What does the energy crisis mean to you? Peak oil? That we should turn the light off when we leave the room? That this crisis is the reason given for drilling beneath the remaining arctic ice, and fracking the shales?
There are things that we call crises, and there are things that – because they are not events – we just live with. So theres a crisis of the banking system, for instance, and we have an energy crisis.
Then there are the things that just go on. Dully, endlessly. Surfacing only rarely to pierce the popular consciousness, they become normalised, part of the state of the world. When reminded, we know of them, and know that they are terrible. But then, what can one do?
Normalities such as infant mortality, the fact that a few people own more than the majority of the world put together, the devastating malnutrition of millions. And that other energy crisis.
One in five people without access to electricity from a grid.
Yes, lets say it is a crisis.
Perhaps, too, it depends on who is affected and how. Our energy crisis threatens the way we live, our customary practices and assumptions. The other energy crisis threatens that the way things are for others – mainly far away – will continue.
There are many ways to address a crisis. You can ignore it, and hope it will go away. You can take the opportunity of it to push home your advantage.
The present crisis of energy in the rich world is being addressed by mega-bucks. There are transcontinental pipelines. There is the drilling in ever more financially marginal and ecologically precarious places. And there are proposals for a vast array of solar panels in the Sahara Desert. Maybe that will help solve the crisis for us Europeans? Having exploited Africa for commodities, stolen many of its most skilled people in migration propelled by the yawning inequalities between us, it is now proposed we take advantage of their Sun. The project would be massive, in engineering terms, in expenditure, and probably also in social and environmental disruption. But it would mean we could keep our lights on, keep on living as we do. (Not to mention the planetary effects of living as we do.)
Another way to address a crisis is to overturn its causes – the global relations that produce the vast inequalities of which this lack of access to a light-switch is one small, crucial, and symptomatic, part. Is that too much to fight for?
And yes, energy is more than electricity, oil… it resides also in the will and purpose of people themselves. And it is worth pointing out that gross inequalities in the distribution of the former cannot but be reflected in inequalities in the ability to realise the potential of the latter.
So through distributing a myriad little suns we could use our own off-grid energies at least to ameliorate this gross inequality, and by that means, perhaps, help release yet more of that energy that is embodied in people themselves.
Human Geographer, Professor Emeritus, Open University, London, UK