Love him or hate him, there is no denying that yesterday former President Bill Clinton delivered powerful advice for advocates of every renewable industry.
In his hour-long remarks at Solar Power International, President Clinton touched on a wide range of topics, from recent successes in the solar industry, the potential for solar to assist the poorest members of communities at home and abroad, the industry’s response to the Solyndra scandal, and, of course, the potential impact of the current presidential election on renewable policies in the U.S. In particular, President Clinton gave one piece of advice that warrants a bit of additional commentary.
“Get the basic facts in front of the American people”
We live in a world of partisan talking heads and 10-second sound bites, and there is no one on the planet that understands that better than Bill Clinton. Unfortunately, as anyone who works in a energy industry knows, renewable energy is not always easy to discuss in short bursts of information. A true description of an average project requires a decent grasp of engineering jargon, economic analyses, complicated business models, and a staggering variety of statutes and regulations.
However, thankfully, the results of this perfect storm of jargon are two concepts that (most) everyone can instinctively understand and appreciate:
1.) Renewable energy helps the environment; and
2.) Renewable energy can create jobs and bolster the economy.
Let’s not mince words…If these concepts are not the first thing that cross the average person’s mind when they hear about a solar, wind, or biomass project, then we have failed as advocates. The fact that there is any debate about these points means that we are losing theBattleof the Sound Byte.
Fortunately, President Clinton provides us with the following suggestions for how we can begin to regain the public opinion.
You can be proud of yourself. . .
Get the positive facts out there. . .
Provide visible manifestations of progress.
Though these comments sound like they come from a self-help book, they perfectly capture a major obstacle for renewable energy industries. President Clinton sums it up nicely…
Most Americans don’t know that the solar industry employs more than 100,000 people – more than the coal industry. They don’t know that renewable energy sustained an eight percent growth rate through the worst years of the recession. . . . and they don’t know that theUnited Statespays $22 in subsidies to oil, coal and nuclear power for every $1 invested in renewable energy. . . An enormous number of people don’t know that solar is affordable now.
In order to offer any sort of meaningful rebuttal to opponents of renewable energy, it is vital that we recognize and tout the overwhelming benefits that solar, wind and biomass projects can provide, and emphasize the numerous successes that have already been achieved.
For excellent recaps of President Clinton’s remarks, take a look at this PV Magazine post by Hans-Christoph Neidlein, and Anne Fischer’s excellent recap on the Solar Novus blog.
Thoughts, questions or comments? Leave a comment or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.