Energy policy consultant lays out a unifying vision for the future of climate change

An energy policy consultant has laid out a vision of how to unite a world divided over climate change.

At yesterday’s UW-Madison talk, “De-escalating the Energy Wars,” consultant Tisha Schuller condemned the tendency for people involved in the energy debate to characterize the opposition as the villain.

“Energy environmental issues are so polarized; you only hear from the extremes,” said Schuller. “These caricatures dominate the stories seen in the media, and they dominate my experiences.”

She says the extreme voices that dominate the global discussion make up only 10 percent of people.

“We have to join the conversation,” said Schuller. “It’s imperative that we bridge the gap between extremes and find common ground in the middle.”

She used the example of Colorado, where she worked as president and CEO of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, to illustrate the discord that can arise when energy sources change.

“Colorado, within a year’s time went from an 85 percent natural gas producing state to being a 85 percent oil producing state.”

This situation occurred when the price of natural gas bottomed out and drilling for natural gas almost completely stopped as a new oil field was discovered. She decided that this was an important time to learn more about clean energy.

“It’s easy to want to live in a fossil-fuel free world, but we have to make choices,” said Schuller. “Everything we do is fueled by energy. I came to understand that if we want to contemplate reducing emissions and carbon, we have to acknowledge and recognize that our lives are connected to this.”

This realization led her to the understanding that regardless of which side of the argument someone falls on, it wouldn’t help to simply demonize the other side, or even to push for regulation.

The solution, she says, is “not creating more effective regulation. What reduces controversy is creating dialogue in communities.”

And the communities most affected by energy scarcity, she says, are already in a tough spot.

“In the U.S., 14 percent of people live in poverty,” said Schuller. “If you live in poverty, you spend 25 percent of your monthly budget on energy.”

“This is a big deal,” said Schuller. “The conclusion that I have come to is that the most important thing we can do to address climate change is to raise a lot of people out of poverty.”

One big issue standing in the way of this lofty goal, according to Schuller, is the bias that causes people to ignore anything that doesn’t support his or her point of view.

“If you put science into an emotionally charged situation, it can make it worse,” said Schuller.

To combat this tendency, she says, it will be necessary to establish good communication between those that may hate each other the most.

“More people are committed to the fight itself than solutions,” said Schuller. “It’s not going to be the best data that wins; it’s going to be meaningful debate and rapport.”

–By Alex Moe,