Monday, 19 August 2013

Energy Democracy

A distributed model revolutionized the way industrial-scale computing was delivered. Is it possible that something similar could be achieved for energy production?  (Alternative Energy eMagazine)

 A new structure of energy production is slowly taking hold. Distributed energy production, based on the p2p model of the internet, is coming together with energy produced through renewables. Jeremy Rifkin describes how this is happening in his book The Third Industrial Revolution. The significance of distributed energy production in the context of social structure may not be readily apparent. Rifkin spells out some of the implications of empowering people to control their own energy production, and the profound transformation that a distributed energy system would have in democratising the social structure in education, health, commerce, and our relationship to the biosphere.

The EU has already endorsed the Third Industrial Revolution (TIR) in 2007, and several European cities have invited the TIR team to plan the transition to a post carbon economy, eg Rome, Utrecht, Nord-pas de Calais, even Kazakhstan. Africa and China have also shown some interest. In the US the growth of renewables is beginning to worry the big utilities. 'The spread of renewable, distributed generation is happening so fast that utilities are now calling rooftop solar “an existential threat” to their business model'. In the UK community energy installations are being supported by the Cooperative Society among others, so that those unable to afford to install renewables themselves can participate. This is a movement which should interest all sectors of the population. It is an area of growth which is tackling climate change, not adding to it, and can also provide the millions of jobs unions are asking for.

The Trade Unions for Energy Democracy 'a global, multi-sector initiative to advance democratic direction and control of energy', is defining their own vision for energy democracy. 'A transfer of resources, capital and infrastructure from private hands to a democratically controlled public sector will need to occur in order to ensure that a truly sustainable energy system is developed in the decades ahead. ' The emphasis on the public sector taking responsibility for energy introduces the idea of reclaiming energy as a commons, which is the ultimate goal but may take longer to develop.

This new structure of distributed energy production needs to be widely publicised so that popular demand can hasten the process of what is already happening, and so that it can be monitored to ensure that big business does not find a way to take control. There will be strong resistance from those who want to maintain the centralised structure of the military industrial system, but here is a way capitalism can be undermined without the need for violent confrontation.

Many of those struggling against injustice in the West are not the poorest, most deprived in society, contrary to how Marx envisaged the proletarian revolution, and for that reason they are often accused of 'reformism' rather than a desire to overthrow the capitalist system. True, many would not relish reducing their standard of living, even when they are conscious that it is achieved on the backs of exploiting working classes in their own and other countries. Nevertheless the desire for a more just and equitable society is genuine. With increasing world-wide communication our concern for the human family and the whole biosphere is emerging. This understanding sees in the current crises the possibility of a new consciousness breaking through old habits of thought and patterns of behaviour, to an awareness of ourselves as integral to the human family and the web of life.

It is clear that this is the future, if we have a future. But it is a race against time. Whether renewables can take over from fossil fuels quickly enough to stem the growth of carbon emissions is anyone's guess. There will be objections from those who demand an end to the capitalist system as the precondition for any progress, and from those on the 'left' for whom the working class has to be in the forefront of any anti-capitalist revolution. Some may see using the market system to take us in the direction we want to go, as 'fraternising with the enemy' but I see it rather like the jujitsu method of manipulating the opponent's force against himself rather than confronting it with one's own force.

Many questions remain and certainly this is no panacea. But it opens a path from here to there which I previously was only able to visualise as a miracle. It may be that evolution is on our side and working in unpredictable ways to give us back the dignity John Holloway talks about in The Politics of Dignity and the Politics of Poverty. 'Dignity is the push towards social self-determination against-and-beyond a world that is built on the negation of self-determination.'

Monday, 5 August 2013

Ecosocialism Course Schumacher College, August 2013 with Joel Kovel

It has been a tussle, to allow myself to feel the instinctual revulsion arising when I listen to a download of someone's ideas, without the space to question or comment. It is not that Joel is totally averse to being addressed midstream, but the aura of adulation that surrounds him, makes real conversation impossible. It is also sad to me that those who have come to listen, do so without feeling the need to question or comment.

I am struggling here with the structure of the teacher/student hierarchy which is a 'power over' relationship. Although we were assured initially that we could appeal for an educational model which was more conducive, I feel it is useless to try to change it, since it appears to be benign and most of the others are at home with it. The possibility of starting a revolution is remote.

In this relationship I feel humiliated and small. I am not comfortable with being the victim, or with the aggression with which I react. Is there a possibility to find my 'true nature' here, to feel whole, in spite of the divisive and alienating pressures? To come to me as a friend in need, turning to myself, being with myself? Neither do I want to turn away from this self that feels humiliated and small, and reacts by kicking and screaming. Ultimately it is I who abandons myself, and can choose not to. I want to bring those two together.

It may be that holding on to that sort of 'power over' is a response to the feelings of humiliation that we may have suffered in the past, and the need to protect that small self, by identifying with the violator. The challenge now is to transcend these reactions by bringing about the union of the small with the empowered self, (is aggression being used by the empowered self to deny the pain?). Can we instead use our power to empathise with our pain, and mourn unmet needs, while reconfirming the fullness of the interior of being, the spirit which always accompanies us? To confide in spirit and ask for help.

When I stayed and listened with the group, it felt as though my time was being stolen, and my trust undermined. I questioned my need to make every moment count, could I put myself aside in order to be in this world? I tried to welcome feelings of violation of which I became aware, by maintaining my own space and integrity. I remember being inspired listening to radical thinkers while training in psychotherapy; or even the years I spent being taken to deep places internally, absorbing the words of my guru. So why not now?

I see the hierarchical nature of this way of communicating as re-affirming the dis-empowerment of the listener, and holding back the development of trust in our own authentic voice. The acquisition of knowledge becomes then filling an essentially empty space, giving us the sort of security we get from putting money in the bank. Knowledge becomes another commodity to be acquired, along with other experiences, for which we need experts to guide us. This understanding does not preclude us from learning from others, nor is it denying that someone may tell us something we do not know. But in a healthy relationship this always remains a two way exchange, with roles constantly being reversed, the teacher learning from the student, and vice versa. Nor does this way of communicating respect the integrity of each with our own sense of enquiry. It is a 'one size fits all' communication, as Joel has said 'I am who I am', take it or leave it.

Why is this important? And what is the feeling of violation I get from being in a space where this is not acknowledged? It is my very being which is being denied or ignored. Really? Aren't you exaggerating?

Thinking about this later I feel horror at what we experience as children when we have no choice but to sit through events that do not nourish our being. I have often looked back and assumed that I accepted, 'like a sponge' I used to say, experiences which now would feel intolerable. Although this feeling of violation has remained buried, this is not the first time it has come up. Numerous battles with hierarchy have ended in this bid for freedom, but this is perhaps the first time I have recognised what it is.

This morning for the first time we broke into small groups to connect with what might be going on for each one of us. In our group of 4 what seemed uppermost for 2 others was the anxiety of there not being enough time to get through the material. I pointed out how often this is the excuse we give for not paying enough attention to what is important – there's not enough time. It was not easy to stand by my own feelings, especially as no-one shared them with me. Also I had paid for the course and didn't want to feel I had wasted the money or time. But this morning I made the decision to pull out, and feel much better. It is clear from the morning go round that others wanted to plough on with the material. I said that my needs were probably different from others, and explained that I would not stay for those sections where I felt uncomfortable.

I feel a bit like a pariah, but it is of my own making.