‘Quality of life’ is a tricky concept – in a pluralistic society, there is no ultimate authority to arbitrate just what constitutes ‘quality.’ But as political and economic pressure increases to develop risky sources of energy such as biofuels, oil sands, and shale gas – tentative steps into the realm of qualitative evaluation of the price of development to our quality of life is called for.
Right now, natural gas is radically less expensive than oil, per unit of energy. The gap between the market price of these two sources of energy generates massive demand for the cheaper source. In turn, this demand leads to enormous political pressure to develop an infrastructure for its extraction and consumption. But how many perspectives may we take on cost that are excluded by the decisive chart below?
What this chart obscures are qualitative metrics by which citizens may evaluate the price of the extraction of energy: air and water quality, atmospheric stability, and social justice. One may quantitative measure how much methane and benzene are released by processes such as hydraulic fracturing, the key method for the extraction of shale gas. But ultimately, how much benzene in groundwater or methane in the atmosphere is too much is an irreducibly qualitative decision.
How can we better incorporate qualitative considerations into an energy policymaking process? Can this incorporation scale up to the state and federal level?