Lecture Kleinman Center Event

The Misunderstood Politics of the Energy Transition


David B. Spence
Rex G. Baker Chair in Natural Resources Law


Sanya Carley
Faculty Director, Kleinman Center for Energy Policy


Energy Forum at the Kleinman Center
220 S. 34th St.
Fisher Fine Arts Building, 4th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19104

David Spence explores how to rescue the U.S. energy transition from voter partisanship.

Event Summary

Why is the United States struggling to enact policies to reduce carbon emissions? Conventional wisdom holds that the wealthy and powerful are to blame, as the oligarchs and corporations that wield disproportionate sway over politicians prioritize their short-term financial interests over the climate’s long term health. David B. Spence argues that this top-down narrative misses a more important culprit—with critical consequences for the energy transition.

Spence’s book, Climate of Contempt, offers a voter-centric, bottom-up explanation of national climate and energy politics, one that pinpoints bitter partisanship as the key impediment to transitioning to a net-zero carbon future. Members of Congress respond to voters whose animosity toward the opposing party makes compromise politically risky. The most powerful driver of polarization, in turn, is the mixture of ideology and social media that constitutes today’s information environment, which amplifies anger, spreads half truths and falsehoods, and sows division, distorting voters’ understandings of the energy transition and their fellow citizens.

In his talk, Spence explores the effects of polarization, partisanship, and propaganda on energy policy and considers how to build a broader climate coalition. He contends that cooperation on this crucial issue is still possible, but it will require sustained person-to-person engagement across ideological and partisan boundaries to foster a more productive dialogue. Providing a timely and incisive understanding of the politics of the energy transition, he suggests new paths forward and offers hope for a net-zero future.

If you are interested in buying a copy of David B. Spence’s book Climate of Contempt, you can receive a 20% discount. Order online here and enter Code: CUP20. Regular shipping and handling charges apply.


David B. Spence

Rex G. Baker Chair in Natural Resources Law, the University of Texas School of Law
David Spence is the Rex G. Baker Chair in Natural Resources Law at the University of Texas School of Law, and Professor of Business, Government & Society at UT-Austin’s McCombs School of Business.

Sanya Carley

Faculty Director
Sanya Carley is the faculty director of the Kleinman Center and Presidential Distinguished Professor of Energy Policy and City Planning at the Stuart Weitzman School of Design.