Energy, the Environment, and Public Policy: Issues for the 1990s

By David L. McKee | Go to book overview

transport of air pollutants and its link to fossil fuels as a public affairs issue has been somewhat overridden, in Sweden and worldwide, by the broader concern over climate change, over the greenhouse or heat trap effect, which is very much an energy issue with its direct linkage to fossil fuel burning. (Although "greenhouse effect" has become the popular terminology, "heat trap effect" might be more accurate in that "greenhouse" creates images of a lovely, warm, bright, flower-filled place, a benign image for a not-so-benign phenomenon. "Heat trap" connotes a trap, and a hot one, from which there is no escape, an example of more accurate imagery.) Hence, the Swedes may be right. Running out of oil or natural gas may be quite irrelevant. We might have to halt usage much sooner than that to avoid a worse fate than entailed as a consequence of running out-- the eco-catastrophe of making the planet unfit for humanity. (Some would see it as humanity making itself unfit for the planet, since we live by our choices and are responsible for them.)

Running out of our ability to economically afford fossil fuels, or running out of our willingness to tempt fate by continuing to burn them, would have the same effect as running out of them per se and would result in a world and a society of dramatically different appearance from the one we know. Given the increasing hue and cry over climate change, climatic warming, with associated sea level rise, possibly associated holes in the atmospheric ozone layer, and inevitable ecological and social disruption, the most likely scenario at the moment appears to be significant fossil fuel reduction for "greenhouse/heat trap" reasons more than any other, unless a general economic collapse is in the offing in the near term.

So, is the way we use energy a moral issue? If the fate of generations yet unborn is dependent upon it; if the ability of the planetary ecosystem to support life is dependent on it; if foreign and domestic economic policy and all that they imply relative to questions of war, peace, hunger, starvation, violence, and survival are dependent on it; then it most certainly is a moral question, a question of moral choice, a question that only we, as consumers, as end users of energy, can answer. We answer that question in the way we live our daily lives.


NOTES
1.
E. F. Schumacher thinking on nuclear energy is best expressed in his books Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered ( New York: Harper- Colophon, 1973), and Good Work ( New York: Harper-Colophon, 1979), and in the 1974 BBC film, "The Other Way."
2.
Interview with Terence Bensel, graduate student in economics, University of New Hampshire, Durham, N.H., May 1, 1989.

-46-

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