Book Overview

Chapter 1: Introduction

The world needs to transition to clean energy. But this massive transformation runs up against political obstacles. Local governments, national political parties, and corporations are obstructing the clean energy transition. And yet there is bipartisan support for communities on the front lines of the energy transition to receive compensation and investment. This chapter introduces the idea that these policies face credibility challenges and questions about local economic benefits. Next, we connect this discussion around the climate impasse with earlier economic transitions due to globalization, automation, national parks, and environmental protections. Finally, we argue that top-down approaches miss these credibility concerns. Instead, a bottom-up process of listening to impacted communities is crucial to unlock the climate impasse.

Chapter 2: Problems and Solutions

What are the underlying challenges that create the climate impasse? This chapter explains why compensation and investments that are supposed to facilitate a clean energy transition face credibility challenges. These challenges arise from various sources, such as today’s government cannot perfectly control what tomorrow’s government does, and uncertainty about whether the government represents the interests of people and communities impacted by policy reforms. Finally, we argue that new industries might be seen as providing few local economic benefits. In light of these challenges, we propose solutions to create credibility and build support for the energy transition.

Chapter 3: Asking People, Communities, and Companies

Do people think credibility challenges exist? They do. This chapter presents evidence from interviews and surveys that show how credibility challenges are present in the minds of the national public, local policymakers, and residents of fossil fuel communities. Our surveys include nationally representative samples of the United States, local elected officials, and county fairgoers in Appalachia. People are concerned that the government will fail to follow through on commitments. Furthermore, companies and investors share these concerns, which can lead to underinvestment in clean energy.

Chapter 4: Opportunity Knocks?

Do people see clean energy investments as delivering local economic benefits? That is, investments producing well-paying jobs that last and use the local workforce? Compared to careers in healthcare, for example, people are more skeptical of the local economic benefits of the clean energy industry. While our surveys show that the national public holds these industries in better regard than coal, for example, this gap declines in areas with more fossil fuel-intensive industries. Our interviews with energy companies confirm these findings. We also discuss the tax revenue challenges communities face when they have long depended on a single revenue source and clean energy does not always support local finances.

Chapter 5: Making Government Policy Credible

Do our solutions to create credibility make a difference? Yes. This chapter and the rest of the book show how support for a clean energy transition increases when lawmakers make policies more credible and provide local economic benefits. We draw on various surveys and interviews to test our solutions for how credibility can be enhanced. For example, we demonstrate how laws rather than reversible promises can enhance credibility and garner more support. We also show how revealing the national consensus behind assistance to transitioning regions can reduce expectations of policy reversal. We also feature interviews with a range of energy firm executives and lobbyists, which complement our surveys of members of the public and local elected officials.

Chapter 6: Bargaining for the Future

In 1990, the United States passed groundbreaking amendments to the Clean Air Act to combat acid rain. This legislation has saved countless lives, spurred innovation, and helped lay the groundwork for more ambitious climate policy. But as one might suspect, it was a major legislative battle. And one part largely ignored in the literature on this momentous legislative achievement was a proposal from the infamous Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia. He and a group of lawmakers fought for substantial funding for coal workers that would be put out of work by the acid rain law. We tell the story of this legislative battle, which highlights themes discussed in the book. We then contrast the Appalachian coal transition with Germany's coal phase-out, including how their political and social systems facilitate or frustrate transitions.

Chapter 7: Making Workforce Programs Work

The clean energy transition needs a workforce. Yet despite the societal demand for green energy, this workforce does not yet exist at the scale required. We show how in addition to economic explanations for why participation in workforce programs struggles, political uncertainty also creates barriers. This becomes apparent when one considers how job and potential job seekers think about local economic opportunity. This chapter unpacks the concerns and motivations of job-seekers. We feature surveys of youths, including a survey of middle schoolers conducted by a school district in coal country. We show that making workforce programs more credible can create interest in these programs and broader support for energy transitions.

Chapter 8: Green Jobs under the Spotlight

Throughout our surveys and interviews, a common theme emerges: people want jobs that go to workers who live in their communities. So what happens when clean energy jobs are not local jobs? Opposition from communities, unions, and elected officials can ensue. But what can we do? This chapter tells the story of unions in Minnesota – unions that represent both fossil and clean energy workers – that tried not a strategy of darkness and denial but instead a strategy of sunlight and support. They worked with state regulators to have clean energy project proposals commit to disclose to the public how many local workers they hire. We combine this episode with internal union surveys and our surveys of elected officials and the public to show both the promises of transparency but also its limits.

Chapter 9: Conclusion

The people, communities, and companies we feature in this book face uncertain futures. The concluding chapter pulls together the themes of the book and our lessons for scholars, policymakers, companies, and nonprofits. We then dive into enduring challenges that climate and energy transitions will face. For example, we discuss connections between credibility and the clash between free trade and national industrial policies, the uncertain technological future, and the barriers developing countries face in their energy transitions. We also set an agenda for future research areas, including the importance of equity concerns and adaptation to the effects of climate change. Finally, we discuss the outlook for legislation like the Inflation Reduction Act that seeks to overhaul the US energy system in dramatic ways but in a highly partisan environment.