Boiling frogs in Whitehall

Energy is not a "normal" political issue. As Henry Kissinger once wrote, "control energy and you control the nations". And you don't have to look far to see that a lot of people still feel that way. The recent nationalisation of Bolivia's gas fields by the country's president, Evo Morales, is sure to put a damper on the next time he has feijoada with Brazil's leader, Lula da Silva. Closer to home, the Polish defence minister has just likened a £3.5bn Russian-German pipeline deal to the Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939.

In Britain, we like to see ourselves as more civilised, even at the risk of being a bit dull. And this year's energy review has what look like four eminently sane goals: cut emissions, maintain reliable supplies, promote competitive markets, and ensure every home has adequate and affordable energy. Fortunately, this supplement can set you all aglow, with articles shedding more light than heat on carbon capture, biofuels and "green" space tourism, to name a few.

The energy minister, Malcolm Wicks, dismisses suggestions that the review is a cynical exercise to push through new nuclear power. Keith Barnham and his colleagues, by contrast, think the case against is overwhelmingly strong, and ask if other factors may be pushing nuclear ahead. They also note that Germany, which has renounced future nuclear power, is ten years ahead of the UK in exploiting renewable energy.

Roger Levett and Clive Bates focus on the ultimate turn-off: demand management. Like Wagner's music, this is better than it sounds. There isn't an energy supply gap, says Levett, only a gap of political courage and imagination. The bills we pay power companies contribute to a return on capital of 10 per cent or less, says Bates; simple energy-efficiency measures can earn 400 per cent risk free (enough to make Octagon weep over a paltry 60 per cent on a PFI hospital). Dieter Helm says that politicians should leave markets well alone - having first set the right goals: long-term markets for carbon reduction and energy capacity.

Environmentalists are often accused of obsessing about climate change. As one who has banged on about it for years, I plead guilty. But suddenly this spring, like footless leggings under short skirts, the future of the planet is all the rage. Unlike footless leggings, it won't go away.

Fred Pearce argues that, as the situation becomes more urgent, the old idea of "contraction and convergence" has a new logic. I've generally been sceptical of C&C. Like the Kellogg-Briand pact that outlawed war in 1928, it takes a certain idealism to believe it will work. People would need to be convinced that climate change could have worse consequences than almost anything else - including a major war between well-armed states - for it to come into effect. Still, the political ground is shifting. In a rare interview, the climate scientist John Houghton describes how he helped to convince the leaders of millions of US evangelicals, who overwhelmingly vote Republican, to get serious about climate change.

In the familiar story, the frog boils to death because it doesn't notice until it's too late that the water is gradually warming up. Can we hop out in time?

Caspar Henderson http://jebin08.blogspot.com

will blog for the Institute of Physics on nuclear power http://potentialenergy.iop.org

and act as adviser to the China Dialogue with the Open Trust. He is writing a book about the future of coral reefs http://coralstory.blogspot.com

Tags:Nuclear