The catastrophe in Japan has resurfaced concerns raised when President Obama called for clean energy sources to power 80 percent of the country’s energy needs during his State of the Union address. Then, President Obama put forth a rather inclusive definition of clean energy, tagging solar, wind, biofuels — and controversially — nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas with the moniker.
While some considered this broad definition a necessary compromise in the wake of last year’s elections, it also angered clean energy proponents who scoff at the suggestion of “clean” coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy. Now the devastating events in Japan have called new attention to the inclusion of nuclear into the clean energy family. It’s also refreshed media interest around the contentions associated with clean coal. In particular, the emerging trend of abandoning nuclear power in favor of coal in the aftermath of Japan’s disaster has alarmed some environmentalists.
But the confusion doesn’t end or begin there. There’s also the exasperating tendency for some people to use the words climate change and clean energy interchangeably. In fact, the Grist’s David Roberts recently provided the most compelling distinction between these two issues — climate change is political, Roberts says, but green tech is economic. In a nutshell, he writes, “Climate change is controversial and divisive, whereas clean energy is popular.”
Of course, there’s much more to defining clean energy. But ultimately, as long as the words “clean energy” carry such political consequence, they will be defined by a slosh of intersecting agendas, current affairs, politics, and perhaps, a little bit of inspiration.