January 21, 2011
Do Catholics Love Renewable Energy?
I'm not sure, but I can give you a definite maybe with some data to support it.
In my recently published article (available here) in the William & Mary's Environmental Law & Policy Review, When Prayer Trumps Politics: The Politics and Demographics of Renewable Portfolio Standards, I analyzed a variety of data looking for trends in states with renewable energy mandates. Energy issues often are touted as highly political and/or resource specific, but there's more to it than that. Here's the abstract:
This Article seeks to understand who supports renewable energy mandates (and why) by analyzing a variety trends found in political and socio-economic data by state, as well as by state renewable energy opportunities (or the lack of such opportunities). The review finds little shocking in the way of politics: Democratic states tend to favor mandates and Republican states tend not to have mandates. Somewhat surprisingly, the correlations among states with wind and solar resources (as well as most of the demographic data) ranged from limited to inconclusive. In religion, however, a strong trend developed. The states with higher Catholic populations strongly favored renewable energy mandates, and the states with higher non-Catholic Christian populations almost uniformly shunned such mandates.
The idea behind the article was to seek and analyze statistical information about who supports renewable energy mandates, by considering trends found in political and socio-economic data by state. To that end, I first considered possible correlations between renewable energy mandates and state choices for president in 2000, 2004, and 2008. Next, I reviewed possible links between renewable mandates and state renewable energy resources, such as wind and solar. Finally, I looked for possible correlations between renewable energy mandates and a wide variety of demographic data, including race, poverty rate, religion, and level of education attained.
I don't claim to have figured out who specifically likes (or hates) renewable energy mandates, nor do I claim to have found a method to pass (or kill) such mandates. Quite simply, I analyzed a variety of state by state data looking for "especially compelling trends and consistencies, i.e., more than mere majorities or slight leanings, among the people of the RPS states. From an evidentiary perspective, [the] article seeks trends closer to 'beyond a reasonable doubt,' or at least 'clear andconvincing evidence,' rather than a 'preponderance of the evidence.'"
This is all at best correlative -- I have no evidence to prove causation. What it does show, though, is that nothing is as easy as it seems. Okay, not a groundbreaking conclusion, in itself. But I can show that some commonly held beliefs often aren't supported by the data. I can also show that some data, such as a state's religious make up, are as good or better predictors of a state's renewable energy laws than the state's political make up.
There may be two dominant political parties, but people have views far more nuanced than those represented by Republican or Democratic party platforms. It's just that, in almost all elections, those are the only two choices, and the candidates representing those two choices tend to be all in with their party's platform. And this matters, whether we're talking about renewable energy mandates, financial regulation, or health care reform. At least, it should.