Could Treehuggers Determine The U.S. Presidential Race?

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Let's face it: political discourse in the U.S. isn't very pretty. It's generally a matter of two large parties -- each backed by an army of fundraisers, copywriters, and statisticians -- shouting at each other in front of sympathetic audiences.

Over the past couple of decades, the situation seems to have gotten worse, though that's probably because we've entered the age of the 24-hour news cycle, and pundits have to speak shrilly to get heard.

As a result of the country's increasingly partisan atmosphere, most Americans have taken sides. It's very rare to find true "independent" voters these days, much less those who are "undecided". 

There are, however, a handful of states in which the left and the right balance out, making them key battleground areas. The number is small -- CNN sees nine such states, the Huffington Post sees six -- but the way in which they vote will determine the coming U.S. presidential race.

And according to at least one news source, a key issue in those states is renewable energy.

Energy and the election

Energy reporter Phil Zahodiakin points out that although issues like Medicare and job creation will remain front-and-center in the campaign, energy production is a very hot topic -- particularly in swing states like Iowa.

Wind, for example, is increasingly big business in the state. In fact, it's so big that Iowa's Republican Senator Chuck Grassley has pushed long and hard for a wind-energy tax credit extension heavily supported by President Obama. That's put him in direct opposition to Governor Romney, who's said that he would like to see the credit eliminated.

Zahodiakin points out two reasons that the public could be paying more attention to such energy policy discussions than they have in previous years:

1. The unusually warm winter and record-breaking summer -- not to mention the recent fires, thunderstorms, and ongoing droughts -- have made average Americans think more about the hazards of climate change. Although we're as quick as anyone to point out that "weather" and "climate" are two very different things, the current meteorologic anomalies have forced people to consider the "what ifs".

2. Moreover, oil and gas production is surging in the U.S. In fact, as we pointed out several months ago, America has become a net gasoline exporter. And yet, prices at the pump remain high and imports from Saudi Arabia are growing again. While some on the right will undoubtedly point to that as a reason for greater oil production, others will argue that no amount of drilling can pull us out of the current crisis and that we need to prioritize alternative energy production.

Given our focus here at GCR, we would add a third item to Zahodiakin's list: the increasing visibility of hybrid and electric cars.

2011 Chevrolet Volt plugged into Coulomb Technologies 240V wall charging unit

2011 Chevrolet Volt plugged into Coulomb Technologies 240V wall charging unit

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Though not at the forefront of today's presidential debates, we believe that growing popularity of hybrid models like the Toyota Prius, the introduction of fully electric models like the Nissan Leaf, and clever vehicles like the Chevrolet Volt (which sits just between the two), have changed American minds about the future of transportation.

Once upon a time, the idea of an electric car -- or even a partially electric one -- might've seemed far-fetched to the average citizen. And while most Americans aren't ready to make the jump just yet, it's hard to deny that electric vehicle technology is here, and it's making rapid advances.

Putting aside arguments about the dirty sources of electricity, this may have a subtle effect on U.S. opinions about energy conservation. The idea of vehicles that depend on electricity as much or more than they do fossil fuels could make voters more interested in alternative energy resources like wind and solar -- not to mention the politicians who support them.

That goes double in states like Iowa, where wind energy is becoming a growth industry and where a presidential election hangs in the balance.

Do you think renewable energy (and alternative-fuel vehicles) could influence the upcoming election?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.


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Comments (28)
  1. Governor Romney's opposition to Cape Wind (during his time as Mass Gov.) has always annoyed me. Of course, the late Ted Kennedy was opposed as well, but he just didn't want to see them from his house.

  2. The planet has been cooling slightly for the past 15 years, folks. Pointing to what is falsely claimed to be a record breaking summer warmth in a tiny portion of the planet means zilch. The Watts, et al 7 year study released a few weeks ago documented with indisputable clarity the extent to which NOAA and other climate orgs have been using invalid weather station temperature readings in their claims of past, current and future estimates of warming. Those invalid claims of record summer warmth are based on that invalid CONUS recording data network.
    Buttressing this view are satellite readings of U.S. shoreline ocean temperatures via satellite, and not polluted by weather station siting issues - they show no record warmth.

