Ignore the incessant, misleading bleating. Sustainable energy security isn’t a child’s game

I couldn’t help but think of Gene Wilder’s resigned Willy Wonka at the demise of Mike Teevee – “No. Stop. Come back.” – when reading a recent Comment concerning sustainable energy security. While single energy-market proponents are hellbent on securing the Golden Ticket to future profits that is further energy supply, to the detriment of all alternatives, it means nothing less than everything to the rest of society.

Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

The pithy, reconciled concern relates to the well-established, but contemptuously ignored, realities in which energy resources are consumed in Europe. Time and again, curbing our insatiable energy demand, and limiting global warming to 2 ºC compared to 1990 levels is identified as the fastest, cheapest, most effective and flexible, not to mention safest, way of improving human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. Yet it is rarely a policy priority for implementation, with the present letter-to-the-editor a case-in-point.

Consider the recent shale gas enthusiasms: in 2008, there was already – in known reserves of unconventional gas – 12 times the potential cumulative emissions by 2050 to exceed the 2 ºC threshold – the extent of warming beyond which climate change becomes potentially irreversible and catastrophic. Twelve times! 2008!! Several years before the latest, and continuing, efforts in France, Poland, the UK and Bulgaria. Thus, it is not mere commercial compliance that could and should be enhanced, but a genuine appreciation of the social and environmental consequences of our actions, including our existing commitments to sustainability, human rights and international law.

It was a Quaker philosopher, Kenneth Boulding, who quipped, “anyone who believes in indefinite growth in anything physical, on a physically finite planet, is either mad, or an economist.” Or possibly a corporate lawyer.

The truth of the matter is that our continued energy dependence only further saps our economy, exacerbates inequalities, poverty and insecurity, and makes more difficult our very real sustainability challenges. The childlike, supply-side only solipsism exemplified by the European Voice article would not only compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, but it also subordinates society’s most important values to the pursuit of narrow profitability.

More over, we can only successfully tackle these challenges by working together. A sense of community – the sense of common interest in our shared planet, the fragility of its ecological systems, and of the inter-connectedness of all our actions, from the local to the global, is eminently preferable and more sustainable to the uncoordinated, reckless, and self-important actions promoted by established interests. So, ignore the incessant, misleading bleating; even the moralising Oompa-Loompas understood, “if you are not greedy, you can live in happiness too.”

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About Paul Parrish

Paul was the Policy and Advocacy Officer of the Sustainable Energy Security programme between November 2010 and November 2012.
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