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Culture

In search of a better story

We need to create a story about energy and environment in the U.S. that clearly induces urgency to action without inspiring panic and depression.

One of the best things I've read recently is an oped in The Washington Post entitled "Going Green? Easy Doesn't Do It" by Michael Maniates, a professor of political science and environmental science at Allegheny College.

Prof. Maniates gets right to the heart of one of the things that bothers me about what I hear from some of the more ardent proponents of the cleantech movement: the unexpressed sense that saving the world can be easily accomplished with a few minor changes in behavior, and that technological advancements will be coming to save the day at little incremental cost to all of us.

His punchline: "Never has so little been asked of so many at such a critical moment."

I hope we're wrong, but Prof. Maniates and I both believe that, if we're going to seriously address our energy and environmental challenges, we're going to be exposed to major economic and behavioral sacrifice, relative to our current standards of living. I don't see how we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% from present levels without a fundamental shift in how we do things at every level of existence.

This takes courage and determination. As Prof. Maniates exposes, what we get instead from politicians, the media and (yes) many advocates is a mixture of hyperbole and half-truths that serve to relax the masses.

In a conversation I had about a year ago with David Orr, one of the true pioneers in environmental thinking at Oberlin College, I said to him that we all needed to create and broadcast a story about energy and environment in the U.S. that clearly induces urgency to action without inspiring panic and depression. I know that I haven't been able to craft such a well-balanced story. Has anyone out there?

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.