Ex-GOP diplomacy machine talking green

July 1, 2009

Unfairly or not, any discussion of the Republican party’s environmental record by clean energy advocates often includes a mention of the White House solar panels ditched under Ronald Reagan. Green-minded members of the Grand Old Party, on the other hand, would rather point to the birth of the Environmental Protection Agency under Richard Nixon. Either way, in what’s clearly a sign of the times, renewables featured high on the minds of three former GOP secretaries of state who popped up at various energy conferences in the San Francisco Bay Area this past week (One can only assume the timing was a coincidence).

George Schultz, who served under Reagan, probably surprised at least a few people when he counted himself as among those EV1 owners still regretting GM’s controversial scrapping of the electric car earlier this decade.  A Stanford professor and Hoover Institution fellow for the past two decades, Schultz had enjoyed driving it around campus. “I could even drive it up to San Francisco. I couldn’t go too many other places, but it’s a very useful car,” he said. “I was sorry to see that car taken off the market, it worked just fine.” Speaking at a meeting of energy economists last week alongside Chevron’s David O’Reilly, Schultz went on to join the oil company CEO in endorsing a carbon tax as more efficient than the cap-and-trade system favored by Congress.

On Monday, Condoleezza Rice also favored a carbon tax when she addressed the Silicon Valley Energy Summit at Stanford, where she too is a professor and Hoover fellow, while stressing the importance of not picking winners in the push for greener energy. “At this stage, we need to have an open field for all renewable alternatives to change the energy mix,” she said.

Just down the road in Palo Alto the next day, the secretary of state under George Bush Sr., James Baker, ranked climate change alongside nuclear proliferation, the economy and wars as a leading global threat. “I’m not going to talk about the science of it, ’cause I don’t understand it,” he told a meeting on clean energy arranged by law firm Baker Botts. Yet he felt, as an outdoorsman, that good stewardship of the planet was vital, even if he saw the current climate change bill in Congress as flawed. He suggested it should be passed, but left unsigned by the president until big developing countries like China and India made similar moves against carbon, holding the bill back as a bargaining chip. “That’s Negotiation 101,” he later told Reuters.

Photo credits: Above: General Motors publicity photo of the EV1 passenger car. Below: REUTERS/Ron Sachs/Handout (Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaks to supporters of the Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital in Washington, in this handout image from May 3, 2009)

3 comments

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James Baker is right when he says that counries like China and India must make similar moves against carbon, however if the Us wants to set a good example they have to pass the bill first, it can then be used as leverage in future negotiations.

Passing a bill is one thing, but actually putting teeth in it is quite another. It’s obvious that Americans will never change their driving habits (i.e. carbon footprint) unless and until gasoline prices rise high enough to force alternative transportation measures to be used. Americans were almost there last year when pump prices were in the $4 per gallon range, but unfortunately it didn’t last. While it’s true that many drivers got rid of their gas guzzlers, most did not and are overjoyed these days because gasoline is a low priced commodity. Here in the midwest, people drive just to be driving and it’s rare to see more than one person in each vehicle unless they’re pulling a boat or other weekend toy, giving absolutely no thought to anything related to energy except maybe how fast the boat will go or how many horsepower they need to pull that boat at 80mph. If gasoline would rise to where it needs to be, $7 – $8 a gallon, we would see an overall revitalization of the economy with alternative energy, conservation, jobs in the green markets, etc. There would be a short term perceived panic, brought on by the automakers, government, and oil companies, but it would all work out sooner than later and only then will we as Americans see a brighter future for generations to come. This is inevitalbe and will happen, but not until we either run out of oil, or the prices get high enough to cause much needed change.

Posted by Frank | Report as abusive

This may sound a bit odd but I actually love the smell of petrol and the sound of a roaring engine is like music to my ears. I’m sure there are many more petrol heads like me and convincing them to kick the habit will be a hard task.