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Will economic blues derail green goals?

Posted by: Adam Aston on August 18, 2008

There’s an interesting story over at speculating on the prospects for the next round of UN climate talks. Though the story is focussed on the international debate on climate policy, for now, the question is more urgent at the local and national level here in the US. Economic anxiety has stirred interest in efficiency and energy savings, but if it rises too high, money woes will trump all else. There’s a possibility we could yet see a backlash against any proposal not perceived as the fastest, cheapest solution to lowering energy prices. Consider this scenario: if electricity prices do spike in the next year or so, resistance to coal plants — financially cheap to build but costly in terms of climate damage — will erode. The industry is already anticipating this, with ads that focus on coal’s affordability while misrepresenting its green quotient.

To be fair, we in the the media are compounding this issue: when gas prices are rising, the stories tend toward the apocalyptic; now that gas prices are falling, the tone quickly reverts back anodyne. Needless to say, this has big implications for the US election. The depth of economic pain in the run up to election day will greatly influence the sales pitches of Obama’s green agenda and McCain’s more friendly posture to conventional fossil fuels. In the Democratic primary, Obama was able to beat back a populist proposal to roll back the gas tax. If inflation and unemployment are worse during the campaign, such short term appeals will have more traction.

What do you think?

Reader Comments


August 19, 2008 10:16 PM

The confluence of circumstances that dropped us into this increasingly ugly economy seem, ironically, to be just what the climate needs -- slow down consumer devouring of energy and resources. Somebody ought to measure the CO2 impact and propose the incentives and policies and strengthened communities that could build on it. He who proposes how to reverse that head start ought to be made to look foolish, but you're probably right, it may be the latter that too many people want to hear in spite of the greater burden it will create in the long run.

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BusinessWeek correspondents John Carey and Mark Scott, cover the green scene, keeping on top of the business aspects of energy, the environment and climate change, as well as the technologies, policies, markets and people that are shaping how the earth's resources will be used in the century ahead.

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