So, when pondering Bush’s upcoming SOTU speech — specifically, the energy proposals contained therein — I had a thought (stop the presses!). It’s not an original thought, but it’s worth discussing in a general way.

What smart greens would like to see happen is a balanced program of changes. A move to clean, renewable energy from an array of decentralized sources, perhaps with some bridging technologies to buffer us until we get there (clean coal, nuclear, etc.). Eventually, electric cars run by renewable power. Also, less driving, more public transit, more compact communities, more sustainable agriculture, more application of the precautionary principle in manufacturing, dramatically improved energy efficiency in all areas of the economy. Etc.

Here’s the problem, though: Out of that grab bag of changes, there are two kinds. One kind has the backing of large financial interests. The other doesn’t. I fear that difference, rather than any particular suitability to the problems at hand, will decide which are implemented.

Bush’s proposals are an answer to the question: "How can one appear to care about the energy issue while maximizing the benefit of corporate contributors?" (Much like he approaches any policy issue …) So we get nuke-boosting. Ethanol-boosting. Hydrogen-boosting. Coal-boosting. What we don’t get is anything that’s simply in the public good, to no particular industry’s benefit. And certainly nothing (e.g., a gas tax) that might actually harm a large corporate interest.

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Another way to parse the distinction, though there’s not total overlap, is that energy supply issues get a lot of attention, because someone will always benefit from selling energy, but energy demand issues, which offer fewer chances for big moneymaking but arguably larger aggregate savings, get very little.

This strikes me as a central dilemma for those hoping for a green future. And I’m not really sure what the answer is. Any ideas?

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