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Throughout our surveys and interviews, a common theme emerges: people want jobs that go to workers who live in their communities. So what happens when clean energy jobs are not local jobs? Opposition from communities, unions, and elected officials can ensue. But what can we do? This chapter tells the story of unions in Minnesota – unions that represent both fossil and clean energy workers – that tried not a strategy of darkness and denial but instead a strategy of sunlight and support. They worked with state regulators to have clean energy project proposals commit to disclose to the public how many local workers they hire. We combine this episode with internal union surveys and our surveys of elected officials and the public to show both the promises of transparency but also its limits.
In 1990, the United States passed groundbreaking amendments to the Clean Air Act to combat acid rain. This legislation has saved countless lives, spurred innovation, and helped lay the groundwork for more ambitious climate policy. But as one might suspect, it was a major legislative battle. And one part largely ignored in the literature on this momentous legislative achievement was a proposal from the infamous Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia. He and a group of lawmakers fought for substantial funding for coal workers that would be put out of work by the acid rain law. We tell the story of this legislative battle, which highlights themes discussed in the book. We then contrast the Appalachian coal transition with Germany's coal phase-out, including how their political and social systems facilitate or frustrate transitions.
The world needs to transition to clean energy. But this massive transformation runs up against political obstacles. Local governments, national political parties, and corporations are obstructing the clean energy transition. And yet there is bipartisan support for communities on the front lines of the energy transition to receive compensation and investment. This chapter introduces the idea that these policies face credibility challenges and questions about local economic benefits. Next, we connect this discussion around the climate impasse with earlier economic transitions due to globalization, automation, national parks, and environmental protections. Finally, we argue that top-down approaches miss these credibility concerns. Instead, a bottom-up process of listening to impacted communities is crucial to unlock the climate impasse.
Do people think credibility challenges exist? They do. This chapter presents evidence from interviews and surveys that show how credibility challenges are present in the minds of the national public, local policymakers, and residents of fossil fuel communities. Our surveys include nationally representative samples of the United States, local elected officials, and county fairgoers in Appalachia. People are concerned that the government will fail to follow through on commitments. Furthermore, companies and investors share these concerns, which can lead to underinvestment in clean energy.
Do our solutions to create credibility make a difference? Yes. This chapter and the rest of the book show how support for a clean energy transition increases when lawmakers make policies more credible and provide local economic benefits. We draw on various surveys and interviews to test our solutions for how credibility can be enhanced. For example, we demonstrate how laws rather than reversible promises can enhance credibility and garner more support. We also show how revealing the national consensus behind assistance to transitioning regions can reduce expectations of policy reversal. We also feature interviews with a range of energy firm executives and lobbyists, which complement our surveys of members of the public and local elected officials.
What are the underlying challenges that create the climate impasse? This chapter explains why compensation and investments that are supposed to facilitate a clean energy transition face credibility challenges. These challenges arise from various sources, such as today’s government cannot perfectly control what tomorrow’s government does, and uncertainty about whether the government represents the interests of people and communities impacted by policy reforms. Finally, we argue that new industries might be seen as providing few local economic benefits. In light of these challenges, we propose solutions to create credibility and build support for the energy transition.
Do people see clean energy investments as delivering local economic benefits? That is, investments producing well-paying jobs that last and use the local workforce? Compared to careers in healthcare, for example, people are more skeptical of the local economic benefits of the clean energy industry. While our surveys show that the national public holds these industries in better regard than coal, for example, this gap declines in areas with more fossil fuel-intensive industries. Our interviews with energy companies confirm these findings. We also discuss the tax revenue challenges communities face when they have long depended on a single revenue source and clean energy does not always support local finances.
