A global energy war is underway. It is man versus nature, fossil fuel versus clean energy, the haves versus the have-nots, and, fundamentally, an extractive economy versus a regenerative economy. The near-unanimous consensus among climate scientists is that the massive burning of gas, oil, and coal is having a cataclysmic impact on our atmosphere and climate, and depleting earth’s natural resources, including its land, food, fresh water and biodiversity. These climate and environmental impacts are particularly magnified and debilitating for low-income communities and communities of color that live closest to toxic sites, are disproportionately impacted by high incidences of asthma, cancer and rates of morbidity and mortality, and lack the financial resources to build resilience to climate change. Energy democracy tenders a response and joins the environmental and climate movements with broader movements for social and economic change. Energy democracy is a way to frame the international struggle of working people, low income communities, and communities of color to take control of energy resources from the energy establishment and use those resources to empower their communitiesliterally providing energy, economically, and politically. Energy democracy is more important than ever as climate and social justice advocates confront a shocking political reality in the U.S. This volume brings together racial, cultural, and generational perspectives. This diversity is bound together by a common operating frame: that the global fight to save the planetto conserve and restore our natural resources to be life-sustainingmust fully engage community residents and must change the larger economy to be sustainable, democratic, and just. The contributors offer their perspectives and approaches to climate and clean energy from rural Mississippi, to the South Bronx, to Californian immigrant and refugee communities, to urban and semi-rural communities in the Northeast. Taken together, the contributions in this book show what an alternative, democratized energy future can look like, and will inspire others to take up the struggle to build the energy democracy movement.
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About the Author
Denise Fairchild is president and CEO of Emerald Cities Collaborative, a national non-profit organization of business, labor, and community groups dedicated to climate resilience strategies that produce environmental, economic, and equity outcomes. Al Weinrub is coordinator of the Local Clean Energy Alliance (LCEA), the Bay Area's largest clean energy coalition. The LCEA promotes the equitable development and democratization of local renewable energy resources as key to addressing climate change and building sustainable and resilient communities.
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DENISE FAIRCHILD AND AL WEINRUB
If there is a reason for social movements to exist, it is not to accept dominant values as fixed and unchangeable but to offer other ways to live — to wage and win, a battle of cultural worldviews ... laying out a vision that competes directly with the one on harrowing display, ... one that resonates with the majority of people on the planet, that ... we are not apart from nature but of it.
Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate
What does it mean to get real about climate change and take back control over our energy resources? What energy alternatives represent real solutions to the economic and environmental crisis confronting our civilization?
While still in its formative stages, energy democracy, a growing current in the clean energy and climate resilience movement, is attempting to address these very questions. Energy democracy is rooted in the long-standing social and environmental justice movements and is a key component of the evolving economic democracy movement. It goes beyond the simplistic "transition to 100% renewables" framework to offer a deeper understanding of the cultural, political, economic, and social dimensions of the climate change problem.
This volume collects the converging perspectives, strategies, and practices of the emerging field of activism that defines energy democracy. It highlights the promising ideas and efforts of U.S.-based energy democracy advocates and practitioners. As opposed to the academic, scientific, and policy perspectives of mainstream environmental professionals, this book gives voice to community- based organizations and leaders active in the climate and clean energy struggle. Their perspectives differ radically from the mainstream environmental community about how to get real about climate change.
The growing energy democracy movement is more important now than ever. Climate and social justice advocates are entering a new, shocking reality. The United States government is abandoning its already weak commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as represented by the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. The new federal administration is staffing its cabinet and agencies with operatives of the fossil fuel industry, opening the door to fossil fuel exports and transcontinental oil and gas pipelines, bringing back coal and extreme extraction, and gutting environmental regulations and the federal agencies that oversee them.
Energy democracy addresses these challenges by joining the environmental and climate movement with broader movements for social and economic justice in this country and around the world.
The Energy Imperative
A global energy war is under way. It is being waged on numerous fronts, with distinct battle lines. It's man versus nature; global North versus global South; fossil fuel versus clean energy; globalization versus local sovereignty; the powerful moneyed class versus low-income and indigenous communities and communities of color (the haves versus the have-nots); and, fundamentally, an extractive economy versus a regenerative economy.
The stakes are high for everyone. The health of the planet and whether humans will survive as a species will be determined by who emerges as the victors of the warring factions. Fortunately, a growing global consensus points to the need to move from a fossil fuel economy to a clean energy economy. The Consensus Project (theconsensusproject.com) reports the near unanimous (97%) consensus among climate scientists that the massive burning of gas, oil, and coal is having cataclysmic and cascading impacts on our atmosphere and climate, depleting Earth's natural resources, including its land, food, fresh water, and biodiversity. Extreme weather events — the incidence of torrential rains, floods, heat waves, droughts, and hurricanes — resulting from global warming further threaten human settlements, life, and property.
Such climate disruption finally propelled 195 world leaders to sign the 2015 Paris Climate Accord. The Accord is an acknowledgment that the fossil fuel economy is no longer sustainable, that climate change is happening, that it is human-induced, and that a global effort is needed to stem the greenhouse gas pollution that threatens human survival.
