Support for renewables comes from surprising places and we need to build on this.
When thinking about climate change it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that we first need to convince people that it’s happening, that it’s caused by human activity and that it’s serious in order to get action. In other words that we need to combat climate scepticism.
We do, but past a certain point I believe it’s not worth convincing everyone that we’re buggering up our climate. Most people around the world are on board with this already.
Far more important now is the need to find common ground with unexpected allies and build on widespread support for solutions like renewable energy and energy efficiency in order to tackle climate change.
Renewables offer a bridge across the often seemingly impassable partisan and climate “belief” divide.
A great example of the bridging potential of renewables is this article by John D. Sutter for CNN in which the author travels to Woodward County, Oklahoma, one of 7 counties in the US with the highest number of climate sceptics.
It’s worth the (long) read but essentially Sutter finds, along with all the unsurprising doubts about a changing climate from farmers and small town Americans along with conservative political and religious ideologies, a surprising degree of support for renewable energy. From people living in oil and gas country!
For instance, Sutter speaks to oil company owner and climate sceptic Woodward local Randall Gabriel who is spending US$30,000 installing 38 solar panels on his home and who takes a practical view of renewables:
“If everyone goes to solar, and that works, and that shuts down the oil and gas industry, I’m good with it. If that works, then fine.”
Or elderly rancher Harold Wanger who leases his land to wind farms because “an oil well will pump dry up on ya. And these turbines will keep runnin’,” (and paying).
As Sutter succinctly identifies, points of agreement on renewables are the common ground we should be focusing on fostering in order to tackle climate change.
“Seventy percent of people in Woodward (and 79% of Americans, according to a 2015 poll by the Yale group) are estimated to support funding for renewable energy research; 65% (75% of Americans) are estimated to say we should regulate carbon as a pollutant; and a narrow majority, 51%, (66% nationally) are estimated to say utilities should be required to produce 20% of electricity from renewable sources.”
In Australia, where I live, support for renewables is strong across political divides. Twice as many Liberal/National (conservative) voters think the Australian government should prioritise support for the renewable energy industry over the coal industry, as those who think the opposite, and residential solar uptake is strongest in low-income and regional areas.
In the UK 3 out of 4 people support renewables and believe they provide economic benefits to the country. 55% would be happy to have a large-scale renewable energy development in their area!
Finding common ground on renewables means finding support from unlikely allies for potential solutions, a key ingredient in Julie Unwin’s recipe for social change which I discussed in a previous post on interminable climate inaction.
A large part of building this support is figuring out where people are at and speaking to what interests them: tackling climate change, providing jobs, reducing their power bills, providing cleaner air for their kids.
This means forming and pushing narratives of renewable energy as affordable, healthy, clean, providing jobs and independence, easy to access and install and empowering.
One form of this that I practiced in a comms role in a renewable energy campaigning organisation was never mentioning climate change, only talking about renewables, and focusing on how solar was helping people reduce their power bills, all I believe to great effect by offering an appealing, inclusive and non-partisan platform for supporters of all backgrounds and beliefs.
Yes, we have to continue to press the need for adequate climate policies and emissions reduction targets, international climate treaties and carbon pricing but a lot of this will be by-the-by to many people.
So let’s talk more about what renewables have to offer and how they’re not just the energy source of the future but increasingly today. Let’s recognise that they have broad appeal to many different people, some of whom, and for reasons, we might not necessarily expect.