Where's the Wind?

04/03/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Nancy Jackson Executive Director, Climate & Energy Project, The Land Institute

Remember the old Wendy's ad? Old ladies peered between hamburger buns at a tiny patty and angrily demanded, "Where's the beef?" That is how many of us on the Plains reacted when President Obama called for massive investments in clean coal and nuclear energy but left out wind -- an industry that reported record gains in 2009, that is rebuilding rural economies nationwide. "Where's the wind?" we wondered. What about the energy solutions our nation's farmers and ranchers can provide?

President Obama's rousing call to lead the world's clean energy economy generated rare applause from both sides of the aisle during last week's State of the Union. For the Administration -- and for clean energy advocates -- there is a critical lesson and an important missed opportunity in last week's applause.

The lesson: we can pass a strong energy bill for the 21st century.

Recent polls show that most Americans are now where Heartlanders have been for some time: at least half are unsure about climate science and place climate change relatively low on their priority list. That is far from tragic, though, because numerous polls also show that residents of the Plains and the coasts alike overwhelmingly support energy efficiency, renewable energy, and low-carbon transportation options.

Americans support energy solutions that happen to reduce greenhouse gas emissions whether or not they care about climate change. We need -- and have numerous versions of -- an energy bill that bolsters national security, builds energy independence, creates jobs, ensures long-term economic resilience, and keeps the U.S. competitive in a global economy headed toward a low-carbon future.

The opportunity: call the bill what it is, an energy bill.

We in the environmental community need to get over wanting people to take action for our reasons and instead allow climate skeptics and alarmists alike to "do the right thing" for their own reasons.

Most states don't have coal or uranium, but many have commercial wind resources. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy projects at least 38 states playing a major role in the nation's wind future. And energy from our backyards, particularly as it begins to fuel our electric-hybrid vehicles, provides a comforting measure of energy independence.

Obama missed a crucial opportunity to make the value proposition for renewable energy -- one that resonates here in the Heartland where climate messages fail.

It is at the moment fashionable among progressives to bemoan the Massachusetts election as a bellwether for backlash. It is no such thing. Martha Coakley ran a monumentally poor campaign. Even in Massachusetts, a Democrat has to earn her election. Coakley did not.

Just so it would be unwise to judge the faltering of climate and energy policy as an indictment of Obama liberalism. It is no such thing. Even with an activist President and a Democratic supermajority, bills must earn their votes. They must be clearly, carefully, and repeatedly explained to the American people in terms that are culturally and practically resonant, by messengers who critical populations trust.

We have yet a genuine opportunity for strong energy policy for the 21st century. To grasp it, we need to honor the position of half of the American public and hold a conversation in terms that make sense to everyone.

Nancy Jackson is Executive Director of the Climate and Energy Project