from Energy, Security, and Climate and Energy Security and Climate Change Program

Why I’ve Started a Blog

April 26, 2010

Blog Post
Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

I got hooked on blogging last winter during the Copenhagen climate negotiations, when I contributed to a group blog at Politico. Pretty soon after that, I decided to make it a permanent thing. I started test-driving a new blog at the Council on Foreign Relations a few weeks ago. Now its time to take the training wheels off.

I’ve started the blog because I’m disturbed by the dearth of careful analysis of energy and climate issues out there. The United States and the world are investing enormous amounts of time and resources in addressing energy challenges, from the risks of climate change to the economic and geopolitical strains imposed by surging demand for oil, yet the quality of public debate on these issues is, to be frank, pretty pathetic. I’d like my blogging to be a (very small) part of changing that.

I used to spend most of my time thinking, writing, and speaking about nuclear security. (I still spend a good bit of time in that area, and I’ll dabble in it on the blog too.) The debates I’d engage in – how to deal with nuclear terrorism, what to do about Iraq, what a new arms treaty with Russia should look like – were dominated (though not exclusively) by independent analysts. Congressional hearings mostly featured experts and former U.S. government officials. Newspaper opinion pages often printed novel (and sometimes complex) ideas for moving forward.

I’ve found the world of climate and energy policy to be pretty different. Don’t get me wrong: there are a lot of smart and dedicated people working hard to find solutions to our energy and climate problems. But debates are dominated by interest group politics: when Congress held hearings on the Waxman-Markey climate legislation last year, most of the witnesses came from businesses and advocacy groups. (Can you imagine if hearings on Iran featured oil companies, weapons manufacturers, peace advocates, and Iranian-American pressure groups?) Opinion pages, for the most part, run three types of energy and climate articles: climate change is or is not a problem; cap-and-trade is good or bad; and China is eating our clean energy lunch or destroying the planet with dirty coal. The positions people take are, with too few exceptions, predictably partisan. The blogosphere mostly mirrors this divide.

I expect this blog to be different. I have the privilege of working at one of the few remaining institutions where scholars are encouraged to be relevant to pressing policy decisions yet still genuinely free to make up their own minds, and I’d like to make as much use of that here as possible.

I plan to use this blog for a few things. I’ll probably spend a lot of time shooting down bad ideas, or more precisely, sloppy arguments. I learn a lot when I try to pick apart ideas, and I hope my readers will too. (Removing clutter also helps the good ideas emerge.) I’ll go deep into analysis of breaking news and of major policy proposals, examining both the policy and the politics. I’ll share accessible explanations of academic work that I think deserves a broader audience. I’ll also test drive ideas that I’m working on for my research – and hope commenters and other bloggers are as merciless in dissecting them as I am with others’ work. (How else am I going to learn anything?) That means that I may be asking questions as often as I’ll be offering answers. And on those occasions where I do testify for Congress or write essays for newspapers or magazines, I’ll often use the blog to share thoughts that I’ve had to leave out.

But this is fundamentally an experiment. Is there a broad constituency out there for serious analysis of the policy and political questions at the heart of our energy and climate challenges? I don’t know, but I sure hope so.