11/08/2010 03:58 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Getting a New Clean Energy Agenda off the Ground

After the election, I immediately received an e-mail from a national environmental foundation urging the recipient to contact their Congressperson to request passage of "strong climate legislation."

This has been the strategy for some time. And we know the results: No passage of climate legislation by Congress even with a Democrat majority in both chambers.

The problem? It is high time that environmental and consumer organizations change their strategy for moving a clean energy agenda. A national survey recently released by the Civil Society Institute (a non-partisan think tank) in Boston informs us of what that strategy might be. Not only can an effective strategy and message be structured around the findings of the survey, the survey demonstrates how essentially the entirety of the political spectrum can be unified around true clean energy policies and programs.

The survey breaks down answers according to various parameters including political leaning, i.e. Democrat, Independent, Republican and Tea Party supporters. The survey shows great disparities in perspective when broad concepts were presented, such as the question posed about global warming. Although a majority of Americans believe global warming is a problem, for instance, there is a vast difference of opinion between independents and tea party supporters.

However, when specific problems are presented that require a solution, the differences begin to fade. The subject of water use and electric generation is one such example. Although gradations of support are apparent, the majority of each political affiliation, nonetheless, support the idea of using electric generation technologies the use less water and are much less polluting to water.

Moreover, the same trend is seen when participants were presented with a true clean energy vision. There was across-the-board support for a clean energy strategy (focused on renewable energy) that is geared toward addressing technological advancement, job creation, and avoidance of war. In this vein, the majority of each political affiliation supports a "new industrial revolution" that envisions "the phase out of fossil fuels and the phase in of clean renewable energy sources..."

Interesting as well is that the majority of Americans do not support a shotgun approach to energy policy. Rather, Americans prefer renewable energy. This conclusion is reinforced in that, according to the survey results, only 23 percent favor federal subsidies for nuclear power and 5 percent for coal.

It may be politically expedient to support all sources of energy. However, the public doesn't appear to be impressed. This may be why 68 percent of Americans "see the US as weak or very weak on 'practical, problem-solving' and leadership in relation to 'energy independence and dealing with climate change or global warming," and 71 percent have little or no confidence that elected officials in the US "will act decisively on energy issues."

How one defines the problem is important for furthering renewable/efficiency goals -- general climate concepts do not create the necessary vision for people to rally around.  People do not relate to abstractions and scientific uncertainty.  

There is strong evidence to support the perspective that the lack of an effective strategy from the advocates and a clear vision that addresses the public's concerns on the part of policymakers has polarized the debate and ground a true clean energy policy reflective of public opinion to a halt. Congress is not in line with the public in terms of its continued support for coal and nuclear power.  The all-in approach, i.e. the lack of a vision that addresses real economic, public health and national leadership concerns, has contributed to the public perception that there is no real political leadership in the country.