Solar energy is democratic energy

I warned you yesterday that Jonathon Porritt’s book had given me a list of things to go away and think about. Here’s one of them already. Towards the back of The World We Made is a little section on the politics of renewable energy that caught my attention:

It’s not just that solar energy is clean and cheap; it’s also ours. Reserves of oil, coal and gas were owned either by governments or by multinationals. As owners, they exploited those sources of energy for their own national interests and for profit. Sunshine isn’t like that; it’s ‘owned’ by the whole of humankind, to be used in the interests of every single citizen on earth. Which makes solar the greatest ever technological leveller in the history of humankind, bearing down on those divides between the haves and the have-nots.

Interesting, don’t you think? Of course, by pursuing solar power we’re only bringing our machines into line with nature. Every living thing is already solar powered, either through photosynthesis or eating the results of it. The sun is the external energy source of nature. It was our main source of energy too until relatively recently, and it will be again.


  1. Obviously fossil fuel is stored solar energy as well – the energy nature stored for us over hundreds of millions of years, while we are using it up in just a few centuries, destabilizing the Bio-Geosphere. We can use fossil fuels, but we ought to use them wisely. But we live in a globalized economic and financial framework setting incentives for behavior that is pretty much at the opposite side of wisdom on the spectrum of human behavior. It is stupid. Since this month we know that one in every 5 sun like stars has an earth like planet in its habitable zone (the zone that allows for the existence of all three phases of water on a planetary surface). That means that our Galaxy alone hosts billions of earth like planets, the closest one only 12 light years away – a mere frog leap in astronomical terms. Where is the connection? The connection is: a) the probability for the existence of alien life now can be considered almost 1. b) The likeliness that there are alien intelligent civilizations with these numbers is drastically increased. c) We are developing, as a species, something of a cosmic perspective, while at the same time having arrived at a point in human history where we are in danger of blowing it, where we are running the serious risk of destroying the ecosystem we depend upon and thus ourselves. Wisdom. Where is the wisdom? Why can’t we as a species live according to the wisdom teachers that we do and did have over the last several millenia? How many warnings against “greed” have echoed through the centuries, through the cultures?

    Nietzsche’s Zarathustra speaks of the Earth having a pest called man. A joke from my teenage days goes: Earth and Mars are meeting. Mars asks “Now – ho is it goi’n, old gal?” Earth rotates a bit and says “Oh – not good. I came down with a serious mankind”. Mars boasts a little sandstorm and answers: “Na – don’t worry, my friend. That will pass.”

    The question is: will mankind’s infliction with greed and fear come to pass, or will mankind itself end up as a dinosaurial footnote in the History of the Earth?

  2. Jeremy,

    Indeed solar will be our main source of energy (whether we like it or not) in the not too distance future. But there is an excellent empirical case that a renewable SYSTEM will not be unaffordabe to run an energy intensive society like ours. Even if we do get access to cheap/clean and abundant energy, you can bet we will only destroy the environment faster than we are now. Of course we need to move as quickly as possible to 100 per cent renewables but that demand should be put in the context of the need for radical change in economic, potical, geographical and cultural systems towards a simpler way based (among other things) on localism, co-operation, equality and simplicity. We will not solve the climate problem, nor other environmental problem, without such a radical transition.

    I can send you documentation for those claims if you want.



    1. I agree – this is not going to be a direct switch to renewables and carry on. Nor should it be, especially if we want this to be a genuinely democratic future.

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