Extra! Extra! Americans’ changing relationship with energy is big news at last!

Energy has finally found a place at the forefront of Americans’ thoughts about our future. Growing concerns about where our energy comes from, how we use it, and the ramifications it carries for our environment, our economy, and our national security have propelled stories about energy to the top of our newscasts and the front pages of our remaining newspapers.

This increased awareness about energy represents an enormous opportunity for those dedicated to the cause of environmental conservation. When people talk about energy, they often find themselves talking as much about landscapes, water resources, air quality, and ecosystems as they do kilowatts produced. Energy and conservation issues overlap and interact across a territory so broad that today any discussion about energy – from the policies that will guide the industry in the twenty-first century to our own individual consumption habits – is necessarily also a conversation about conservation.

Many conservation issues are, at their heart, questions of value: How do we reconcile the value gained from developing our natural resources with the inherent value of intact landscapes and healthy ecosystems? Energy policy converts these otherwise abstract questions into concrete issues, forcing advocates of conservation to clearly articulate the benefits of safeguarding our native ecosystems vis-à-vis the easy-to-appreciate benefits of abundant and affordable kilowatts. (Lest you feel tempted here to scorn Americans’ energy-consumption habits in a manner that tends toward unappreciative, pause for just a moment to consider the computer monitor you are reading this on and the other ways in which you are appreciating abundant and affordable energy at the moment.)

In this sense, the task of crafting a national energy policy for the twenty-first century provides a much-needed occasion to engage in a thoughtful and constructive public dialog about some of the most important questions we face: How and why do we value the environment? And how can we balance its protection with the ways in which abundant energy enriches our lives? At the Center of the American West, we have reason to firmly believe that citizens across the region and throughout the nation are hungry to participate in such a conversation.

Jason Hanson is a researcher at the Center of the American West at CU-Boulder who focuses on energy development and mining.