27 August 2008

Ends and means in energy policy

James Lovelock in The Revenge of Gaia:
I find it sad, but all too human, that there are vast bureaucracies concerned about nuclear waste, huge organizations devoted to decommissioning nuclear power stations, but nothing comparable to deal with that truly malign waste, carbon dioxide.
Energy policy is largely politicised; which means that people are less likely to engage in rational argument. But Lovelock's case for going nuclear should be debated. Unfortunately, like so many other facets of life in a complex world, nuclear technology is highly technical, which probably explains why most of us react emotionally to it. But Social Policy Bonds could bring about more public participation in the debate - essential if we are going to have the buy-in that will become increasingly necessary. Under a bond regime we would target broad environmental indicators and supply of energy. These are the outcomes of an energy policy, and much easier to understand than highly specialised technical data. Holders of bonds targeting such environmental and social goals would have incentives to achieve the specified goals, but it would be up to them to decide how. They would have powerful incentives to meet the agreed environmental criteria. And these criteria would be agreed by society in general, rather than a handful of politicians taking advice from a few scientists and industry lobbyists.

Nuclear or non-nuclear: that is not the question. Meeting agreed social and environmental goals: that is what is important, and that is what an outcome-based policy approach, such as Social Policy Bonds, would deliver.

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