By now everyone knows that Mitt Romney's new friend, Paul Ryan, is a fiscal conservative. We also know he's a climate denier so the environmental community is going nuts... but I think they are out of sync. Paul Ryan is going to be their best friend. Maybe mine, too. I'm an investor in "clean" energy, as in anything that works to provide energy (or use energy) that reduces the impact of too much carbon.
Ryan is going to be our best buddy whether he knows it or not. In fact, as a clean energy investor, I think he improves the likelihood that those of us investing in a better future are going to see increased demand for the innovative technologies we've backed and the chance to make a whole lot of money in the process.
Now Ryan might not have figured this out. That's okay! In fact, I'm counting on it but then he will be thinking that guys like Richard Muller used to be his friend. However, Muller has done the unthinkable. As a well-known professor of Physics at UC Berkeley, once a spokesperson for the climate change "denier" community, he changed his mind. Paul Ryan, believe me, is NEVER going to change his mind that climate change is nonsense.
If he has his way, the U.S. will never become part of any international agreement on carbon. For him, fiscal conservation outdoes environmental conservation. So it's a really, really easy decision to stop the U.S. government from funding anything remotely connected to fixing the problem. Instead, Ryan's energy policy would see "drastic cuts in federal spending on energy research and development and for the outright elimination of subsidies and tax breaks for wind, solar power, and other alternative energy technologies." (Welcome back to the Dark Ages America.) Ryan won't answer whether he'll also cut subsidies to the traditional oil and gas industry, some of whom, like the Koch brothers, to no surprise, are huge campaign contributors.
Let's get to know the infamous Mr. Muller a bit more. As a former climate change "denier", he decided that he'd better be able to back up his claims with actual evidence that human activity was not causing whatever (small) changes in temperature were taking place. When he and others did the work, they first tracked real changes over the last 250 years and tried to blame those changes on many other non-human factors, but they couldn't. So Muller, a scientist, changed his mind based on science. Ryan, a non-scientist, will not change his mind, based on non-science. You can absolutely count on it. And Romney change his mind? Based on past... oh, surely not.
Another important person to mention is Anthony Leiserowitz. Leiserowitz heads the Yale Project on Climate Change, a project devoted to monitoring the public's knowledge on climate change. The other day, the group reported a poll which says by and large, voters approve candidates taking a pro-climate stance. He said that being pro-climate is not regarded as being negative, even among Republicans. That won't matter to Ryan, and when he gets into a debate (you can absolutely count on this too), what he says about this topic will count against him in the ranks of the independents. But, of course, Mr. Ryan already knows everything he needs to know on the subject.
Now why do I say Ryan is my "Clean Energy Buddy"? Let's go back to Muller. He might not sign on to everything that NASA's James Hansen has to say but according to Muller's own report, his "findings are stronger than those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change" and he "expects the rate of warming to proceed at a steady pace, about one and half degrees over land in the next 50 years" unless China continues its rapid economic growth, bumping that up to 20 years. I've been saying for years that the build-up of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) is unstoppable by anything any of our politicians are going to do. Climate change is going to happen on a grand scale. Nice to have Dr. Muller on board.
So there are two possible outcomes: Ryan might help the Democrats win, and while President Obama won't start down the road of an effective carbon tax (nobody can), he is at least listening, and might well want to improve funding for alternative energy. He knows the Chinese see the industrial opportunity staring them in the face when it comes to developing and manufacturing the most advanced answers to minimize carbon emissions, so that's good.
If Romney and Ryan win, the big difference will be that they are personally incapable of changing their minds and recognizing reality. That means four years worth of further (and more powerful) evidence of global warming advancement through increased temperatures, continued drought, harsher storms, growing forest fires, flooding, and so on. They'll invent excuses, but government support for alternatives will be stopped in its tracks, maybe under the umbrella of maintaining tax cuts for the wealthy -- the wealthy, who by the way, probably figure they can just spend more and remain unaffected by the chaos around them. Some of this will hit people in their pocketbooks (e.g. food prices) but for four years the U.S. Government will ignore all of this. They'll also ignore Chinese technological progress.
While the Koch brothers might not like it, the industry will be watching and they too will know that the U.S. will eventually have to react. And if Dr. Muller is right: that reaction will be immense. This is when investors like me and my colleagues at Chrysalix who choose to fund groundbreaking and effective clean energy technology innovations will be presented with big cheques. So Paul Ryan, thank you very much for being my "buddy!
Mike Brown is Chairman of Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital, 40-year venture veteran, and winner of the Cleantech Group's "Pioneer Award"