Yet despite the urgency of the climate challenge, the fossil fuel sector — concentrated in five super majors: BP, Chevron, Conoco, ExxonMobil, and Shell — continues to debunk climate change and disdains worldwide concerns about the existential threat of extracting, transporting, and burning increasing amounts of dirtier and harder-to-get fossil fuels. The Dakota Access and Keystone North American transcontinental pipelines are but two examples of the continued corporate drive to wreak havoc on our fragile ecosystem, ruining delicate aquifers, sovereign First Nation lands, farm communities, the oceans, and, of course, Earth's atmosphere. These climate and environmental impacts are particularly magnified and debilitating for low-income communities and communities of color that live closest to toxic sites; are disproportionately impacted by high incidences of asthmas, cancer, and rates of morbidity and mortality; and lack the financial resources to adapt to climate impacts.
The Path Forward: Democratizing Energy
In the face of this threat to survival, the battle lines have been clearly drawn between fossil fuel capitalism (the fossil fuel industry, its Wall Street backers, and its military enforcers) and those working to avert climate disaster.
"We need to view the fossil fuel industry in a new light," says climate activist Bill McKibben. "It has become a rogue industry, reckless like no other force on Earth. It is Public Enemy Number One to the survival of our planetary civilization."
Many different forces are opposing the determined efforts of the fossil fuel industry to continue its program of globalization, extreme energy, and international military hegemony, at everyone else's (and Earth's) expense.
This opposition includes the struggles against fossil fuel extraction (the Keep It in the Ground movement), especially opposition to the further development of extreme energy (the Keystone Pipeline, deep ocean drilling, Arctic drilling, tar sands exploitation, hydrofracking, and so forth); opposition to fossil fuel subsidies; opposition to oil wars; regulation of carbon emissions; imposition of carbon taxes; shutting down coal-fired power plants; and other areas of struggle that unite diverse forces in opposition to the "rogue" fossil fuel capitalists.
In essence, this opposition is attempting to wrest control of energy resources from the powerful institutions that are driving humanity to the brink of extinction. The struggle reflects an effort by citizens to exercise more control over energy decisions and to self-determine a sustainable, life- supporting energy future.
While this opposition needs to be deepened and strengthened, there remains an important strategic question: what is the alternative to the fossil fuel energy- based global economic system?
A large number of climate activist organizations in the United States are engaged in efforts to contain the fossil fuel establishment's increasingly desperate program of extreme energy extraction, climate destabilization, and environmental destruction. Many of these organizations have the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions or even transitioning to a decarbonized energy system.
This resistance has awakened many people, politicized them around energy and climate issues, and fueled an increasingly powerful grassroots opposition to the corporate energy agenda. However, these movements are still mainly reactive and have exhibited, for the most part, only a limited vision of an energy alternative.
Many, for example, call simply for a technological fix: for a transition to 100% renewable energy, citing how it is technologically possible to develop sufficient renewable resources. But these calls do not specify who will develop and control that energy, to what end, or to whose benefit. The impetus is to decarbonize the economy, but otherwise leave the basic economic and social system — the institutional framework — intact.
This approach fails to confront the capitalist growth imperative that jeopardizes the world's ecosystem, or to address the globalized exploitation of human and natural resources that leaves billions of people struggling to survive, or to fully appreciate how climate disruption, gross economic disparities, oppression, and institutionalized racism are inextricably linked.
Naomi Klein, in her book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, demonstrates that the climate crisis draws into question the institutions and logic that have created our existential predicament. She points out both the necessity and the opportunity of our thinking outside the box, creating truly transformational solutions, if we are to survive.
In this vein, a growing number of climate activists see resistance to the corporate energy agenda as a struggle for social, racial, environmental, and economic justice. These "climate justice" forces see the opposition to fossil fuel capitalism as a key front in a crucial battle to transform our economic system more deeply — an economic system that has used fossil fuel energy as the driver of capital accumulation, ecosystem destruction, and social exploitation. For these activists, the struggle against the extreme fossil fuel agenda is a struggle for system change, for an alternative system. It is a struggle for community health, community resilience, and community empowerment. It is a struggle for social justice and an opportunity for building community.
The struggle is not simply to decarbonize the economic system, but to transform it.
Hence, the question we posed above — the alternative to the fossil fuel energy-based global economic system, is a justice-based ("just") transition to a new, renewable energy-based, ecologically sound, equitable, life-sustaining economic system that can serve the needs of the world's peoples.
And in case it is not obvious, let's be explicit. The struggle to achieve that kind of alternative is fundamentally a struggle for democracy.
The Energy Democracy Movement
An international labor roundtable in October 2012 framed the struggle for a global energy transition as an issue of democracy: "An energy transition can only occur if there is a decisive shift in power toward workers, communities and the public — 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. ..."
In short, energy democracy is a way to frame the international struggle of working people, low-income communities, and communities of color to take control of energy resources from the energy establishment and use those resources to empower their communities — literally (providing energy), economically, and politically. It means bringing energy resources under public or community ownership and/or control, a key aspect of the struggle for climate justice, as described earlier, and an essential step toward building a more just, equitable, sustainable, and resilient economy.
