Counter-Economics: The Real Reason Why Many On The Right Fear Clean Technologies & Energy Efficiency

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In another article I wrote for the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I questioned the way conservatives and Republicans shifted away from support for alternative fuels.

After the attacks, it became clear again that relying on the Middle East for oil was a strategically bad thing. EVs and hybrids were part of this discussion, but other options like CNG, propane, ethanol, and just making vehicles more efficient were all part of the discussion. Gas stations now mostly sell 10% ethanol, and for a while many vehicles were sold with the ability to run on 85% ethanol, with badges on the back of cars and SUVs proudly displaying their ability to run on E85, or flex fuel.

There were also grander plans to move the U.S. away from relying on oil so much, with probably the most well-publicized example being the Pickens Plan, complete with TV commercials to promote it. His idea was basically to move many vehicles to natural gas and then power as many other things as possible with wind and solar, thus reducing or eliminating oil imports. That plan was never put into serious consideration by industry and government, but it’s worth noting that we’re sort of implementing a variant of it, as EVs are charged with electricity generated at natural gas plants in many areas and this displaces oil consumption.

(Side note: it’s still more environmentally friendly to burn simple methane molecules in an efficient combined-cycle gas turbine than it is to burn more complex gas and diesel in relatively cheap piston engines, so EVs are still way ahead.)

But, what might shock some younger readers is that the Republican party once fully supported EV tax credits. Hybrids exploded in popularity after 9/11, and there was a 2005 law (signed by President George W. Bush) that provided tax credits for them. Later, the $7500 tax credits for EVs was also signed into law by Bush.

So, it’s pretty clear that mainstream Republicans used to sing a very different tune when it comes to alternative fuels and EVs. I know we have many Republican readers here who own an EV and who are probably equally confused at what their party has become on this issue. Instead of supporting alternative fuels and EVs like they used to, they’re telling all sorts of lies about their environmental impacts (which is something they normally don’t care about). They’re blaming power outages on them, in spite of plenty of evidence showing other causes.

But, this still leaves us with the question of why they changed their mind on this. When I wrote that 9/11 article, I wondered at the end whether it’s economic insecurity that’s causing this shift, with renewables getting the blame when a big solar farm gets set up in a town and no locals make anything from it. But, that only explains the behavior of individual voters in some small towns, and not the widespread hatred of clean technologies among conservative media personalities and politicians.

Following The Money

One approach to studying this further was to look for financial links. When something in politics and business doesn’t seem to make much sense, you can usually “follow the money” and figure out why things are the way they are.

In the United States, oil companies overwhelmingly give money to Republicans with the amount of money going to them spiking during the late 2000s. Conservative media outlets are also known to receive big money from oil and fracking companies, so it should be no surprise that they toe the line. But, along with benefits to oil companies from the spread of climate change denial, anti-EV propaganda, and outright lies about power outages comes other nasty things, like anti-LGBT propaganda, support for Russia and other oligarchic or dictatorial regimes, and the loss of reproductive rights. All of this is now propped up by oil money.

Foreign oil money also finds its way into U.S. politics. For example, Saudi Arabia’s dictatorship has been caught funding members/family of the Trump administration, spending “dark money” to elect Republicans, and a variety of other influence operations. And, those are just a few of the ones that have come to light. How many more influence operations, secret donations, and other corruption is happening out of view?

The Supply-Side Of “Getting Money Out Of Politics”

I know the natural progressive reaction to these money links is that we need to “get money out of politics.” This usually comes in the form of calls for campaign finance limits, public campaign money, and other reforms that would keep oil companies, foreign oil-funded governments, and other dark influences out of politics.

But, that’s only campaign donations. Even if none of these entities could provide money to politicians, it would be a violation of the First Amendment to prohibit media outlets, social media influencers, and others with great power over public opinion from taking advertising money or donations from the oil industry. Plus, dark money, “gifts,” and other illegal dealings would still continue despite any laws against them, and that criminal activity can be very difficult to detect and eradicate. After all, we can’t prohibit a billionaire from making friends with a politician and taking him on vacations.

So, oil companies and other moneyed entities aren’t afraid of campaign finance reform.

But, there’s something that frightens them all to the bones: not having the money in the bank to corrupt the country with. If they start making less money selling fossil fuels, renting out expensive real estate, and running monopolies, they’ll start to lose their ability to influence the government policies that allow them to continue to do what they do. The recipients of this dirty money likewise fear losing it, because legitimate political donations, advertising, and other forms of support aren’t happy with the idea of having their name associated with the worst conservative policies.

This fear reminded me of the concept of “counter-economics” in the anarchist and libertarian political spheres. Going beyond the concept of voting with your dollars and not supporting businesses that engage in politics, counter-economics has the wider aim of crippling corrupt governments (which, to them at least, is pretty much all governments) by eroding the support they receive.

At worst, the concept includes things like tax evasion, drug smuggling, arms trafficking, and other illegal things not directly tied to violence (they specifically exclude the “red market,” or criminal violence). But, the idea of counter-economics also includes legal things, like achieving as much personal independence as possible and reducing one’s personal need for the “services” of governments and their corrupt corporate buddies.

It should be no surprise that clean energy has been a part of counter-economics from the beginning. Governments don’t get a cut of the sunlight that powers solar panels, and they don’t get a cut of the wind that turns a turbine. Likewise, the big companies fueling and/or participating in the corruption end up losing their cut of the action.

This makes clean energy not only a good idea for the environment and the household budget, but also an important form of civil disobedience and political resistance. This is even more true when you go off-grid and refuse to participate in the urban/suburban real estate markets that enrich people like Harlan Crow, who likes to give Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas expensive gifts and lavish vacations. The same is true for people who refuse to commute pointlessly to office jobs, which has the double effect of burning fossil fuels and propping up urban real estate tycoons.

So, you don’t have to be an anarchist or a libertarian to appreciate the concept of counter-economics. Simply going solar, going off-grid, and refusing to participate in wasteful practices like commuting can help dry up the funding rent-seeking politicians and businessmen rely on to oppress us all.

Featured image: a portable Shiftpod shelter and solar power. Image by Jennifer Sensiba.


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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1996 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba