In previous posts I've explained how the U.S. can reduce carbon emissions effectively and fairly. But in the real world, the best policies don't always get adopted. That's because government policies don't arise in a void. They emerge from a political process that's driven by players.
As in any competition, it helps to know who the players are. In climate policy, there are four key contenders:
• Legacy industries
• Sunrise industries
• Environmental groups
• Everybody else.
The legacy industries are the oil, coal, gas, auto, and electric industries. Their interests aren't identical, but in general, they want to reap maximum return from their past investments and the resources they control. They're happy with the status quo and favor the least demanding changes. Because they've been around a long time — and have lots of money — they enjoy enormous political clout.
The sunrise industries include wind, solar, and some hi-tech companies, plus venture capitalists, investment bankers and carbon traders. They're comfortable with change and hope to profit from it. In general, they favor subsidies for energy alternatives and lots of carbon trading. But they have less political clout than the legacy industries.
Environmental groups represent, in theory, the planet as a whole. In reality, they differ substantially in their tactics and alliances. Some prefer market-based policies, others favor government regulation and spending. Some will make deals with polluters, others won't.
The "everybody else" category is where most of us fit in. We drive cars, pay energy bills, and vote. We want climate solutions that are fair and effective and don't empty our bank accounts. To get that outcome, however, we must make our voices heard. The bottom line in climate policy — as elsewhere — is that unless the public puts pressure on politicians, special interests will rule.