The crises of climate change, peak oil, and the food and agrarian crisis are creating an imperative for change, to make a transition to an age beyond oil.
However, if that transition is driven by the same paradigm and powers that created our current climate crisis, it will only perpetuate the problems of ecological non-sustainability and social and economic injustice. Our food is being converted to fuel to run an industrial infrastructure. The lands of the poor are becoming the next oil fields. But there is not enough land to fuel the ever-increasing population of cars and ever-increasing demand for energy.
And when the rights of the poor are taken into account, there is only one way forward - reducing the energy demands of the rich and the non-sustainable patterns of production and consumption that are the legacy of industrialisation and globalisation. The powerful corporations, governments, and elites will, of course, try to avoid any reduction of their profits and power, preferring instead to make the poor pay. A top-down model for sustainability results in pseudo-sustainability and eco-imperialism.
A bottom-up search for sustainability creates an Earth Democracy based on living economies. Unleashing our living but latent energies can create new economic and political possibilities. But recognising the emergent possibilities requires a paradigm shift from a mechanistic worldview and its limited and limiting categories of mechanical energy. The transition to a post-fossil fuel age needs to focus on living energies - our energy to creating living democracies and living economies.
A universe run on the paradigms and fossil fuel energy of the mechanical, industrial age dispossesses and displaces billions. In the final analysis it displaces humanity from being a part of the future evolution of the planet.
The climate change discussion has focused exclusively on two constructs, “growth” and “industrial development”. Both are artificially restrictive. The mechanistic paradigm holds that there must be growth to eliminate poverty, that there must be “industrial development” for the poor of the South to achieve the living standards of the rich of the North. However, both people and nature are being impoverished to make the economy grow. India’s 9 per cent growth is based on pushing small farmers to suicide; uprooting tribes for mines, factories, and Special Economic Zones; and damming every inch of every river. If measured in terms of nature’s economy and people’s economy, this growth would register as destruction.
We need to move beyond the mechanistic paradigms of industrialisation and neoclassical economics if the rights of the poor are to be defended and if future generations are to have a chance to live on this planet.
For too long the very instruments that threaten the poor have been proposed as solutions to poverty. Industrial production systems, which displace people and lay waste to the resources of the earth, are currently reaching the last village, the last mountain in India. And the globalised economy, based on the assumption that perpetual growth is possible, is outsourcing its pollution and resource burden on the poor. To address the issues of energy change and climate change, we need to look at what is happening to people and the soil.
Living systems, living energies
In the dominant paradigm, “energy” refers to oil and coal, which are mined from the earth, shipped thousands of miles, and transformed into electricity to light up neon signs or into fuel to run SUVs. It is fruitful to remember that energy has other meanings and other forms. From Shakti, the generative force of the universe, to the sun that powers our lives, to the water that comes to us as bountiful rain or a flood or a tsunami, to the air and the wind that move the clouds and create the climate. Energy is not just oil and gas. Energy is an all-pervasive element of life.
The broader our paradigm of energy, the wider our choices as human beings. Fossil fuels have fossilised our imagination, our potential, our creativity. We need to break free of this fossilisation to choose life-enhancing pathways for our selves, our species, and the planet.
The mechanistic paradigm has robbed us our freedom and creativities. It has replaced living energy with fossil fuels; the wealth created by nature and people with capital; the freedom of citizens and communities with the coercive power of the corporate state, which imposes the rule of capital in every dimension of our life - the thoughts we think, the food we eat, the settlements we shape.
In this life-threatening period of globalisation and climate crisis, we need to unleash our hidden energies to make a transition to a post-fossil fuel economy. To do so, we need to reinvent democracy.