Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Case for Personal Virtue: Introduction

[This is the first installment of the paper I submitted to the IEEE Energy2030 Conference; I presented a poster based on the paper yesterday at the conference.]

In April 2001, Vice President Cheney remarked that “conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy.” His remark was widely read as a snide dismissal of environmentalists and other advocates of any alternative to a policy aimed primarily at increasing the supply of fossil fuels, especially petroleum.

I would like to start by acknowledging that the Vice President was correct on one count: personal virtue is not a sufficient basis for a comprehensive energy policy. That said, there is plenty of room to disagree with him on other points.
I might argue, for example, that conservation is not merely a matter of personal virtue or that conservation is not synonymous with austerity and self-denial. I might also argue that personal virtue is never merely personal, but feeds into civic virtues that are the proper foundation of public life as such.

My thesis, in fact, builds from this last point. Even granting that personal virtue is not a sufficient condition, it is worth considering the possibility that personal virtue is a necessary condition for sound energy policy and for a sustainable civilization – or perhaps I should say it is a necessary condition for an energy policy worth having and a civilization worth sustaining. At the very least, personal virtue is something we ought to aspire to, something we ought to foster in ourselves and in others.

1. Kahn, J., "Cheney Promotes Increasing Supply as Energy Policy", New York Times, May 1, 2001.

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