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“If I wanted America to fail”: Funded by the Usual Suspects - for the Usual Reasons

3 min. read

Earlier this week, The Hill reported on a “free-market group” that “has scored a hit with an ominous, gloomy video warning that environmental regulations and restrictions on fossil fuels are putting America on a path to ruin.”  According to this video, entitled “If I wanted America to fail”:

"If I wanted America to fail...to suffer not prosper...I'd start with energy, I'd cut off America's supply of cheap, abundant energy...make Americans feel guilty about using the energy that heats their homes, fuels their cars...I'd make cheap energy expensive so that expensive energy would seem cheap...I'd imply that America's cities and factories could run on wind power and wishes...I'd demonize prosperity...I would ridicule as flat earthers those who urge them to lower energy costs by increasing supply...I would transform the environmental agenda from a document of conservation to an economic suicide pact...I would prey on the goodness and the decency of ordinary Americans..."

Of course, the claims in this video have zero basis in fact or reality whatsoever.  Still, it’s gotten nearly 1.5 million views on YouTube in a week, and has been favorably written about by numerous conservative blogs and other media outlets, so it’s clearly been successful.  In large part, this is because the video skillfully, albeit misleadingly, taps into and stirs up irrational fears about the ongoing, accelerating transition from 19th and 20th century fossil fuels to 21st century clean energy, and about what will actually be positive changes to America’s way of life in terms of economics, national security, and environmental/human health.

As we’ve written about numerous times, the rise of clean energy poses a serious threat to entrenched interests in the fossil fuel industry and their allies in Congress. In response, they’re fighting back “full contact,” including videos like this one.

Looking at the people behind this video, we find that they include folks like Howard S. Rich, who “has steered millions of dollars toward the libertarian cause,” who “serves as chairman of Americans for Limited Government, a national coalition that works with local groups to ‘protect property rights, stop out-of-control government spending, and hold judges accountable to the rule of law;’” who has worked with people “powerful billionaire Charles Koch, to promote their small-government, free-market causes;” and who “sits on the board of directors of the Cato Institute, an influential libertarian think tank founded and funded by Koch and based out of Washington, D.C.”

What these people are tapping into is primal fears of change, and attempting to use those fears to rev up opposition to clean energy. A recent article by J. Patrick Coolican in the Las Vegas Sun explained how people like Howard S. Rich have worked to turn renewable energy, which had previously been utterly non-controversial (and still maintains broad support among many conservatives), into “fodder for the culture war.” In fact, according to Coolican, “the conservative movement has made opposition to clean energy — opposition sometimes backed by fossil fuel dollars — a new mission… another front in the culture war, as much emotional as empirical…[l]ike gay marriage and National Public Radio and California and President Barack Obama.”

In pushing this new “culture war,” we’ve seen a relentless drumbeat of anti-clean-energy messaging from Fox News, the Washington Examiner, and many other right-wing media outlets. This messaging includes  including wildly overblown coverage of the Solyndra non-“scandal.” For instance, as an analysis by Media Matters found:

Fox News stands out for its incessant coverage of the Solyndra saga, which amounts to more than 8 hours of airtime -- almost three times that of CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NBC and CBS combined. Fox has devoted 140 times more airtime to Solyndra than it spent on the MMS scandal, and around 29 times more than it spent on the wartime contracting commission's report.

With that kind of drumbeat, it's no wonder why there are indications of declining support for renewables among conservatives. It makes even less sense when you look at the continued accumulation of evidence that it’s clean energy, not dirty energy, that represents the jobs potential and economic engine of a thriving, 21st century American economy.