The people, communities, and companies we feature in this book face uncertain futures. The concluding chapter pulls together the themes of the book and our lessons for scholars, policymakers, companies, and nonprofits. We then dive into enduring challenges that climate and energy transitions will face. For example, we discuss connections between credibility and the clash between free trade and national industrial policies, the uncertain technological future, and the barriers developing countries face in their energy transitions. We also set an agenda for future research areas, including the importance of equity concerns and adaptation to the effects of climate change. Finally, we discuss the outlook for legislation like the Inflation Reduction Act that seeks to overhaul the US energy system in dramatic ways but in a highly partisan environment.
The clean energy transition needs a workforce. Yet despite the societal demand for green energy, this workforce does not yet exist at the scale required. We show how in addition to economic explanations for why participation in workforce programs struggles, political uncertainty also creates barriers. This becomes apparent when one considers how job and potential job seekers think about local economic opportunity. This chapter unpacks the concerns and motivations of job-seekers. We feature surveys of youths, including a survey of middle schoolers conducted by a school district in coal country. We show that making workforce programs more credible can create interest in these programs and broader support for energy transitions.
Why is the world not moving fast enough to solve the climate crisis? Politics stand in the way, but experts hope that green investments, compensation, and retraining could unlock the impasse. However, these measures often lack credibility. Not only do communities fear these policies could be reversed, but they have seen promises broken before. Uncertain Futures proposes solutions to make more credible promises that build support for the energy transition. It examines the perspectives of workers, communities, and companies, arguing that the climate impasse is best understood by viewing the problem from the ground up. Featuring voices on the front lines such as a commissioner in Carbon County deciding whether to welcome wind, executives at energy companies searching for solutions, mayors and unions in Minnesota battling for local jobs, and fairgoers in coal country navigating their uncertain future, this book contends that making economic transitions work means making promises credible.
Combating climate change requires large economic adjustments with significant distributional implications. To build coalitions of support, scholars and policy makers propose compensating individuals who will bear decarbonization’s costs. What are the determinants of public opinion regarding climate compensation and investment? We theorize that climate policy vulnerability and climate change vulnerability induce support for distinct types of climate policy. Fielding original surveys in the United States and India, we show that people who reside in coal-producing regions prefer compensation for lost jobs. The general public privileges diffuse redistribution mechanisms and investments, discounting compensation to targeted groups. Those who are both physically and economically vulnerable have cross-cutting preferences. Nevertheless, there is considerable support across our samples for policies that compensate different coalitions of climate-vulnerable citizens, in line with theories of “just energy” transition and embedded liberalism. We trace the distinctive compensatory preferences of fossil fuel communities to a logic of shared community identities.
How does naming and shaming affect public support for compliance with international agreements? We investigated this question by conducting survey experiments about the Paris Agreement, which relies on social pressure for enforcement. Our experiments, administered to national samples in the United States, produced three sets of findings. First, shaming by foreign countries shifted domestic public opinion in favor of compliance, increasing the political incentive to honor the Paris Agreement. Second, the effects of shaming varied with the behavior of the target. Shaming was more effective against partial compliers than against targets that took no action or honored their obligations completely. Moreover, even partial compliers managed to reduce the effects of shaming through the strategic use of counter-rhetoric. Third, identity moderated responses to shaming. Shaming by allies was not significantly more effective than shaming by non-allies, but Democrats were more receptive to shaming than Republicans. Overall, our experiments expose both the power and the limits of shaming as a strategy for enforcing the Paris Agreement. At the same time, they advance our understanding of the most significant environmental problem facing the planet.
Prior international political economy public opinion research has primarily examined how economic and socio-cultural factors shape individuals’ views on the flows of goods, people and capital. This research has largely ignored whether individuals also care about rewarding or punishing foreign countries for their policies on these issues. We tested this possibility by administering a series of conjoint and traditional survey experiments in the United States and China that examined how reciprocity influences opposition to foreign acquisitions of domestic companies. We find that reciprocity is an important determinant of public opinion on the regulation of foreign investments. This suggests the need to consider the policies that other countries adopt when trying to explain public attitudes toward global economic integration.