Listen to the typical conservative rhetoric about energy being thrown around on talk radio or in Republican presidential debates, and you’re likely to hear that our government primarily uses its regulatory and financial power to create a destructive green energy boondoggle – one that enriches a few politically connected Solyndra executives, appeases a bunch of wild-eyed tree huggers, but hides the fact that renewables supposedly can’t stand on their own in the private sector.
In the face of catastrophic climate change and dwindling fossil fuel resources, this cartoonish narrative has gained traction because it invokes the moment’s most powerful political metonyms, from implicit allegations of crony capitalism to hippie-themed epithets about environmentalists to 'free market' fundamentalism. The underlying idea – which will only be more amplified in the wake of the Obama administration’s pipeline decision Wednesday – is that fossil fuels are being persecuted by the American government.
But the reality, of course, is something wholly different. Indeed, this mythology is a perfect example of Orwellian Newspeak in which the reverse of the rhetoric is true. As recent news highlights, the government is doing exactly the opposite of what conservatives say: It is aggressively favouring the fossil fuel industry in ways that give that industry a special economic advantage over clean energy.