These alternative roles for the federal government, local institutions, and scientists will only come into being if the political process determines that an energy system relying more on adaptability is desirable. We realize that there are values and interests on both sides of that issue. For example, depending on the situation, there are various interests served by central planning. Also, interests that benefit from a narrow commodity definition of energy may see the market as an adequate institution for promoting adaptation—which it is, within limits. But as we noted in Chapter 2, the market allows adaptation as a function of an actor’s market power. For financially strapped municipalities, for future generations, for the poor, and for preventing major energy emergencies, considerations of market efficiency alone do not necessarily produce the best results for the entire economy and society. Some notions of adaptability require public action in addition to the workings of the market. In short, decisions about the roles of the federal government, the market, and other institutions in energy policy are ultimately political decisions. Our discussion of a possible federal role in facilitating adaptation adds an alternative to the list for public consideration.

This approach may also be useful in other areas in which the government, as in energy policy, operates with serious limitations on its ability to control. Increasing control, designing and modifying social systems, and using scientific methods as an aid to social learning may be relevant to other policy problems that, like energy, are characterized by diversity, uncertainty, and mistrust. Such policy issues seem almost ubiquitous in the 1980s, but the relation of the general concepts discussed here to nonenergy issues is the subject for other investigations.


Our analysis of some major issues in energy policy has produced some new ways of thinking about the problems that have broad policy implications. It is not always obvious, however, how to translate principles into specific policies or programs. It is also not always clear whether the needed action should come from public or private sectors. Here, we offer specific recommendations that we can support with confidence. More detail and research support for these recommendations can be found in previous chapters.

Conservation Programs

  1. Government, utilities, and other operators of conservation programs should apply the best existing knowledge of communication processes in presenting information to energy users. Currently, in the design of utility

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