  3. Kent: Are you talking about the Watts paper that has yet to undergo a complete peer review? Because a number of scientists would disagree with the statement that Watts presents his facts with "indisputable clarity" (cf.

  4. Watts is a cherrypicking hypocrite. More than a year ago, he lambasted Mueller for discussing the BEST results in advance of peer review then tries to pre-empt their official release with a grandiose announcement that he's suspending new stories on his site and cancelling his vacation because of some groundbreaking news??
    It then turns out that he's talking about a paper that's not even written and his preferred statistician doesn't want his name attached to it.
    I trust you're aware the satellite readings have had to be adjusted about 7 times, almost always in a positive direction.

    As for the USHCN data, you should probably read the link below carefully before dismissing the work of real experts

  5. With China providing something like $25B in government loans for the solar industry, I believe that its short-sighted for the US government to deny tax credits for alternative energy production. Clearly, wind and solar are the path forward and the US needs to invest in these technologies in order to benefit from future dividends.

  6. Anyone who implies that nuclear power is expensive simply isn't qualified to have an opinion on the subject. U.S. utilities have already begun building what will be 4 new reactors and over 30 more are either in the planning or certification stages. China has 600 reactors planned by 2035 and 1800 by the end of the century. England has already allocated three parcels of land for over 25 reactors. India is also going strong, although they are
    following a closed fuel cycle strategy. France has begun replacing all their nuclear fleet, half being fast reactor Generation 4 types. UAE in the Middle East has also ordered reactors. Nuclear power is by far the cheapest source of energy
    and produces less than half the carbon emissions of solar panels

  7. are wrong. Nuclear power is very expensive due to the enormous amount of red tape that has to be cut through to make modifications, upgrades, etc at a nuclear power plant. Once again, government interference artificially influences prices of commodities. This is bad unless you are John Voelcker who supports government bailouts and our beloved leader's use of executive order to shut down the Keystone Pipeline in order to boost gas prices and create artificial demand for impractical technology and readership of Green Car Reports.

  8. For both K and R - we wouldn't need Nuclear at all if we people didn't want ultimate comfort and convenience in their lives, took responsibility and conserved and lived in smaller, more responsible homes. But they put the bait out there (cheap, inexpensive electricity) and we bit. We built homes bigger than we need, we use far more electricity than we need and now we're trying to figure it out as countries with 1+ billion people in them (China and India) continue to expand and want to "be more like the West".

  9. I am not sure what qualifies as need. In South Africa, the locals live in 10' by 10' huts with no air conditioning, running water, or sewer. They seem to be doing OK. The Danish live in holes in the wall with just enough possessions to function. The Danish government knows what's the best use for their money, so they take it all. The Danes do have good beer, though. Our power that we consume so carelessly goes primarily toward air conditioning. None of the European countries need air conditioning...makes it easier to "tisk-tisk" us Americans. But, hey, I guess we can go back to the days of outhouses, no A/C, and horse and carriages. But for some reason, our grandparents left those days behind for convenience...selfish bastards.

  10. Amen brother! I worked for 30 years as a Nuclear and Electrical Engineer. When I retired we were producing power at $12 dollars a megawatt/hour with 3000 high paying jobs! Windmills are slaughtering Bald Eagles by the hundreds in the north west and produce power at $150 megawatt/hour! If you want facts don't bother with a progressive, thier agenda is more important than the truth!

  11. Now I know where they store the nuclear waste at, Joe Engelhardt's backyard...


  12. @Xiaolong: There are plenty of ways to refute statements by other commenters without comments like that. As I've asked before, please keep comments civil and polite.

  13. Oil has become obsolete. Cheap plasma-based reactors will soon replace fuel burning power sources, and most other alternative power sources too.

    For any government to ignore rapidly evolving disruptive technologies, that are inexpensive and non-polluting, would be foolish...especially in light of the recent announcement by the UN about diesel exhaust being declared a "Known Human Carcinogen". That links oil burning directly to expensive health care costs.

    Tailpipes are Taboo...
    What politicians will be brave enough to lead us into that new world?

