Perspectives on Energy

Perspectives on Energy

Energy policy has customarily been regarded as a highly technical subject requiring expertise in nuclear physics and other recondite disciplines. Accordingly, energy policy was largely restricted to the technical aspects of conversion, transmission, and the arcana of pricing, and was dominated by a narrow group of experts. Since the Arab oil embargo of 1973-74, however, this exclusiveness has been increasingly challenged. Opposition to expert-ordained nuclear energy and the burgeoning grass-roots interest in solar energy are only the most visible parts of the challenge. Beneath it is a growing body of opinion crystallized in Amory Lovins’s “soft energy path,” suggesting that the issues of energy policy are not primarily technical but political, social, and ethical. This view represents not so much a repudiation of expertise as a disagreement over the nature of the issues.

In this respect, the debate may foreshadow other issues on the horizon that concern the allocation of scarce resources, adaptation to or extension of environmental limits, and the management of  technology. These issues indeed will confront us with an extraordinary array of risks and challenges, for our political institutions were designed to deal with simpler problems. Despite the fact that technological choices may entail large political consequences they seldom, if ever, appear as such on the political agenda. Technology is commonly regarded as a means, and therefore neutral regarding ends. But as Jacques Ellul and others have argued, technology can also affect or preempt ends.


Socialist thought provides us with an imaginative and moral horizon.

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