22 January 2018

Ends and means in energy policy

James Lovelock in 2006, 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 many of us react emotionally to it, or are content to leave it to the 'experts'.

Under a Social Policy Bond regime society would have explicit goals for the environment. These would be long term goals so that, if carbon dioxide is indeed a malign by-product of energy production, then people would be motivated to reduce CO2 emissions. Environmental outcomes are much easier for all of us to understand than highly specialised and politicised technical data, based on fixed science. Holders of bonds targeting environmental 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, using ossified science.

Social Policy Bonds would bring about more public participation in the debate - essential if we are going to have the buy-in that will become increasingly necessary in meeting our huge, urgent environmental challenges. The question should not be the divisive one of nuclear or non-nuclear. Agreeing upon and achieving environmental goals: that is what is important, and that is what an outcome-based policy approach, such as Social Policy Bonds, could deliver.

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