Thus, the energy democracy movement — represented by a growing number of organizations and organizing campaigns worldwide — seeks to replace our current corporate fossil fuel economy with one that puts racial, social, and economic justice at the forefront of the transition to a 100% renewable energy future.
In particular, energy democracy acknowledges the historical and contemporary perspectives and experiences of frontline communities — those most directly impacted by the fossil fuel economy and by the impacts of climate change, as well. This framing prioritizes the needs and concerns of working families, indigenous communities, and communities of color in the struggle to define a new energy future. It seeks comprehensive and effective solutions to the full impact of the fossil fuel economy.
Energy democracy is a critical framework for addressing the economic and racial inequalities that a decarbonized economic system would otherwise continue to perpetuate.
A New Energy Paradigm
The energy democracy movement implies a profound shift in how we think about and relate to energy. Energy is an essential enabler of all human activity — from producing the essentials of life, to transportation, to communication, to the creative arts. We can't survive without it. In that light, given the existential threat we now face as human beings from the burning of fossil fuels, our relationship to energy must be reevaluated; this involves a paradigm shift of major proportions. The new energy paradigm must address three major aspects of our energy system: its relationship to the environment, to social justice, and to a new economy.
A NEW ENVIRONMENTAL PARADIGM
Energy democracy represents a new environmental paradigm.
Energy democracy emphasizes the core values and related strategies needed to protect Earth's species. It seeks to find the historical and cultural precedents for making our energy systems life-sustaining, relying on ecological principles from preindustrial, traditional, and land-based societies.
Much is now understood by scientists about the impact of fossil fuel use on the environment. The extraction of these fuels is laying waste to huge tracts of land and ocean due to mountaintop removal, deep-water drilling, tar sands oil production, fracking, and other forms of extreme fossil fuel extraction. The burning of these fuels — increasing concentration of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere and the acidification of the oceans — is modifying Earth's climate and altering the biosphere, causing the extinction of an ever-increasing number of species and now putting human populations in jeopardy as well.
This ecosystem destruction is a product of the industrial, fossil fuel economy, which has accelerated mass production and consumption and the accumulation of wealth. But its origins lie in a Western civilization worldview of human beings as masters and exploiters of the natural world for the betterment and progress of human civilization — without regard to the fragile ecosystem needed to maintain life on the planet or the delicate balances required for Earth to sustain life.
Energy democracy seeks to reframe energy from being a commodity that is commercially exploited to being a part of the commons, a natural resource to serve human needs, but in a way that respects the Earth and the ecosystem services provided by the biosphere. The new paradigm calls for reducing the human footprint, reducing waste, and reducing energy use as key to ecosystem health and stewardship. From this perspective, energy — both fossil fuel and renewable — is a communal resource requiring democratic ownership structures and sustainable, ecological management. This view runs counter to the commodification of energy that underlies many clean energy strategies today.
The ideas of the "commons" and "just transition" are discussed in this volume to present a different way to think about and value our environment and to provide a pathway from commodifying our energy assets toward democratizing them.
A NEW SOCIAL JUSTICE PARADIGM
Energy democracy represents a new social justice paradigm.
Energy democracy recognizes the racialized impacts of the fossil fuel economy and of climate change and sees them as threat multipliers: they deepen the daily economic, health, and social justice challenges of vulnerable communities. The new energy democracy paradigm harnesses the lived experiences of low-income communities and communities of color to reverse that impact and to design an alternative energy system.
The fossil fuel economy has had a disproportionate impact on people of color in the United States. The rise of fossil fuel power in the last two hundred years was a key factor in replacing the slave system of production with free labor and in industrializing and commercializing the U.S. economy. The result was the westward expansion, growth of urban centers, rise of monopoly capitalism, concentration of wealth, migration and immigration of working-class people and people of color, segregation, impoverishment, and creation of urban slums.
Excerpted from "Energy Democracy"
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1. Introduction by Denise Fairchild and Al Weinrub Chapter 2. From Commodification to the Commons: Charting the Pathway for Energy Democracy by Cecilia Martinez Chapter 3. The Case for a Just Transition by Michelle Mascarenhas-Swan Chapter 4. Energy Democracy Through Local Energy Equity by Strela Cervas and Anthony Giancatarino Chapter 5. Base-Building and Leadership Development for Energy Democracy: APEN’s Work in East Bay Asian Immigrant and Refugee Communities by Vivian Yi Huang and Miya Yoshitani Chapter 6. Organizing for Energy Democracy in Rural Electric Cooperatives by Derrick Johnson and Ashura Lewis Chapter 7. Conflicting Agendas: Energy Democracy and the Labor Movement by Sean Sweeney Chapter 8. Democratizing Municipal-Scale Power by Al Weinrub Chapter 9. Community-Anchor Strategies for Energy Democracy by Maggie Tishman Chapter 10. New Economy Energy Cooperatives Bring Power to the People by Lynn Benander, Diego Angarita Horowitz, and Isaac Baker Chapter 11. Building Power Through Community-Based Project Development by Anya Schoolman and Ben Delman Chapter 12. Conclusion: Building an Energy Democracy Movement by Denise Fairchild