All hail the green welfare state

Sweden has a Ministry of Sustainable Development. Read it and weep.

Published January 4, 2006 5:38PM (EST)

Sweden has a Ministry of Sustainable Development. Just stop and think about that for a second. In the United States, we have a Department of Interior and a Department of Energy, both of which are controlled by former executives of the mining, oil and gas industries that they are supposed to regulate. But in Sweden, Mona Sahlin's job, as minister of sustainable development, is to wean the entire country away from oil, gas, coal and any other non-renewable form of energy.

Reading the mission statement of the ministry is enough to make an environmentally minded American weep with jealousy. "In the green welfare state, our country will reconcile good economic progress with social justice and protection of the environment, to our own benefit and the benefit of future generations. Being at the forefront of development, we will also be in a position to succeed in the export market and support environmentally sustainable social development in countries that are now experiencing strong growth. In this way, national progress is a source of global opportunities. The modernization of our societies has to help ensure that the resources of our planet are sufficient for us all!"

On Nov. 24, the prime minister of Sweden, Goeran Persson, announced the formation of a commission to explore ways to eliminate Sweden's dependence on oil by 2020. Under consideration are the expansion of a host of government incentives and tax breaks that encourage citizens to use renewable energy or migrate to more environmentally friendly technologies. Naturally, it's a long way from forming a commission to eliminating fossil-fuel dependence, and 14 years seems like a pretty short time frame, but when you look at what Sweden has already accomplished, you can only shake your head in admiration.

According to Minister Sahlin, "Since 1994 the use of oil in the housing and services sector has decreased by 15.2 TWh [terawatt-hours]. The use of oil in industry has remained largely unchanged -- although industrial production has increased by 70 percent." Ambitious plans are also already in place to increase the amount of electricity produced from renewable energy sources each year.

Imagine if the United States government were to adopt the environmental sustainable development program of Sweden. The course of world history would change dramatically. Of course, given that the current administration is owned by the energy industry, there's little prospect of any immediate change. But one way or another, the economics of fossil-fuel extraction will force us to follow the Swedish path, sooner or later.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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