I know it was a rhetorical question, but…
Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on November 14, 2007
…the answer has always been defense.
To piggyback on Rich’s and Matt Yglesias’ posts, here is a graphic comparing Department of Defense Federal R&D to DOE Federal R&D for the postwar era up to the start of the Iraq War. Keep in mind that this is not total Defense spending, and it includes any and all energy R&D, not just carbon-friendly activities. However, be aware that there are surely some spillovers into energy technology from other departments and agencies such as NASA and DoD:
Note that the overall peak real funding for energy R&D was topped by defense R&D by 1960.
A friend once told me an anecdote relating to the portion of the graph right around 1980, where energy R&D drops and defense R&D skyrockets. His acquaintance began working at one of the National Laboratories around this time. On his tour of the grounds, he noticed a lot of solar energy equipment stacked near a dumpster. He asked what it was all about. The response? “That’s the renewable energy program. President Carter made us spend a certain amount of our funding on it.” Oh, that crazy Jimmy — who needs renewable energy when we have all this oil and coal?