In this episode, I cover the basic concepts in my new book ‘Energy Cultures: Technology, Justice, and Geopolitics in Eastern Europe‘ published by Edward Elgar Publishing. We cover the three Axioms which guide the Energy Cultures framework: Space, Scale and Transformations. Energy cultures are a way to understand how society interacts with governments and other countries to create the energy system. It is a means to understand the deeply embedded practices people perform every day, from driving a car to cooking their meals. People are unaware or are non-reflexive of when and how they use energy. By highlighting the role of culture, then we can perceive the everyday landscape and practices to understand how we interact and build our societies around the energy system. At the end of the day, it is best to remember the energy system should serve us, not we should serve the energy system. Often this basic principle is lost.
About the AuthorDr. Michael LaBelle is an associate professor at Central European University. He holds a joint appointment between the Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy and the Department of Economics and Business. He founded the MyEnergy2050 website to change how we communicate and implement the energy transition.
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By Michael LaBelle — 4 months ago
This week we speak with Professor Margarita M. Balmaceda about her new book, Russian Energy Chains (2021), published by Columbia University Press, as part of the Woodrow Wilson Center series. She was on the My Energy 2050 podcast in episode 12. And we are very grateful for her to come back for launching her new book. We managed to meet in person during her visit to Budapest this week. But as you’ll hear, our conversation moves rapidly around the issues of fossil fuels and the value chains that extend from Russia all the way to Germany.
Margarita was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and as her profile at, Seton Hall University states, “her professional life has centered in the USA and Eastern Europe.” But as we know from her previous publications, on Eastern Europe, including ‘Living the High Life in Minsk’ and ‘The Politics of Energy Dependency’, in addition to numerous journal articles, she is a leading scholar on Post Soviet issues and places involving the energy sector. She is also an Associate of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies and of the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University. Overall, because of her research and insight, she should be nominated as an honorary citizen of the Post-Soviet world.
Her book, Russian Energy Chains will be the leading and most authoritative book on the subject of post-Soviet energy relations. What does that mean and why is it important?
This podcast is focused on the energy transition. By having Margarita document the value flows – that is who benefits and who doesn’t of the flow of oil, gas, and coal from the Russian heartland to Europe, she documents a way of life and of profits from fossil fuel extraction. And as we address toward the end of the interview, a way of life and means of governance will be under threat as the EU and other countries implement strong policies to move away from the fossil fuel era.
The point here is the topic of understanding the value created from fossil fuel extraction, shipping and usage demonstrate – as she outlines in chapter 1 – the role of power relations in the energy system. If we hope to phase out fossil fuels, we will need to address these power relations of the old (fossil fuel) order and the new (renewable) order. Russia – and the relations between EU Member States hold a strong rooting in energy – this relationship will need to be renegotiated and Margarita’s book lays down what these relations were built on, and the areas where they could change.
The Post-Soviet energy pact: The changing dynamics of fossil fuels and political support – Prof. Margarita BalmacedaBy Michael LaBelle — 1 year ago
This week we speak with Professor Margarita Balmaceda. She is a professor of diplomacy and international relations at Seton Hall University. She is also an associate at Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies and at the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute. Her books include The Politics of Energy Dependency, published in 2013. And her other book published in 2014, Living the High Life in Minsk.
In this episode, we get a preview of her latest book that will come out in March 2021, Russian Energy Chains: The Remaking of Technopolitics from Siberia to Ukraine to the European Union. Because of Margarita’s extensive experience research and writing about Russia, the EU, Belarus and Ukraine we delve into the latest issues. Including Lukesenko’s attempt to hang-onto power after the September 2020 disputed national elections. We get a background on how and why Lukashenko was able to stay in power. We discuss the overreach of Russia and its historical relations with Austria and Germany. Nonetheless, Margarita outlines the historical relationship between EU countries and Russia. Including highlighting the aggressive actions of Russia which under-appreciated the response by the EU.
For me, the quote that summarizes best our discussion and the key take-away is when Margarita states, “energy policies can never be imposed only from above. For the energy services, we depend on, in order to lead a good life, these are part of our expectations of the system in which we live”. This describes well both what happens when people feel secure in the political systems and how they feel when they don’t feel secure. Energy is an essential part of household and business budgets. Governments can make money or they can lose money in both providing energy services to its people and also, in this case, by selling fossil fuels. The energy system needs to be viewed both as a direct provider of benefits for households, but also an income generator for the state budget or other interests, which can either directly or indirectly benefit or harm citizens.
There is a tremendous amount of political-capital invested into energy and the relations that keep the system together and affordable. When energy becomes more expensive or the flows of money shift, the people can also shift their political allegiance The social compact may be broken which leads people to change their support for politicians. Thus, the idea of a social contract, which we discuss, plays an essential part in understanding the interplay of politics and energy.
And now for this episode with Professor Margarita Balmaceda on the shifting post-Soviet social energy pact.
By Michael LaBelle — 1 year ago
In this episode, we trace back the history of Darren’s involvement in energy. We learn the background story on energy justice and how he got involved in it while at Trinity College Dublin. He describes his earlier work with Gordan Walker and Harriet Bulkeley which prompted Darren to go further and explore the concept more with others by using a legal studies perspective.
There are three key takeaways from my discussion with Darren. First, Darren is just great to talk to. I met Darren back around 2012 or 2013 and as you’ll hear in our discussion, we share a passion for a holistic understanding of the energy system and how society sits at the center of it.
Second, Darren outlines the massive disruption of Covid-19 is a chance for policymakers to push faster on the green transition. And here we discuss the preliminary findings of Darren’s work on the UK, Netherlands, and South Africa. Where he is finding a compartmentalized perspective on the energy system and not a joined-up systems-wide approach where moving towards a sustainable energy system has knock-on effects for many corners of society and the environment.
And the final takeaway is, every researcher needs to get out of their comfort zone and travel. This is easy – or maybe hard to say – while we are locked-down, but we discuss how doing research in developing countries can begin to prompt change. We do take a light-hearted view of this topic, but Darren expresses well the serious desire to make a difference in other parts of the world as essential for anyone with a career in energy research.