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A Beautiful Mess

Only the fittest solutions survive in America’s policy wilderness.

Fortnightly Magazine - May 2011

result? Thousands of 49.5-MW wind projects, most of which make no economic sense, and at least a third of which aren’t even connected to the grid, according to an April 2011 report from China’s official Xinhua news agency. 1 As a result, Beijing now must re-think its green energy strategy.

In some instances, central planning is working well for China. It’s the reason the country has become a global economic superpower, built gleaming showcase cities, and brought a large share of its population out of poverty. But in the shadow of such success, horror stories abound—of graft, corruption and exploitation; massive forced resettlements to make way for hydro reservoirs; coal-mine accidents killing thousands of workers each year; catastrophic acid rain and water pollution denuding the landscape; and chronic pulmonary diseases and deaths caused by the blanket of smog that chokes China’s industrial cities.

So as frustrating as America’s policy process might be, in the long term it’s the only approach that works for us. Forces as powerful as Fukushima and the Arab spring inevitably will bring energy policy changes. But America’s beautiful mess of a policy process will ensure that most of our decisions are based on sound economic, democratic and environmental principles—even if they aren’t strategic or coherent.



1. “ China Drafting New Rules for Small Wind Farm Projects ” Xinhua via China Daily USA , updated April 11, 2011. See also Iain Mills, “ For China, Spending but Few Results on Green Energy World Politics Review , April 20, 2011.