  14. The long tailpipe electric car argument ignores the fact that it takes 3 KW to 5.5KW to refine oil to gasoline. Stop refining gasoline and that same electricity used to charge a battery can drive an electric car 80 to 150 miles---and without creating secondary polution. Stop making gasoline and there is enough electric energy to drive thousands of todays all electric cars without additional polution.

  15. Some studies determined that the base electric cost of 1-gallon of gas is about 1-2 kWh per gallon. That is 3-4 miles in an EV. Heck, some cars get 8mpg in their current form (old Caddies, Lincoln town cars, etc.) Also, a refinery takes a lot of power just to build, maintain, man and has a lot of contained costs. It also takes up many acres of land and has pollution aspets to the act of refining.

  16. It requires on average 0.17 kwh of electricity to refine a gallon of oil to gasoline. I'm surprised that the inflated numbers show up in so many places.

  17. The refining process is only the tip of the iceburg. Electricity is needed to pump the oil out of the ground, to pump it to the refrineries and then pump to your local terminals and then pumped again in to your gas tank. most numbers I've seen range from 7 to 15 KWH per gallon depending on where the OIL comes from and where the gas is going.

  18. The numbers you have seen are exaggerated.

    To illustrate, 33.636 billion kWh per year of electricity was used to produce oil in the US in 2005. (source

    In 2005, the US produced 8,321,800 b/day which is 127.573 billion gal/yr of oil. (source: US EIA)

    The electricity usage per gallon for oil production in the US = 33.636 billion kWh/yr / 127.573 billion gal/yr = 0.26 kWh/gal.

    Oil production (0.26 kWh/gal) and oil refining (0.17 kWh/gal) are major consumers of electricity in the steps involved in taking oil in the ground and turning it into gasoline in your car.

    If it really took 15 kWh/gal, then electricity alone would be adding around $1.50/gal to the cost of gasoline. It doesn't come close to that.

  19. Glaciers worldwide are melting away as long as they haven't disappeared completely. The arctic ice is melting at two to three times the rate that had been predicted. The ocean tenperatures are rising, deserts worldwide are expanding and there are plenty of idiots around that insist that all these alarming changes are not the result of human influence. Why do these fools pay visits to a doctor if they have no inclination to heed the advice they receive?

  20. In 2012, the arctic ice is actually thicker than 2011. We'll see how it plays out on a wider scale but at least the arctic isn't all gone as some would say. There are also a lot more oceanic volcanos in action under the water, far more than known previously. They impart a lot of heat out there. The sun indeed does heat the ocean quite well, though. Less arctic ice helps retain heat versus reflection by that ice. I hope the gain in arctic ice this year is a benefit.

  21. volcanos emits sulfur dioxide which has a "cooling" effect that can counter the effect of the CO2.

  22. And you really believe that?
    Have a look at:

  23. John, I do not know where you get your information, but the Arctic is in what is commonly referred to as a "death spiral", with likely ice free summers within 10 years (something no one would have imagined just a few years ago). This year looks like the 3 main measures could be beaten: extent, area and volume. Of the 3, area is already at an all time record low (and by quite a bit), 2 weeks before the end of the summer melt:

    Undersea volcanoes have nothing to do with it.

  24. There are more comments in this thread
  25. Treehugger name should go away.

    I think we should have something new - like:
    - grandchildren survivalists
    - humanity futurists
    - common sense oriented living
    - but, most perfect - sustainable living.

  26. I agree.

  27. Very few politicians even consider past their own terms. I wonder when they will step up and start thinking 50-years out. The PA legislation in my home-state of Pennslvania talk about this 50-years of Natural Gas that is available here. 50-years. Then what? Do they have children? Grandchildren? US population hits 400 Million in 2050 and just soon after, we run down the Natural Gas. I sure hope we have a lot of EVs, renewables and patient people out there who don't demand, as they do now, this "cheap" energy that we have available to us. Gas may indeed be $10-15 per gallon in 2050. We just don't yet know. But world population will be 8 billion

  28. I have a 7.5KW solar system on my roof and I'm not voting for Obama.

    Maybe its because I use my brain to make decisions instead of party lines.

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