Summarizes the analysis laid out in subsequent chapters, and the book’s objectives.


1: Republican Moments & the Creation of the Energy Regulatory State

This chapter traces the creation of the regulatory regimes that constitute the energy regulatory state from the Populist and Progressive Eras through the New Deal and the post-WWII “environmental decade.” Almost all are best understood as “republican moments” in which groundswells of public concern overcame congressional opposition and legislative inertia.  They reflected evolving public attitudes that focused initially on ensuring the availability of affordable, reliable energy supplies, and later on the environmental, health and safety of the energy system.

2: Ideological Conservatism & Deregulation

This chapter recounts the effects of the late 20th century “deregulation” movement on the regulation of energy markets. That movement was grounded in an economic philosophy that favored competition and market pricing over regulation, and it played a role in accelerating partisan polarization in the United States.

3: Partisan Tribalism and Climate Policy

This chapter chronicles the early 21st century emergence of climate change as a mainstream political issue, and congressional Democrats’ failed efforts to enact greenhouse gas regulation over the last two decades. It also describes the rapid intensification of partisan tribalism — what political scientists call “affective, negative partisanship” — in the electorate, and its role in blocking or muting U.S. government responses to the climate challenge.


4: The Propaganda Machine

This chapter uses social science research to trace the role of the modern media environment — particularly social and ideological media — in cultivating and amplifying negative partisanship. Ideologically homogenous online communities (“filter bubbles”) promote hasty belief formation, elevate norms of group certainty over truth-seeking, and encourage misunderstanding and demonization of political adversaries. All of which makes building climate majorities in Congress more difficult.

5: Facing Energy Transition Tradeoffs

Among its other destructive effects, the propaganda machine makes it difficult for each side of the energy transition debate to think critically about their own objectives and beliefs. For proponents of the transition, it can be difficult to be transparent about the difficult tradeoffs that the transition entails. The felt urgency of the problem turns people into lobbyists rather than learners and educators, pushing them to dismiss (or view with suspicion) sincere expressions of concern about those tradeoffs, and to “sand the inconvenient edges off the facts” in their presentation of climate and energy narratives. When opinion leaders lobby in this way, it amplifies the problem and lessens trust in experts.

6: Hope and Conversation

Because our political dysfunction is mostly a bottom-up problem, it is best addressed by focusing on voters and the difficult task of breaking the spell of negative partisanship. And because mobilizing one party’s base tends also to mobilize the other party’s base, it requires dialogue across partisan and ideological boundaries. This chapter summarizes a large and growing body of social science research stressing the importance of face-to-face communication in political persuasion, and its essential role in stemming our descent into bitter, negative partisanship and tribal, authoritarian populism.