Energy Politics vs. the Earth

The current economic climate makes a needed shift to renewable energy tough.

Issue: July-August 2013

Michael Levi, The Power Surge: Energy, Opportunity, and the Battle for America’s Future (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 272 pp., $27.95.

AROUND THE corner on K Street, one of the half dozen designer salad places in my part of downtown Washington recently closed after about a year in business. “Coming soon,” the sign in the papered-over window reads, “Dunkin’ Donuts.” Hurried Washingtonians will soon be able to get their calorie fix for a tenth of the time and money spent. Maybe not so good for them in the long run, but John Maynard Keynes told us what happens in the long run.

This, in miniature, is the choice the United States faces on energy and climate change. Fossil fuels are convenient, cheap, plentiful and, in the long run, deadly. Renewable energy—from the sun and the soil, the wind and the waves—is comparatively expensive, hard to produce and healthy. Mankind has chosen the cheap and plentiful path for the past two hundred years, burning coal, oil and gas and spewing the trash into the atmosphere. In May, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere surpassed four hundred parts per million, the highest level in three million years. The planet teeters on the cusp of calamity. Science says it’s time to switch to salads.

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