boxing glovesCan clean energy hold its own against fossil fuel propaganda?Cross-posted from Climate Progress.

Politics is the art of controlling your environment. — Hunter S. Thompson

I’ve been writing for years about how renewable energy is “an issue we can all rally around” that shouldn’t involve partisan politics.

In an ideal world that would hold true. But after seeing the relentless campaign waged by a small-but-powerful group of belligerents determined to marginalize the industry, my opinion changed in 2011.

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That shouldn’t stop us from trying to bring this issue above politics. But we’re in a fiercely partisan election year. And after witnessing the successful political campaign waged to raise doubts about climate science — thus creating an army of conservative presidential hopefuls who see talking about human-caused global warming as a political death sentence — we should all be on high alert.

Let’s face it: The clean-energy industry isn’t going to match the tens of millions of dollars being poured into anti-clean energy propaganda by the Koch brothers or the latest fossil-fuel PR campaign from the American Petroleum Institute. By the time clean-energy interests can actually match that level of spending, there probably won’t be the same need to guard against the constant barrage of baseball bats swinging for the knees of anyone who cares about moving this sector forward to address climate change.

To make pushback more difficult, Washington-based advocacy organizations don’t have any interest in getting into fisticuffs. They risk losing support if they lash out too much, so they hang back and try to make friends with as many people possible. This is understandable for trying to craft policy. However, it also means they don’t have a very big dog in the political fight — a fight they’ve been reluctantly dragged into over the last six months.

A lot of people working in clean energy on the ground level feel the same way. Who wants to get dragged into a barroom brawl started by a bunch of jabbering political drunkards who have no idea what they’re talking about? It’s best just to put their heads down, do their job, and hope they can ride through the bad vibes.

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But that’s just not going to work in 2012. Waiting for things to blow over isn’t going to be an adequate response. If you care about clean energy issues and actually want to make an impact on the dialogue in 2012, you’ve got to get involved.

Here’s what I mean.

I’m not talking about being a supporter of Obama just because he tends to be more publicly supportive of renewable energy. Given how quickly the administration stopped talking about climate change after 2009, it will be a huge surprise if Obama makes climate and clean energy a major part of his campaign anyway — which is just another sad example of allowing someone else to hijack the issue.

What matters is stepping up to these candidates toe-to-toe when they come into your state to campaign and show the voters they know best. The clean-energy industry may not be able to cut through millions of dollars in television ads by the fossil-fuel lobby. But thousands of people scattered around the country challenging presidential and congressional candidates on their positions will have an impact.

When a candidate says green jobs don’t exist and are nothing but propaganda, you need to show up at a town hall dressed with more green than Kermit the Frog and ask him or her, “I work in the industry. Do you not think my job exists?” Hold them accountable. Shake up their carefully controlled environment.

Republican voters in New Hampshire started doing it for climate change. Over the last few months, an active group of GOP members concerned about climate have been consistently challenging the presidential hopefuls at campaign stops, forcing candidates to talk about the issue. Some of the quotes from candidates have ended up in the mainstream press, making climate a greater topic of conversation in national debates and news stories about the election.

Supporters of clean energy have gotten lazy. Under Obama, they believed this would be the turning point for energy — that somehow we’d reach a point of no return in national support of the industry.

Last year proved that wasn’t the case. And it’s likely not going to change if people who care about these issues — particularly those actually representing the industry — turn the other cheek and try to keep their issues completely apolitical.