Michele Bachmann.“Need energy? Problem solved!”Photo: Gage SkidmoreDuring a campaign event at Iowa’s world-famous (?) Wells Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor & Museum this past weekend, Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann said that energy is “the most easy problem for America to solve.” How, you ask?

We have 25 percent of the world’s coal here. Trillions of cubic square feet of natural gas here. We just built one of the world’s largest lines of natural gas here. We have got more oil in three Western states in shale oil than all of Saudi Arabia. Did you hear that on your local nightly news? Are you kidding? We’ve got it. I say let’s go get it.

Now, it’s true that Bachmann is always saying crazy sh*t. But this is not Tea Party fringe talk. This is the heart and soul of GOP energy policy. It is their one and only answer to the problem of energy: dig up more fossil fuels. Easy!

I expect most Grist readers understand the deceptions behind this rhetoric: it relies on completely ignoring climate change, exaggerating U.S. fossil fuel reserves, ignoring the size of U.S. energy demand, dismissing the environmental and social costs of drilling, and so on and so forth.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Nonetheless, as a political slogan, it’s incredibly powerful.

First, it promises a solution with no sacrifice or struggle. It’s easy! People really, really, really want for there to be an easy solution to big problems and will happily clutch one when it comes along.

Second, it plays to the preexisting biases of conservative (and even centrist) voters, who are already inclined to think that meddling liberals are getting in the way of economic development. People are far more inclined to hear and internalize a message when it comports with their existing worldview.

Third, it co-opts the one bit of clean energy rhetoric that seems to have any broad appeal, i.e., “energy independence.” Greens are always telling one another that energy independence is a winning message that will reach beyond the choir, but I’ve always been skeptical about that. It’s to easy for conservatives to jujitsu. They can accept the imperative for energy independence but answer it with greater domestic drilling, and voi la, voters get all the independence benefits with none of the effort or higher costs.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The liberal inclination is to attack the conservative message with a torrent of facts. But facts, as wonderful as they are, don’t win political battles. What the left needs is a compact, powerful message of its own.

The problem with the left’s message on energy is that the left has no message on energy. It has a bunch of messages, mostly muddled and half-ass messages, many of which contradict one another. Lacking any clear alternative, most Americans still draw their understanding of the green message from the collective cultural unconscious: it promises difficulty and sacrifice. The problem is hard. The solution is hard. It’s going to cost more. It’s probably going to involve giving up light bulbs and SUVs and living in tiny houses. It might not even work.

Anyway, I’m not saying anything new here. But effectively countering the Bachmann message will require a counter-message of comparable simplicity, one that also plays to some preexisting biases and highlights benefits and progress.

What is it?

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free.