Energy Justice – roundtable

This week we join another Energy Policy Research Group roundtable discussion from Central European University. The topic this week is reevaluating energy justice in the Anthropocene.

All parts of society need to prepare to change to deal with climate change. And our discussion provides an understanding of how energy justice can be applied to communities that are normally left out. The discussions also force us to switch our perspectives on the energy transition. It does this by flipping on its head that fossil fuel use was actually a good choice as an energy carrier. Fossil fuels perpetuate injustices and keeping them only keeps an unjust energy system in place to profit the most powerful companies and political systems. 

Before I introduce the speakers, I have to thank my students for coming up with a fantastic list of speakers who provide a fundamentally different perspective on energy justice and the energy transition. We have here an amazing show that provides a broad spectrum of cutting-edge scholarship and examples of how energy justice is being applied on the ground. We are joined by three speakers. The first is Professor Ankit Kumar who is a Lecturer at the Department of Geography in Development and Environment at the University of Sheffield. The second is, Shakti Ramkumar is the Director of Communications & Policy at Student Energy, a global youth organization that works with the next generation of leaders. And Professor Cara Daggett who is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Virginia Tech.

I’m being very brief on each of their bios. And my apologies for this, but I really want to briefly summarize the issues that we get into during our discussion. I think the best way to summarize the discussion is to say the speakers turn energy justice on its head and understand the energy transition not as an Earth-saving project, but actually, a process that can sustain the current power relations far into the future. With Cara pointing the built narrative that renewables will push out fossil fuels. When – according to her, there is little evidence to suggest fossil fuels will actually go away. Just this point alone is controversial, but if we look at the actual numbers in 2022 – there seems limited scope that fossil fuels will fade away anytime soon. So we should not accept that they are actually going to go away.

The energy transition is not inevitable. By turning away from a techno-socio perspective, that sees technology leading the way, society can actually be put in the center of the transition. This upending of the perspective also aligns with Ankit’s position looking at the neo-colonialist perspective that we actually need MORE politics, not less, in the energy transition. By politicizing the impact of the lack of an energy transition, then the true cost and injustices of the current energy system can be exposed.

Sandwiched in-between these academic discussions is Shakti who brings a clear guide as to how younger people can participate and help build a more just energy transition. Her practical and everyday approach really highlights the impact that our abstract discussion of energy justice can have on the ground and in our cities.

What is striking about all three speakers and their topics is how well they overlap on the edges to provide a broad and deep spectrum of knowledge on the topic of groups normally marginalized in the energy transitions debate. One of the fundamental pillars of the energy transition needs to be to bring everyone along. As you’ll hear in this episode, many people are being left behind.

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Dr. Michael LaBelle is an associate professor at Central European University in the Department of Environmental Sciences. He produces the My Energy 2050 podcast to change how we communicate and improve the energy transition.