windWhen I talked with Terry Tamminen a while back (I’ll publish it some day, I promise!), he said something that got me thinking. As Schwarzenegger’s top enviro advisor, he’s been on the inside, making policy and being lobbied from all sides. He’s also been a part of several environmental NGOs, doing the lobbying. So he’s seen policy contests from both sides.

I asked him why green groups haven’t been more effective on climate and energy issues. He said it’s simple: when the business lobby goes after an issue, it speaks with a single voice. The chamber of commerce, the think tanks, and all the constituent industry groups agree on what they want. Then they lay it out to lawmakers.

Green groups, on the other hand, come in willy nilly, with a dozen different proposals, all stressing different things, frequently criticizing each other. It’s all about biofuels. No, it’s all about hybrids. No, it’s all about carbon taxes. Etc.

Politicians want to balance competing demands. They instinctively want to find the middle. But without a clear picture of what the environmental "side" is, they don’t know where the middle is.

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So how can green groups unify their message on climate/energy? What kind of agenda could they all get behind? How could they present a unified end-goal to policymakers?

That’s a complicated question, of course. But I’d like to offer up at least one take on such an agenda, for your perusal and feedback. Here goes:

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  • FACTS:
    • We get energy from two basic sources: electricity (generated by coal, nuclear, hydro, wind, solar, etc.) and liquid fuels (oil, natural gas, and to a small extent, biofuels).
    • It is much easier to find environmentally friendly, non-depleting sources of electricity than it is to find environmentally friendly, non-depleting liquid fuels.

Ergo …

  • GOALS:
    • With a few minor exceptions, we should transition all uses of liquid fuel to electricity. This means fully electric cars and trucks, as well as electric space and water heating.
    • We should transition all electricity generation to renewable sources: hydro, wind, solar, cogen.
    • We should invest heavily in improving the resilience and intelligence of the electricity grid, to handle increased demand.

Reasonably simple, right? Fits on a notecard.

Of course it’s grossly schematic. When it comes to implementation, the devil will be in the details. There will be plenty of legitimate differences about how fast to move toward these goals, what policy tools to use, whether and which bridge fuels to rely on in the interim, and so on.

But if everyone could agree that getting power primarily from renewable sources of electricity is the ultimate goal, it would give policymakers a concrete sense of just what environmentalists want. Lawmakers are unusually open to the environmental movement right now, unusually thoughtful about energy and climate issues. The time is ripe for a unified message.

So what do you think? Would you sign on?