Tangled Embrace of the Three E’s

One of the frightening consequences of the $700,000,000,000 government bailout of the financial sector is what it means for future energy policy.  Both US Presidential Nominees have energy platforms that call for investments in renewable energy and green collar jobs.  Putting aside for a moment legitimate questions about the proposed treasury bill and the wisdom of each candidate’s proposals, it’s clear that the current economic crisis is going to have an impact on the next administration’s climate and energy plans.

I haven’t yet seen a comment from the McCain campaign, but Barack Obama did recently state that the bailout could have a real impact on his administration, should he be elected president.

Democrat Barack Obama acknowledged this morning that the massive Wall Street bailout will likely postpone his sweeping proposals on healthcare, education, alternative energy, and other priorities.

 And this makes me wonder if what many of us concerned about the interconnectedness of energy and the economy feared may actually be happening. Namely, that energy and the economy (oh, and don’t forget the environment) could find themselves in a sort of positive feedback loop death spiral. By that I mean, as energy costs climb, governments will have less money available to invest in alternatives to fossil fuels, not to mention other investments that are key to healthy, sustainable communities.  The longer we remain dependent on depleting fossil fuels, the less time and money we’ll have left to transition away from them or mitigate the climate crisis.  The more we deplete the higher the energy costs and the more instability and shortages we’ll experience.  All this further weakens the economy, which leaves us with yet fewer resources to get out of the trap.  You get the idea.

This, of course, is not rocket science. But it’s amazing how little discussion or thought seems to be put into policy decisions (see Richard Heinberg’s recent commentary on this). 

Then again, some would say that lots of thought has been put into this by anti-tax lobbyists and "thinkers" like Grover Norquist who–having first tried to reduce spending on social services like Social Security or healthcare by dramatically cutting taxes–may be now championing the opposite: massive government spending and debts on foreign wars and bailouts for Wall Street fat cats, so that little to nothing is left for things like public education, healthcare, and Social Security.

When asked by Alain de Botton, "Why shouldn’t the state help the needy?", in the television adaptation of Status Anxiety, Norquist replied, "Because to do that, you would have to steal money from people who earned it and give it to people who didn’t. And then you make the state into a thief." Botton follows with, "You’re suggesting that taxation is theft?" Norquist continues, "Taxation beyond the legitimate requirements of providing for justice is theft, sure."

Now, it’s one thing if you don’t believe that our government should guarantee things like retirement income or welfare. But what I just don’t get is where anti-government people think they or their kids are going to live in the future when we have no oil or roads left to get us and the things we need around, or when global warming has really hit.

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