For those trying to break through the current public discussion of sustainable energy policy, it looks like the word “safe” may be pushing out “clean” as the buzzword to sway public opinion.

Momentum to address the challenges of a warming planet has ebbed and flowed over the past year. Within that same time period, the world has seen an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a potential nuclear meltdown in Japan, coal mine mishaps and gas well explosions — not to mention the human cost of protecting U.S. oil interests in the Middle East.

Yet, as each dangerous event emerges, it seems as though we're going backwards when it comes to making the world’s energy portfolio safer.

We've heard catch phrases like “new energy economy” or the “green energy revolution” in various places. But the buzzwords of “new” and “clean” are so popular with consumers — and so believable to voters — that they have been hijacked by the very industries they are designed to sway us away from.

Turn on your television, read your newspaper or your favorite energy news website, and you will see this firsthand. The natural gas industry has made the phrase “clean burning natural gas” a staple of the current political vernacular. “Clean coal” is seen as an investment opportunity these days instead of an oxymoron. The result has been that the green movement has been badly wounded. (See: Copenhagen. See: cap-and-trade. See: Al Gore.)

The greenwashing of some energy industries by large public relations teams has drowned the public in stories about how clean their industries are. In the end, the argument all comes back to cost. And when you look at the financial bottom line alone, coal, natural gas and oil will win — every time.

So like it or not, the green argument has been taken away from the greens.

But what about the safe argument? How many people have been killed by wind turbines, solar panels or algae pools?

How can someone claim that oil is 100 percent safe when we are still seeing the ill effects of the Gulf oil spill? And no one wants to market nuclear power as safe in the aftermath of Japan's nuclear disaster.

So, in this blogger’s opinion, the time to change the tone of the energy debate is now. The tone has to change from clean and green to safe.

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