The Museum of Fetishes, by Nicholas Hildyard and Larry Lohmann
Too often, discussions about energy alternatives resemble a visit to a 1950s world’s fair exhibition displaying exhibits of the wonderful technology of the future. Against one wall stand shiny replicas of new green machines – wind turbines, solar panels, fuel cells, hypercars, supergrids – alongside diagrams showing how environmentally benign they are. Against another are arrayed labeled bottles of new “substitutes” for oil, coal and gas – corn-based ethanol, rapeseed-based biodiesel, hydrogen cracked out of water, hydrocarbons extruded by algae.
Most of the politics and material realities associated with the various contraptions and conveniences on show, or with the energy they use and transform, are simply missing, as are the strategies of popular movements that might be considering and agitating for different futures.
How should these new visions of technological or economic salvation be read? What role do they play in the real-world politics of energy? How and what can we learn from them? And, if necessary, how can we change the subject? What is glossed over in such displays of “alternatives”is usually more important than what is in them, and there is work to be done in finding out what that is.There is little question that an “energy alternatives” discussion is at least as essential as any other regarding human futures, especially for the industrialised societies whose use of fossil fuels is threatening human survival. But if it is not to degenerate into an irrelevant show of magic tricks, an overdue debt of attention must be paid to voices which up to now have too seldom been heard.
Energy Alternatives – Surveying the Territory, by Larry Lohmann with Nicholas Hildyard and Sarah Sexton
What with a growing climate crisis and increasing uncertainty over the future of fossil fuels, it can be no surprise that the question “what’s the alternative to current energy systems?” is in the air. And there has been no shortage of answers competing for space and attention. In energy policy today, the main conflict is not between business as usual and “The Alternative”, but among the different proposed alternatives themselves. How are these alternatives to be evaluated against each other? The suggested solutions are diverse. The questions being asked are also different, as are the criteria for answering them, the vocabularies in which they are expressed, and the politics with which they are associated. The point of this introduction to the energy transitions issue is not to simplify this debate but to clarify how complex it is. What is on the table in the discussion? Is there a place for everyone there? If so, how will the discussion proceed?