True environmental costs are not factored in to the price we pay
What energy choices does a country need to make to reduce its imports of fossil fuels and therefore make itself more secure from international uncertainty and conflict? The Westminster government, concerned about the emission of greenhouse gases, has decided we should build more nuclear power stations; the Scottish government has declared its opposition. Do wind farms help conservation by reducing global warming or do they simply make the landscape less appealing? Should energy be created and consumed locally? What problems loom as less developed countries strive to reach the West’s level of consumption? Energy use has transformed society and now threatens to transform the planet. In the next few years we will have to make difficult energy choices encompassing national security, aesthetics, sustainability, greenhouse gas emissions, safety, human rights, and social equitability. No single energy source will satisfy everyone.
Energy provision is not just one of the major challenges to sustainability and sustainable development, it is also at the very core of our way of life. history shows that energy shortage or disruption impacts greatly on quality of life. Countries with low energy consumption typically also have low literacy, high infant mortality and a low life expectancy. The turbulent times in which we live has given a high profile to ‘energy security’, and rightly so: countries or administrative regions that have suffered from energy shortages have invariably seen regime change.
However our energy needs are to be met in the future, a diversity of supply would seem to be a sensible goal. How should that diversity be constructed? For some in Scotland, there appears to be no diversity, only an energy ‘monoculture’ of wind farms. Scotland possesses 25% of the European Union’s wind power potential and it might appear foolish not to take advantage of this. However, Scotland also has a large wave and tidal energy potential, and has the opportunity to develop these technologies into an economically important export industry generating wealth and jobs. But as well as climate change and security of supply, a government must also address energy cost – particularly when also trying to reduce fuel poverty (more than 10% of a household’s income spent on heating, lighting and cooking).
We live on a planet with finite resources. The need for energy is likely to increase worldwide as a result of further industrialisation in low income countries and increased global population levels. We have already seen countries engage in resource conflicts. We can either continue with a kind of ‘energy apartheid’ and deny billions of people the quality of life we enjoy, or transform how we use, develop and supply energy to promote energy equality and support universal human rights. There is a price to be paid for using energy, and that provokes two questions: Who pays that price? and, Have we thought through all the consequences of our energy decisions?
This is just one of the stories from my energy talk