiest and which therefore degrade the world we're meant to protect. In fact, if you look at the position of many religious environmental groups, you'll find Palin to be dramatically out of sync.

Furthermore, did God create only the resources beneath the surface of the earth? Did he not also create the sun? Did he not also create the wind and rain?

Palin: "Can America produce more of its own energy through strategic investments that protect the environment, revive our economy and secure our nation?"

Yes, we can. The Waxman-Markey Bill is a first step. It's not perfect, but it's not a stake to the heart, as Palin describes it. Much to the contrary, it's a much-needed shot in the arm.

(This post was originally published on Ben Carmichael's On Earth blog.)

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