Energy security – why the fuss over two little words?

9 Nov 2011 admin

Kim Bryan is Media and Communications officer at the Centre for Alternative Technology, where Platform and PIRC co-hosted a seminar last week called “Energy Security – a toxic frame for progressives?” as part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science. Here she guest-blogs her thoughts on taking part in the seminar. Plans are afoot to re-run the workshop in London in early 2012 – get in touch if you’d like to take part.

I went into the seminar about energy security slightly skeptical. My thoughts were, “there are so many things that do matter in the world right now, why are we worrying about these two fairly innocent words?”

I work as a media officer at CAT; I am also part of the Zero Carbon Britain team- a project at CAT that is working towards the rapid decarbonisation of the UK.  The term ‘energy security’ often helps to contextualize our work- one of our key messages is that if we reduce our energy demand 56% we can power up the UK to a 100% renewables future –thus creating lasting energy security.

After an amazing, inspiring and thought provoking day long workshop with great presentations and participatory activities, I felt, as one other participant put it  “as if something has profoundly shifted in my way of thinking.”  My initial skepticism quickly evaporated – those two words are not so innocent after all.

The work of Tom Crompton and PIRC on the Common Cause project about values and frames is central is central to understanding why using the concept of energy security is flawed.  Both the Common Cause report and the (yet to be published) PIRC/ Platform report provide definite food for thought and I certainly can’t do them justice by trying to explain them in this blog post.  However and what I took away from discussions from the event was that one of the problems lies with the use of the word ‘security’ and the framing that is given to it.

By implying that our societies are vulnerable, fearful and we reinforce the frame that we are constantly ‘at risk.’   This all in turn feeds into the idea that the future is bleak- that we need excessive militarization and government control to bring about the necessary changes and secure us.  This in turn serves to justify right wing government policy in tightening border controls, exploiting the last remaining wildernesses on our globe for fossil fuel extraction, developing new nuclear programmes, war mongering etc etc.

This is a far cry away from the positive zero carbon Britain that CAT imagines – where the future is not about security but about energy democracy-about creating a world which not only deals with climate issues and sustainability but also has embedded at its core social justice.

Embracing a renewable energy future is essential to tackle the challenges of our times – but the way in which we build, own and maintain these new sources of energy generation marks an opportunity to shift away from the domination of global energy markets and oppressive government control towards community ownership.

Understanding and deconstructing dominant societal trends is vital to reconstruct an energy democratic future.  In attempting to build, create and prepare for the great transition to a zero carbon future it is vital that we create spaces, time and resources for these important debates.

There is a lot more to chew over and there were many other interesting discussions that were going on throughout the day. From a personal and CAT perspective it was great that PIRC and PLATFORM choose to hold the event at CAT, that it was free and accessible for people from the local area to attend.  I look forward to digging into it a whole lot more and integrating some of the ideas from the workshop into the work that I do at CAT.

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