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How a Climate Skeptic Defends His Electric Car

Diversifying energy sources used to enjoy bipartisan support. But ideologues can't spare any change.


Change is hard. And it should be. Change can have harmful unintended consequences, as the seminal conservative theorist Edmund Burke warned more than two centuries ago.

Sometimes, however, change--prudently managed--is necessary. Which Burke also taught us.

The difficulty of making prudent change is exacerbated when new ideas get bollixed up in the power games, tribal suspicions, and egotism of partisan politics.

Take energy. It wasn't so long ago that diversification of our energy portfolio enjoyed wide bipartisan support, for environmental reasons and for reasons having nothing to do with the environment.

The absurdities that often drive D.C. debates recently have driven energy politics to a surreal state in which fossil energy sources are perceived as "Republicans" and non-fossil sources are "Democrats," with the exception of nuclear, which is sort of a swing voter.

In a Roll Call op-ed last Thursday, Vice Adm. Dennis McGinn (ret.) swatted away arguments that the Navy's biofuel tests are a feel-good "greening" project that has been undertaken, in the words of a letter some House lawmakers sent to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, "just for the sake of greening the Navy." The premise of the letter was, don't change. Another premise of the letter was that biofuels are "green" and "green" is politically incorrect.

McGinn said the Navy has heard it all before. Every time the Navy has examined a new form of propulsion, whether it was switching from sail to steam, or oil to nuclear, the peanut gallery decried "Navy foolishness and excessive spending." While the alternatives were costlier at the time, they conferred strategic advantages that stood the test of time.

Oil dependence is a strategic liability. "Security must trump ideology," McGinn reminded his critics.

Likewise, consider the saga of the Chevrolet Volt, the range-extended electric car that critics have denounced as a costly, fire-prone toy for greenies that doesn't have a prayer of muscling aside the oil-fueled internal combustion engine. The Volt is a communist car that Government Motors and its fossil fuel-hating socialist masters are trying to force onto the public, the ideological meme goes. 

Having none of it is Bob Lutz, GM's veteran car guy who is politically conservative and an unreformed climate change skeptic. In a recent Forbes blog post, Lutz pushed back hard against the "rabid, sadly misinformed right." The Volt, Lutz made clear, was a technological innovation he developed without government guidance, no Volt in normal service has caught fire, and a rebadged version of the Volt has been named European Car of the Year, a first for an American design.

Just to make his point clear, Lutz continued: "So, the loony right has its jaws sunk into the Volt with all the stupid determination of a terrier who has locked his teeth into the mailman's butt. And with the same result: painful, but without any useful purpose."

Change is hard. And, as Bob Lutz has discovered, when mindless partisanship gets in the way, change is sometimes painful.

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Republicans for Environmental Protection advocates for environmental issues while adhering to the basic Republican principles of fiscal responsibility and smaller government.
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