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Posted at 10:54 AM ET, 12/21/2010

How to jump-start energy policy reform

By Carl Safina
Guest Blogger

Marine conservationist Carl Safina has drawn attention to our delicate environment for years. In his latest book, “The View from the Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World,” due out in January from Henry Holt, he journeys across the globe to document ecological destruction and nature’s resilience – and to point out signs of future concern. Here, Safina, cofounder of The Blue Ocean Institute and a MacArthur Fellow, suggests one approach that could change the course of our energy policy.


For America to lead on energy with minimal government interference and positive budget savings, we should end the subsidies to Big Oil and Big Coal.

Chemistry and physics, which work according to laws not subject to our opinion, inform us that burning fossil fuels is greatly increasing the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide, which warms the planet and acidifies the seas.

What to do about it is, unfortunately, subject to too much opinion, including the opinion that we should deny it and do nothing. And whose opinion is that? A lot of people’s it seems. But actually, it all goes back to the political influence of Big Oil and Big Coal and their desire to keep feeding their own profits.

A discussion of changes in energy policy — even a policy based entirely on national security, U.S. jobs, U.S. technological innovation and leadership, and U.S. energy infrastructure — is making little headway. That’s because the biggest businesses affected – oil and coal – and their lobbies, are driving the discussion and making sure it goes nowhere.

The businesses that would drive it in a positive direction are simply not big enough to counter them. The many and diverse businesses that would be the future clean energy lobby don’t exist.

So we still need government. The role of government is to protect the wider public interest from harmful narrow interests. But business interests have dismantled this policing role through the corrupting influence of money in politics.

When the Big Banks essentially paid off their government jailor to open the door to the regulatory cell in which we’d confined their greed, the resulting deregulation brought the whole world economy to its knees.

But is government up to the task? I’m not sure. We’d need to democratize energy policy and wrest control of government from the oil and coal lobby. That’s a tall order.

Perhaps the best way to appeal to real conservatives who hate government waste is to eliminate subsidies to Big Fossil Fuel. This would level the playing field, get to corrupting money out, and allow innovators to seek their fortunes.

As several writers including myself have pointed out, U.S. leadership on climate change and energy innovation is also very much about national security, patriotism and rebuilding the economy. The nation that owns the energy future will own the future.

I’d rather it not be China; I’d rather it be the United States. But the United States has to decide it wants to lead.

By Carl Safina  | December 21, 2010; 10:54 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Blogger  
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