Energy Strategy: The Road Not Taken?

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

-Robert Frost

Where are America's formal or de facto energy policies leading us? Where might we choose to go instead? How can we find out?

Addressing these questions can reveal deeper questions-and a few answers-that are easy to grasp, yet rich in insight and in international relevance. This paper will seek to explore such basic concepts in energy strategy by outlining and contrasting two energy paths that the United States might follow over the next 50 years-long enough for the full implications of change to start to emerge. The first path resembles present federal policy and is essentially an extrapolation of the recent past. It relies on rapid expansion of centralized high technologies to increase supplies of energy, especially in the form of electricity. The second path combines a prompt and serious commitment to efficient use of energy, rapid development of renewable energy sources matched in scale and in energy quality to end-use needs, and special transitional fossil-fuel technologies. This path, a whole greater than the sum of its parts, diverges radically from incremental past practices to pursue long-term goals.

Both paths, as will be argued, present difficult-but very different-problems. The first path is convincingly familiar, but the economic and sociopolitical problems lying ahead loom large, and eventually, perhaps, insuperable. The second path, though it represents a shift in direction, offers many social, economic and geopolitical advantages, including virtual elimination of nuclear proliferation from the world. It is important to recognize that the two paths are mutually exclusive. Because commitments to the first may foreclose the second, we must soon choose one or the other-before failure to stop nuclear proliferation has foreclosed both.1

II

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