First Person

Renewable energy: it’s all in the spin

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One of our bloggers, Anna Kramer, wrote recently about re-branding the debate on climate change—the urge people on both sides of the issue have to spin the discussion in a way that suits them best. Can coal be clean? Is natural gas green? It all depends on your spin.

But it’s more than words we’re talking about. It’s consequences. Serious ones.

Take the phrase “renewable energy” and its sister, “alternative energy.”  A recent New York Times’s story reported that phrases like these are up for grabs. Everyone wants a piece of them —coal companies, the nuclear power industry, waste-to-energy makers—and with good reason. Suddenly, anything labeled “renewable” has become synonymous with money: tax breaks, grants, loans—all the goodies packed into federal initiatives and state quotas that are now blossoming, along with our consciousness, under the heat of global warming. Billions of dollars are at stake, the story says. Who’s going to get them? It may well depend on the definition of squishy words like “renewable” and “alternative.”

Definitions matter, as The Times says, because the US is considering adopting a national renewable energy standard and utilities that can claim they are producing a good deal of their power via renewable sources may be under less obligation to add true renewables—like sun and wind—to their mix.

According to the paper, 28 states have now set mandates requiring that renewable or alternative energy make up a certain percentage of all the power they use. In California, the amount will be 33 percent by the year 2020. Most likely, states will struggle to meet those optimistic quotas.

But if waste coal, burning garbage, and breaking down old tires with microwaves count as “renewable” or “alternative,” our problems will be solved—all with the spin of a couple of words.

Dizzying, isn’t it? And just as fantastic as the house of cards we built here based on another misappropriation of the English language, this time by the titans on Wall Street who were so certain that debt really meant wealth. Look where that twisted logic got us.

I attended a high school graduation last week and listened carefully, as I am now old enough to do, to what the speakers had to say. One of them said something very simple, and it has stuck with me: Think for yourself. He said it several times, in several different ways, to make sure that all of us got it.

Think for yourself. And don’t get spun. Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+