2ND REDRAFT 06
CALL FOR AN ENERGY FUTURE FRAMEWORK
(also referred to as the Energy Future Protocol)
A Framework for an Equitable and Sustainable Regime for Energy Production and Consumption
Ensuring Human Needs Are Met in an Equitable and Sustainable Manner
NOTE: THIS IS A DISCUSSION PIECE AND YOUR FEEDBACK IS WELCOMED
A proposal for consideration by civil society organizations to support and incorporate in their strategic and operational planning. Initially drafted August, 2005. Please provide feedback and suggestions to Jack Santa Barbara, email@example.com
In the early years of the 21st century human civilization can be characterized as a series of opposites along three dimensions:
- The Justice/ Equity Issue: unprecedented economic growth and prosperity for some along with extreme poverty for the majority of humanity
- The Ecological Sustainability Issue: unprecedented challenges to global ecosystems along with significant increases in public awareness of environmental problems, environmental protection legislation, international environmental treaties, and significant advances in environmental science
- The Peace and Violence Issue: significant global institutions devoted to peace and human development along with continuing violent conflicts and structural violence to much of humanity.
Given the impending end of the age of oil, there is a significant danger that the negative poles of these dimensions will worsen, producing greater poverty and misery, greater ecological degradation, and more violence of various kinds.
Many changes are inevitable as the result of peak oil. How human civilization deals with the declining availability of cheap oil and other fossil fuels will have an enormous impact on which poles of these dimensions become more prominent in the future. Indeed, widening the global equity gap, further degradation of global ecosystems, and increasing levels of violence, could create conditions leading to the serious decline of human civilization.
The Connection Between Oil Depletion and Equity
When peak oil occurs the availability of cheap energy will begin to decline and supply will no longer be able to meet the growing demand. Currently, there are large inequities in the availability of energy among different countries, as well as within countries. The current situation is that some countries annually utilize more than double the energy needed for human well being, while other countries have barely enough to survive.
Transition to renewable energy technologies, while essential for ecological sustainability, is unlikely to fill the gap created by the occurrence of peak oil, especially in the short term. Significant political and economic changes will be required to adjust to a reduction in energy supply.
Consequently, if less energy is available in the future, then current inequities will worsen unless the transition to renewable technologies explicitly addresses the equity issue. The wealthier and more powerful nations and groups will appropriate energy resources for their own use. Unless there is a global understanding about the requirements for an equitable and sustainable energy regime, there are likely to be considerable increases in violent conflict, which will further exacerbate existing inequities and human rights violations.
A fortress mentality for any nation state, even for the most powerful of nation states, will only imbue that nation with temporary, uncertain and highly restricted advantages in today’s interdependent and interconnected world. Long supply lines will be subject to terrorism and other interruptions, refugees of various sorts would besiege the nation state, and citizens of such countries would find it increasingly dangerous to venture outside their borders. National security needs will likely appropriate increasing energy resources, and quality of life within such a fortress nation will inevitably decline. A desirable quality of life will more easily be achieved by cooperation with other countries to address these challenges.
Discussions of post-peak oil scenarios tend to focus on the production of energy to fill the gap anticipated. Relatively little attention is given to the issue of equitable and ecologically sustainable consumption. Simply replacing the energy lost when peak oil occurs with new production technologies will not solve the challenges of ecological sustainability and social equity (along with associated human rights issues) which characterize the current energy regime.
The Connection Between Oil Depletion and Ecological Sustainability
Discussions about how to meet the energy shortfall when peak oil occurs have several general characteristics:
- there is an assumption that all the energy lost through oil depletion can and should be replaced by other technologies
- there is an assumption by some that all remaining oil, gas and coal should be used up, either along with a transition to renewable technologies, or as a means of delaying the need for such a transition
- new energy technologies are being explored without consideration of life cycle assessments of the ecological risks involved
- nuclear energy is being considered as a carbon-free, transition technology.
Each of these approaches has inherent challenges for ecological sustainability.
Meeting Energy Demand Regardless of Consumption Priorities. Once peak oil occurs the rate of depletion is expected to be at least 2-3% per year, and possibly as high as 7-8%. At the same time, demand in energy is expected to increase 1-2% per year (IEA), creating a significant energy gap. It is likely that a considerable amount of the current energy consumption could be replaced by a combination of conservation, increased energy efficiencies, and a variety of existing renewable technologies. However, serious doubts exist that the total current level of energy consumption could be met by renewable technologies. Regardless of whether they are renewable, all known alternatives to fossil fuels have lower energy returns on energy invested ratio.
Because of this lower net energy, maintaining current energy levels will require considerably higher financial investments, which are already high and competing with other priority human needs. The current challenges to the Millennium Development Goals will be made worse by peak oil.
Even renewable energy technologies can be used unsustainably. Furthermore, the more energy humanity uses the more ecosystem disruption it creates; we need to understand there is an optimal level of energy consumption compatible with ecological sustainability. A related question is how much energy is actually needed to provide an equitable and sustainable means of achieving human well being. Energy use beyond these levels is wasted, and likely to contribute to yet more ecological and social problems.
