In the last generation it was oil. Before that, manufacturing. Before that, utilities. Before that, banking. Ever since we ceased to be an agrarian nation, with the outbreak of the Civil War, American politics have been driven by the scene of a rising industry, a ruling industry, and a falling one.
Consider my own time, the era of the Nixon Thesis, 1969-2009. The manufacturing industry was falling, as Detroit was hollowed out. The oil industry was ruling, as Houston and Dallas gave us Presidents and wars over resources. The technology industry was rising, with kids my own age named Gates and Jobs becoming multi-billionaires, and with the Web being spun.
After leaving ZDNet in 2010, my first task was to cover renewable energy, which is the application of technology to power. Oil is based on the idea that you find stuff you can burn, deep underground, you bring it to the surface and you burn it to create power.
Solar and wind have a different set of economics. You create a machine to harvest energy that already exists, all around us. That device remains in place, harvesting energy, for years, decades even. The capital cost of the machine is recovered over time, and the energy produced after it’s paid for is, in essence, free.