The basis for a just transition: Energy Democracy – Sinan Eden

We need to cut emissions in Portugal by 60-70% in 15 years. Even from a technical viewpoint, this means changing everything: changing the way we produce energy, changing the way we transport, changing the way we distribute and consume products, and changing the way our society function. Either this, or climate will change everything: chronic droughts, floods, extreme weather events, infrastructure failures, food and water crisis, climate refugees, biodiversity collapse, epidemics, social conflicts…

Campaigns for climate justice are based on lessons drawn from 20+ years of negotiations and discussions on energy transition, sustainable development, green economy, and many more terms introduced along these decades.

In a nutshell, our proposal is Energy Democracy:

  • use of sustainable and clean energy sources,
  • in public ownership,
  • through community management.

1) Sustainable and Clean Energy

Sustainability for us is a democracy issue.

First of all, the business-as-usual of the fossil fuel industry today is direct investment on catastrophes that future generations will have to face. A 2-degree warming of the global average temperatures would mean desertification, infrastructure failures, stronger and more frequent extreme weather events, and social conflicts. It cannot merely be our decision today that future generations would live like this. And for them to have a say about themselves, we have to sustain the basis for a livable planet.

But climate change is not some future hypothetical scenario, there are millions suffering today due to its impacts. Investing in or maintaining fossil fuel projects today have impacts in the Philippines, in Bangladesh, in sub-Saharan Africa, in South America and many more parts of the world. The Earth system doesn’t recognize the boundaries humans made, the impacts are worldwide and the most vulnerable populations suffer the most. Climate change limits their possibilities and pre-conditions their choices. A transition to a sustainable and clean energy also means that they would have more capacity for self-determination.

2) In Public Ownership

Energy democracy is about transition. Not a transition on paper or on financial reports, but a real transition away from the current socio-economic model, towards a just society. Given the small time-window for action, we need to make sure that private interests do not corrupt good ideas.

We should learn from the 20 years of experience of struggle.

Before Copenhagen UN Climate Summit in 2009, there was a boom in green everything. Multinationals produced a greener image, BP even changing its logo and its motto to Beyond Petroleum. BP then invested in renewable energies, in microscopic values compared to its economic power, but huge in terms of the emerging renewable market. Chevron and Shell did the same. Thus, they blocked entrance for any other players because they had virtual monopoly over the renewable market. Then, when the Copenhagen summit collapsed, all these companies distanced themselves from renewable investments and eventually abandoned most of their celebrated plans, now actively blocking the transition with their established economic power in the sector.maxresdefault

The interest of the corporations in a sustainable or clean future is arbitrary. They are interested in making more and more profit, and sometimes it happens that renewable energy is profitable, and sometimes it is better for their business to block the transition.

Same goes with the public subsidies to green companies. When it comes to money-making, false solutions abound for each corporation to have a greener image – independent of whether it is genuinely sustainable.

A livable planet is too serious to be hoped for as a side effect of business. We have literally one or two decades left to get on track for a true energy transition. This is why this debate should be taken off the zone of profit maximization concerns. This is a decision about our society, our planet, our present and our future.

This is why energy democracy means public ownership of energy.

3) Community Management

While public ownership allows for more public monitoring, regulation and documentation, the governments tend to represent the biggest economic interests, which happen to be in the hands of multinationals rather than people.

Mega projects with little to no public participation will likely cause more conflicts than cohesion – as has been the case with huge dams or giant wind farms. As a basic principle, just transition means that it should not be us the 99% paying for the consequences of it. So far, millions of us are already paying the social costs of the fossil fuel industry when a drought comes to our land or when a storm hits our city. To make the real responsibles pay, we need direct community involvement in the transition.

This can be in various forms: For centralized projects like factories or power-generating facilities, it can be a mixture of workers’ participation and local involvement, balanced with national-scale management. There is also other forms of “public public partnerships”, which can be the case in urban public transport: central government is responsible for the financing of the service, while the management is done in municipal level. Also, micro-scale localized production (of energy, or food for that matter) can be organized in the neighbourhood level, in coordination with the local and central government.

Furthermore, we admit that several private and public facilities will have to shut down rapidly, if we want this transition to take place on time: refineries, coal mines, fossil fuel power plants etc. A just transition means that the workers and the communities in these enterprises are not the ones paying for the transition. We must make sure that they have alternative paths of employment: re-qualification and job guarantees. This can be achieved only through direct involvement of these people: community management once more.

A path for energy democracy: Climate Jobs campaign

We see Climate Jobs as a campaign for united struggle and as a path for energy democracy. Four principles of the campaign are:

  • new jobs (not re-branding of existing jobs)
  • in public sector
  • to cut greenhouse gas emissions (transforming the polluting sectors to clean and sustainable models),
  • while guaranteeing jobs and training for those working the polluting sectors of the economy.

These principles are derived from our understanding of Energy Democracy. We clearly defend that this is the politically and morally correct solution to the climate crisis, but we also think that if we actually want this transition to happen in our lifetime, there is no other path technically available for us. Energy Democracy may well be our single shot, and Climate Jobs campaign is leading the way.

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