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Reflections on CEP Policy Internship

2 years ago | May 12, 2015
By: Quentin Chediak

I learned a lot in my internship — about how laws are made, how my state government works, and how to lobby an issue. I think more than anything, though, I learned that it takes a lot of work and commitment to even attempt to have a legislative impact on an issue you care about.There are lots of people to rally, lots of legislators to convince, and at the end of it, it is awfully difficult to measure the impact you had. But it’s very gratifying to see the result you want.

I joined CEP because I had a lot of righteous anger about climate change, and the flippant attitude my country and state have been taking toward it. This anger might have served me well at a rally, but during committee meetings and hearings it made me impatient and fidgety.The world was at stake, but everyone seemed bogged down in the policies’ minutiae. Worse, it was really just the economic impact of aiding versus not aiding renewables that kept coming up. The words "climate change” were hardly ever uttered, let alone used as the primary motivation for a bill. The majority of the meetings were spent talking about money, not about our duty to the planet, or low-lying island nations, or our country’s vulnerable coastal cities.Even the effects climate change would have on our state, such as its disastrous effect on agriculture, were ignored.It annoyed me that the immediate economics of renewables was the focus, and not their environmental damage control.

Every argument operated within the framework of the state’s economy. I listened to testimony after testimony, often given by people with their pockets stuffed full of oil-soaked dollar bills, about how renewable energy mandates were a desecration of the all-sacred free market. They seemed to be oblivious to the idea that capitalism and the free market were what got us into this mess to begin with, that the collection of self-interested workers did not form a collective mind to watch where we were going, that Adam Smith’s invisible hand was not connected to a sentient being. The free market is important in its domain, but a habitable planet is necessary for it to exist in the first place. Of course renewables and mandates on renewables would actually be a great benefit for our economy and create jobs, but that was beside the point for me. I wanted those things to be encouraged so I’ll have a planet to live on, not so I can watch everyone get rich. 

The other thing that was reaffirmed for me during my internship was that public opinion is lagging far behind the science, and I’m not just talking about global warming deniers. The science tells us that we should be quite panicked by this point about our emissions, but the few conversations I had at the capitol on this with people outside the environmental organizations were apathetic at best, treating it as a problem only for future generations. Bangladeshis losing a lot of land right now, and 2014 was the hottest year on record, but this is still perceived as some futuristic issue our great-grandkids will have to get around to dealing with, that and the machines taking over.

I was very grateful to CEP for allowing me to have this experience. I learned what it means to be an active citizen, and fight for a cause you believe in. Their approach to the issue was different than I how had thought about it, in that CEP took a very practical approach to getting more renewables used: they didn’t condemn climate change deniers (like I might be prone to do), or make it a right/left issue, but tried to show that renewables were good for everyone, if nothing else for their economic benefits. I certainly can see why they did this, and in all honestly it’s probably a much more pragmatic strategy than shaming climate-change deniers with science, like I might have. As I understand it, it’s not that CEP doesn’t care about other nations (or states) vulnerable to sea-level rise, or other disastrous effects of global warming, they just emphasized the points that were most likely to create a desired effect through the legislature. The more confrontational approach that feels more natural to me probably would have made some people angry and alienated potential advocates of renewable energy because they didn’t agree with me on every facet of the issue, which, while satisfying in an ideological way, I guess isn’t the way to garner support. I think we need angry people shouting and rocking the boat too, but we need popular opinion on our side. For me, the passion came from thinking of it in an environmental justice way (i.e. low-lying island nations who contributed very little carbon emissions becoming submerged seemed unfair) and possible doomsday scenarios for us at home (not a hyperbole), but having someone on your side for economic or other reasons is better than not at all.

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Comments (3)

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  1. Dave's avatar Dave

    My statements weren't clear. I was trying to convey my belief that wind and solar are well established. And therefore we have reason to be glad and thankful for allthe efforts.

    Next I was stating the fact that oil, coal and rural electrification have received and continue to receive help from the government. So their claims of an uneven playing field;the government sleting winners; and free enterpise are false.

    #3 – 13 May, 2015 at 6:32 pm

  2. Quentin's avatar Quentin

    But Dave, this just doesn't seem like something we should leave up to the free market alone. Renewables should be treated very differently than coal and oil, since they have very different effects on the environment -- we should incentivize them. How would taking away incentives make us transition to renewables faster? If it's left totally to the free market, it is very likely we won't transition quickly enough, we could raise global temperatures past a tipping point where irreparable damage will be done to the atmosphere.

    #2 – 12 May, 2015 at 12:31 pm

  3. Dave's avatar Dave

    Great summary Q. You've grown a lot this last year. Solar and Wind have made significant inroads in the last decade and they now appear poised to move forward on their own. But the movement will be faster if we give them the consideration given to coal and oil since the 18th century. And the same consideration given to rural electrification in the 20th century. Wood (yes wood), coal and oil will always have a presence but it will no doubt be smaller and smaller as time progresses. Rural electrification's roll is also going to decrease ( in a global sense)due to the inefficiencies of long transmission in comparison to electrical solar and wind islands. Which have the side benefit of increasing the electrical system resiliency.

    #1 – 12 May, 2015 at 11:58 am

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