Have you ever heard of the irresistible force paradox?  What would happen if an irresistible force met an in-movable object?  I think this paradox may describe what will happen when the Obama Administration’s environmental agenda meets the reality of the economy. 

Remember a few months back when oil peaked around $140 a barrel.  Of course you do…But do you also remember the momentum that the green movement due to the reality of limited resources and escalating energy prices.  Everything looks possible- a shift to renewable energy, energy conversation, higher gas mileage vehicles, and climate change legislation.

Now, only a few months later and oil is around $60-70 a barrel (I just filled up my gas tank for $1.90 per gallon)  We saw an economic meltdown the likes that has not been seen since the Great Depression.  How did this effect the momentum (the irresistible force) behind the Green Movement.  Let’s take a sampling of recent headlines….

  • Many Solar Energy Firms Likely to Fold During Economic Crisis- Analysts say nearly three-fourths of all solar energy companies could go out of business due to extremely tight credit, intense competition to produce solar panels, and falling prices.
  • Local Government’s Reconsider Costs of Green Building Mandates– The poor economy means tight budgets for most local governments.  This has forced local governments to begin questioning the costs associated with mandating LEED certification on new construction.
  • T. Boone Pickens Places Wind Farm On Hold-  The dramatic drop in the cost of natural gas and the global credit crunch makes wind less competitive, according to Pickens.  As a result, he is putting on hold or scrapping plans for his massive 4,000 megawatt wind farm in Texas. (comment:  I guess Mr. Pickens is still a business man and not just motivated by getting us off of foreign oil)
  • Renewable Energy Blues-  As reported in the Wall Street Journal, "when fossil fuel prices were soaring, things like offshore wind farms suddenly looked appealing, and guaranteed electricity prices from wind farms looked like a bargain. But with fossil fuel prices headed south and capital getting more expensive, renewables are losing some of their glow." (see also "Clean Energy Meltdown, Now GE is Bailing")
  • Will EU Member States Use Economic Meltdown to Avoid Climate Targets-  When the economic crisis spread to Europe, the EU’s ambitious goals on Climate Change were second guessed.  The current EU target of a 20% reduction in emissions by 2020 is set to automatically increase to 30%. Recently, Poland, Greece, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria have opposed an increase in reduction targets.   Other EU countries are also second guessing their commitments. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, Germany’s foreign minister said recently: “This crisis changes priorities.” 

Exit polling from yesterday’s election indicated that around 60% of the people who cast their vote made their decision based on issues associated with the economy.  After a quick search I could not even find where the environment ranked as a motivating issue.  I’m willing to bet it was a non-issue for the majority of the voters.

When the Obama Administration takes office and develops their environmental agenda it is likely to include: strong climate change legislation, renewable energy mandates, and policies that will not favor fossil fuels.  However, that Agenda will meet an immovable object that will likely cloud Obama’s entire first term…the economy.  What emerges from the collision is anyone’s guess.

(Photo: Flickr Transplanted Mountineer)