Time for a positive spin! Of course everyone wants economic development and a better world for their children and grandchildren, but beyond that, there is less agreement about what that means exactly.

Although we are all different in many ways, we still share the same world, and so conflict is unavoidable. Conflict isn't necessarily "negative" or something to be avoided - there is no progress without conflict and resolution - and as Donald Rumsfeld famously observed, "Democracy is messy." Still, the conflict has to be contained and directed to positive ends if democratic civilization is to persist - and that is the challenge of boards and commissions.

It is pretty much obvious that the era of cheap energy is over. At the beginning of the United States, energy was essentially free. Water power, coal, natural gas and oil were just there, essentially for the taking, and there was enough to power a dynamic USA to superpower status. But now, we are in conflict over energy.

In 2005, even the most optimistic experts agree that North American energy supplies are maxed out, and even in decline. Increasingly, we require energy from sources in unstable and hostile areas of the world, and the cost of that energy - in treasure and blood, increasing foreign debt and constant warfare - is getting higher. If our economy is to remain stable, let alone grow, we must make some difficult choices about sources and use of energy.

The basic questions - who profits? who pays? - have yet to be answered in the case of liquefied natural gas. It is reasonable for the public to expect to get accurate technical and engineering answers to our questions from industry sources, but they aren't likely to be a very good source for cost-benefit analysis from the public's point of view. It is not reasonable to expect the industry to be concerned about the "common good" - even if that could be defined - over the needs of their shareholders. That is not how one does business, even in the most enlightened companies. They must vote their balance sheet - and in the short term. That is why we need a viable political system - one that doesn't shy from conflict. The people, not the corporations, are responsible for the long-term view.

The U.S. Constitution makes "the people" sovereign. But that doesn't guarantee that the people will always win. "Sovereignty" is not absolute power - if it was, King George III would have destroyed the American revolutionaries. He didn't, and now we are stuck with an excruciatingly slow, seemingly inefficient political process to determine the "will" of the people. Armed with that will, the sovereign "people" must still compete in the real world of power politics with the "will" of the corporate shareholders and the "will" of powerful individuals for the control of resources - and the outcome is far from certain.

There are sensible alternatives to foreign oil and gas that will help us build a strong community and develop a solid economy that can last for generations - not just the 30 to 50 years that are predicted for natural gas supplies. Check out (www.columbiarivervision.org), the Web site of a local group RiverVision, for more information and links to the world of energy.

Tom Duncan