I keep striving to see the Big Picture, which some consider a flaw, but while in that mode I chanced upon a book that may have given me a Glimpse.
I recommend reading, “The Plundered Planet: Why We Must—and How We Can—Manage Nature for Global Prosperity,” the latest work by Paul Collier. Collier is Professor of Economics at Oxford University, and a former director of Development Research at the World Bank. He demonstrates an understanding of how countries and economies work--and why they don’t work--which is essential to this discussion. He explains his concepts clearly and concisely, without descending into economic jargon. This book is guaranteed to rattle some cages and slay more than a few sacred cows, which generally can be a positive quality. In short, Collier’s proposal makes a lot of sense.
It is generally accepted that the pursuit of energy conservation and efficiency is a worthy and necessary goal for the U.S. As home energy professionals, we work hard to assure the success of our businesses and to promote our industry. As concerned homeowners and citizens, we are investing time and resources in efficiency measures that we believe are good not just for ourselves, but for the world at large. That is why it is so important to periodically review our policy positions from a much broader global perspective. We don’t want to win the battle but lose the war.
Collier examines the basic economic assumptions that drive most policy now, and shows how these assumptions have contributed to the plundering of the world’s natural resources. He sees environmentalism as having two distinct poles. Environmental pragmatism allows for extraction and use of natural assets as long as the harvest is sustainable, and future generations of humanity are suitably compensated with other assets of equivalent value. Large-scale commercial farming, genetically engineered crops and nuclear power are also considered pragmatic. Environmental romanticism, on the other hand, he describes as an idyllic “at one with nature” view that calls for small-scale farming, renewable energy, anti-corporate sentiment, no nuclear power and preservation of nature at all costs. These two poles of environmentalism are contrasted with the “get it while you can” mentality that typifies most extractive industries today. He explains why cap-and-trade scenarios are doomed to fail, and offers a viable alternative. Social justice, ethics and the plight of the world’s poor are front-and-center in Collier’s framework.
Humanity is facing a triple juggernaut of increasing global demand for energy, increasing world population and the climate altering effects of increasing global carbon dioxide emissions. The historical pattern of U.S. energy policy has been to follow paths that mostly benefit national and corporate interests, and that have populist appeal. This is basically an isolationist and self-interested approach, and is no longer suitable because the global economy is now too interconnected, and environmental stakes are too high.
Interestingly, Collier closes by asserting that the only way for these ideas to take hold is bottom-up; that is, for citizens everywhere to become more informed and engaged, and to begin demanding changes in their countries. That’s a tall order, but it would be nice to know that our efforts at energy efficiency will mean something in the long run.
This post originally appeared on Home Energy Consultants' House Whisperer Blog.