Disaster is making US think again about cleaner energy

  • @mjpmccarthy

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is making Americans think more about a clean energy future – but not yet to the extent of having to pay for it, or to tackle climate change, one of the leading US thinkers on global warming policy said yesterday.

US citizens are "horrified" by the pollution in the Gulf of Mexico, and are starting to think more about cleaner energy sources such as wind and wave power, said Eileen Clausen, president of America's foremost climate think-tank, the Washington-based Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

However, she said, when consumers are asked by pollsters if they would be willing to pay more for such a future, they say no, and say the government should pay. Furthermore, Ms Clausen said, the Gulf disaster was giving US energy policy "a nudge rather than a shift" in the direction of clean energy, but it would probably not be enough to bring forward legislation to curb carbon emissions, at least for the present.

The BP spill has certainly helped to focus minds in Washington on energy policy, and the climate and energy bill put forward by Democratic senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman, which is currently stuck in the Senate for want of bipartisan support.

Among much else the bill would commit the US to reducing its carbon emissions by 17 per cent on 2005 levels by 2020, which would be brought about by establishing an emissions trading system. Republicans characterise this as an "energy tax" and will not vote for the bill, which cannot pass without some Republican support.

However, the chances of "doing something" on energy this summer were probably greater as a result of the spill, Ms Clausen said, suggesting that clean-energy measures might be agreed upon which did not specifically tackle global warming, or set a price for carbon.