Using Up Existing Fossil Fuels. Use of existing fossil fuels is accepted by many governments as an obvious step to meeting human needs and maintaining economic growth.
There are several problems with this approach:
- continued use of fossil fuels will exacerbate climate change, which is already a serious and growing problem
- continued use will also create other local and regional health problems
- technologies such as coal liquification or gasification to “clean” fossil fuels, themselves use considerable amounts of energy and thus greatly reduce the energy return on energy invested. If we did use what is available it would either not provide as much energy as anticipated (if it is “cleaned”), or it will significantly contribute to climate change and other health problems (if it is not cleaned). Such approaches also prolong greenhouse gas emissions.
- proposed approaches to “clean coal” and carbon sequestration are unproven and could create considerable harm to societies and the environment
- maintaining current patterns of economic growth without consideration of focusing on material benefits for the poor will only exacerbate the current inequities and continue ecological degradation.
Life Cycle Assessments of New Energy Technologies. New technologies are introduced because of their perceived benefits. The history of technologies shows that potential costs or negative consequences are often overlooked or downplayed in the enthusiasm over the desired benefits. We now know that even technologies that convey great benefits (often apparent and immediate) can also have serious and often unforeseen long term negative consequences. The use of fossil fuels and their impact on global climate stability is one such example; as is the use of industrial agriculture, resulting in soil degradation which will make it increasingly difficult to feed future generations.
The known facts that human activities are capable of altering robust global ecosystems (e.g. depleting the atmospheric ozone layer; altering climate stability; reducing biodiversity; degrading soils, etc) should make us wary of any new technologies. This is especially true of technologies that would become widespread, such as energy technologies.
Fortunately, procedures are now available to assess both existing and new technologies before making heavy investments in them, and prior to widespread distribution. Life cycle assessment procedures could be applied to any new energy technologies to determine their ecological sustainability under various levels of use. Such a procedure would greatly assist in the design of a sustainable energy regime as oil depletion requires us to consider new energy options.
The Nuclear Option. Nuclear power plants are being viewed as important sources of future energy, and are even being promoted as “climate friendly.” However, large scale construction of nuclear plants will consume large amounts of fossil fuels, emitting large amounts of greenhouse gases. Such a program would not produce a net energy gain until a decade or more after construction begins. Because of this large input of fossil fuels in the construction phase, the energy return on energy invested for a nuclear power plant is only 5 or 6:1. In addition, nuclear energy is non-renewable and large scale use would accelerate depletion. Finally, there are the issues of nuclear wastes, still unresolved, and the potential of a terrorist attack spreading radioactive material over densely populated areas.
The Connection between Inequities and Ecological Sustainability. The current energy regime involves considerable inequities in access to energy. Both extremes of these inequities contribute to ecological degradation. Those who consume more energy than required for well being are wasting energy and other resources, thereby contributing to ecological degradation and further exacerbating social inequities. Those who do not have access to sufficient energy to provide for their own well being often engage in practices which involve destruction of environmental resources simply to survive.
A degraded environment will make it increasingly difficult to eliminate the enormous inequities which now exist, and will challenge the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.
Attempting to replace the energy gap created by peak oil will only worsen the problems of social inequity and ecological degradation.
The Connection Between Oil Depletion and Violence
Direct Violence. Wars have been fought over resources from the beginning of human history. The importance of oil, gas and coal to economic activities and national prosperity makes competition over these resources likely candidates for violent conflict. Indeed, recent examples of such conflicts are all too prominent. As these resources become increasingly scarce, competition will increase and the likelihood of violent conflict will also increase unless there is an international consensus as to how to deal both with remaining fossil fuel resources, and how to develop and share in new renewable energy technologies.
Violent conflicts are horrible enough in and of themselves. Violent conflicts over energy resources at this point in history bear an even greater burden of potentially pushing human civilization into serious decline. Human activities have created a variety of unprecedented ecological and social problems that can only be solved by global cooperation on an unprecedented scale. The traditional approach of an empire forging its own destiny is no longer an option in an ecologically, socially and economically integrated world. Whatever short term gains might be won by traditional combinations of military and economic manoeuvres will only be lost over the longer term as ecological degradation, social chaos and economic decline ensue.
Indirect Violence. Indirect or structural violence actually accounts for more death and misery than instances of direct violence. Structural violence arises from inequities in our economic and institutional systems, both of which are at the very least facilitated by differential access to cheap energy. Cheap energy is a major factor in the extraordinary economic growth over the last 150 years. Differential access to energy over this period led to inequitable distributions of the benefits of this growth. The inequities in wealth led to inequities in power and influence in government circles – from the local level to international forums.
Recognition that human civilization has likely reached a variety of biophysical limits in its appropriation of natural capital means that continued economic growth (regardless of how it is fuelled) cannot provide well being for all humanity. A new economic paradigm is required that both recognizes the biophysical limits within which we must function, and that sets a high priority on social equity. How energy is distributed, through food and other means, must be a central feature of this new paradigm. This moment in history, when oil depletion is provoking widespread consideration of future energy paradigms presents a unique opportunity to set priorities and plans for a just and sustainable future for all humanity.
