EME 803
Applied Energy Policy

The (Busy) Intersection


The (Busy) Intersection

The intersection metaphor for energy policy is a pretty useful way to think about the process; and to illustrate the difference between how it works and how it should work, we will look at two of the busiest and most iconic intersections in the world. These characteristics are likely true of all types of policy development, not just energy, and therefore could have been part of our Lesson 2 discussion as well.

What the intersection of energy and policy should look like:

Photo of Shibuya Crossing. Hundred of people trying to cross at one intersection
Figure 4.1: Shibuya Crossing
Credit: Anthony Robinson

Here we have Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo, Japan. This intersection is just outside of Shibuya's train station - one of the busiest in the world. This particular photo was taken by my husband several years ago. I sat in a cafe three stories up in the background of this photo and observed the traffic patterns here (while enjoying some awesome dessert). And here are some characteristics of this intersection that represent an idyllic version of energy policy crafting:

  • busy - there's always something going on, and thousands of people crossing here at any time of day or night.
  • efficient - everyone's walking with purpose; taking the most direct path to their destination and somehow, despite everyone's destinations taking them in myriad directions, it works.

And this is an aerial shot of the intersection surrounding the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France.

Aerial photo Arc de Triomphe. Roundabound with 12 streets coming off it. Traffic flows well
Figure 4.2: Arc de Triomphe

What's unfortunate about this picture is that it doesn't give you a good sense of how quickly the 10 lanes of traffic whizzing around this roundabout-of-all-roundabouts are traveling (but standing there definitely does!). And while I have to admit that when I saw it in person I didn't witness any collisions or other problems with its functionality, it is deemed unsafe for pedestrian travel, and to get to the Arc itself, you need to take underground pedestrian walkways.

But, the intersection of energy and policy, to me, resembles this intersection much more than Shibuya Crossing does.

While Shibuya is more Point A to Point B, the roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe really has no discernible start or stop - you're just hopping along somewhere in an already turning cog.

It's easy to see how you could get off at the wrong spoke on the wheel, too, and we'll be exploring many instances of real-world complications that derail energy policy.

In the words of our mothers, we need to look both ways.

As we head into the immersion unit of this course, we're going to look at real world applications of many of the concepts we've touched upon in this foundation unit. Many of the issues we'll be studying are complex and politically charged in nature. It'll be important for us to make sure that our personal preferences and experiences, while bound to influence our opinions and perspectives, are grounded in facts and research. We need to see both sides to the story of energy policy development if we want to have any hope of influencing the behavior at this intersection.