It has become popular to talk about climate change policy in terms of energy security. Rather than saying we need more renewables, efficient building and public transport to meet climate change targets we now say that we need them to achieve energy security.
This trend is likely to continue. In November the British Government will introduce the Energy Security and Green Economy Bill. Eager to influence and improve the Act, development NGOs with climate campaigns and environmental organisations will have to talk about what they want in terms of energy security. If we want to be part of the debate we will have to stop calling for cuts in emissions to protect the world’s most vulnerable people. We will have to start saying we must get more energy from renewables to increase energy security. This might appear no different. Just another way of talking about the same thing. Both could involve investing in renewables, reducing the amount of fossil fuels we burn, building efficient buildings.
But when we talk about security we mean a world of peace and stability. For us security means peace-building. It means resolving conflicts, not military intervention. It means producing our own energy rather than fighting wars to secure oil and gas from other countries. We waved our ‘no war for oil’ placards in the run up to the Iraq war. For us security means addressing the root causes of instability. We mean changing the things that make the world unstable and prone to conflict: climate change, competition over resources, the gap between rich and poor. When we talk to people about energy security we imagine that they share this vision.
But we forget that there are other ways of looking at security. And our vision of security is not the dominant one. The approach that most western governments have to security is the exact opposite. Stability is achieved through the vigorous use of force. ‘Rogue nations’ are contained by military intervention. Insurgents and rebels are contained by special forces. Access to secure supplies of energy is achieved through war. The aim is to keep a lid on instability. Not to question why that instability exists or to do anything about it. The prime example of this approach to security is the ‘War on Terror’.
Perhaps we mistakenly think when we talk to people about energy security they buy into our definition of security. Let’s not be naive. There is a reason they didn’t listen when we talked about preventing drought, floods and disappearing islands. There is a reason they didn’t listen when we talked about a just deal in Copenhagen, indigenous land rights and living within our environmental means. It’s because all of these things are inconsistent with their approach to security. In a world with a safe climate, economic justice and fair access to natural resources, their approach to security would be irrelevant.
When nowadays we talk about what we want in terms of energy security what we are actually saying is this: our vision for a renewably powered country is consistent with your vision for containing instability using violence. Our vision for energy efficient homes is consistent with your vision for military intervention. Let’s increase energy security by using renewables, but let’s also secure new energy reserves using force. Crucially we say our vision for energy security does not challenge your approach to global security. Our vision for energy security does not require you to do anything about the actually causes of instability and violence.
Without thinking we’ve given our support to an approach to dealing with the world’s problems that goes completely against our values. The situation is likely to get worse in the run up to the Energy Security and Green Economy Bill. In being forced to frame our demands for better climate policy in terms of energy security, our efforts to improve the Bill will unwittingly add force to a broader programme that is completely at odds with what we believe.
So what should we do? We must be explicit about why we want good domestic climate and energy policy. Let’s say that it is needed to achieve peace and stability. Let’s say that climate change and competition for dwindling energy reserves are both causes of instability and violence. We should make it clear that there the other causes of instability and violence – like nuclear proliferation and inequality – need to be dealt with too. Finally let’s be very clear that our vision for renewables and good domestic climate policy is totally inconsistent with the dominant approach to security.
Alex is a campaigner and activist on climate change and energy issues.