One way of making the most of this opportunity is to clearly articulate a framework around which a wide range of civil society organizations could coalesce to promote an equitable and sustainable energy regime as described below.
A PROPOSED ENERGY FUTURE FRAMEWORK:
ENSURING AN EQUITABLE AND SUSTAINABLE GLOBAL REGIME FOR
ENERGY PRODUCTION AND CONSUMPTION
survival and well being of humanity requires ecological sustainability
WHEREAS ecological sustainability and social equity are interdependent
WHEREAS the global supply of energy production is about to decline due to the imminence of peak conventional oil production
WHEREAS the net energy available from all alternative energy sources is considerably lower than that from conventional oil and other fossil fuels
WHEREAS the consumption of energy is intimately related to economic activities and the abilities of nations and families to achieve human well being
WHEREAS market forces alone cannot determine priority uses for energy consumption to ensure human well being
WHEREAS conventional oil depletion will require a major revision of global economic activities and priorities
WHEREAS the consumption of energy is now grossly inequitable
WHEREAS the current competition for remaining fossil fuel reserves is likely to result in serious violent conflicts unless checked by a strong international agreement;
WHEREAS the continued use of fossil fuels will exacerbate an already serious degradation of the global systems which provide climate stability;
WHEREAS a transition to new energy sources will be a priority issue for national governments and international bodies;
WHEREAS new policies and technologies will be developed to meet the demands of this new energy paradigm;
WHEREAS problems of inequity and ecological degradation associated with the current energy paradigm will be exacerbated in the development of a new energy regime unless effectively planned for;
WHEREAS the greatest benefits for human civilization can only be realized if the new energy paradigm is founded on core values of global cooperation, social equity and ecological sustainability;
IT IS HERE PROPOSED THAT:
1) A Convention of Nation States be called by the United Nations for the purpose of forging a comprehensive and binding international agreement with the following objectives:
a) the future production of energy be based solely on technologies that are ecologically sustainable
b) the patterns of energy consumption ensure priority use in the service of achieving the highest standards of equitable well being possible for the world’s population.
2) The Agreement shall have the following provisional characteristics:
a) energy technologies that are ecologically sustainable at a global scale will be identified through careful life cycle analyses and other appropriate procedures
b) only technologies identified as ecologically sustainable will be allowed under the Agreement; phasing out of unsustainable technologies will occur according to a fixed timetable
c) consideration will be given to determining the upper limit to the amount of total energy production that is compatible with ecological sustainability
d) priority areas for energy consumption will be identified and ranked (e.g food, shelter, education, health care, cultural activities, etc), as well as areas at the very bottom of the priority list (e.g. weapons of mass destruction; luxury items affordable only by the few, etc)
e) objective indicators, and minimum standards, of core measures of human well being will be identified, based on but not limited to the Millennium Development Goals
f) equitable per capita energy consumption targets for signatory nation states will be identified, and a timetable for an as rapid as possible transition to these target levels agreed upon
g) attention will be given to the relationships between per capita energy consumption and desirable levels of well being, and between per capita energy consumption and ecological sustainability; as needed, consideration will also be given to targeting a global human population consistent with ecologically sustainable consumption of energy capable of providing desirable levels of well being
h) economic policies and instruments will be developed and applied to meet the objectives of the Agreement, so as to remove economic obstacles to their achievement (e.g. removal of perverse subsidies; incentives for achievement of Agreement goals and timelines; Pigouvian taxes to facilitate transition to sustainable energy technologies; incentives for conservation and improved energy efficiencies; consideration of an “energy clearing union”; etc); economic criteria will not be the dominant factor in implementing Agreement goals, rather, where necessary economic solutions will be modified or created to ensure the Agreement’s successful implementation
i) legal frameworks will be created whereby intellectual property rights to sustainable technologies, and technologies which contribute to meeting basic human needs, will be open sourced over a period of no more than two years from signing of the Agreement
j) international mechanisms of cooperation and information sharing will be developed so as to facilitate achievement of Agreement goals and timelines
k) trade and non-cooperation sanctions will be developed and applied to nation states unwilling to become signatories to the Agreement, and to signatory nation states that fail to cooperate
l) a standing review mechanism will be established to adjust Agreement goals and timelines as circumstances change, to generally solve problem which emerge, and to seek opportunities for facilitating the achievement of Agreement goals and timelines
m) the Agreement will establish a global education programme to inform all humanity of the necessity for an equitable and sustainable energy regime; the educational programme will also clarify the determinants of human happiness and well being as a means of facilitating a shift to Agreement goals.
3) The Agreement will support and seek to coordinate efforts with at least the following international agreements or proposals:
· The Kyoto Protocol (2005)
· The Rimini Protocol (Oil Depletion Protocol – proposed) – with an adjustment to include a provision whereby signatory nations agree to an accelerated phasing out of oil and other fossil fuels
· Millennium Development Goals – with an accelerated timeline for achievement
· Programs and campaigns aimed at Debt Relief for the world’s poorest nations
· Programs designed to reduce population size.
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