Tuesday 5 May 2015

The relationship between human beings & energy is in crisis! - guest blog by Paul Allen

In our second guest blog, we're delighted to welcome Paul Allen from the Centre for Alternative Technology. Paul has been a huge inspiration to us at Emergence from the very beginning and his paradigm-shifting work on alternative technologies is leading the way to a new relationship to our world and how we live in harmony with it.

Humanity’s dysfunctional relationship with energy presents us with some big challenges, not only for our technology, but also for our culture, society and democracy. Paul Allen takes a look at how this relationship evolved and where it went wrong - and how Satish Kumar inspired him to be part of creating positive visions for a sustainable future.

Paul Allen
The extraordinary story of humans and energy began over 400 million years ago with the formation of fossil fuels. Early human societies, unaware of this energy deposit of ancient sunlight, lived on our annual sunlight ration for many thousands of years, with only soil, canvas sheets and wooden poles to harvest what all we needed. Then the discovery of fossil fuels transformed how we see ourselves and our relationship with our friends, family, communities and the natural world.

On one hand this transition has helped deliver incredible advances of medicine, science, education and entertainment. But on the other hand, the relationship between human beings and energy has become dysfunctional, if not abusive and is now resulting in self-harm.

We all must now live with, or bury, the pain of the destruction, exploitation and capitalisation of our natural spaces and the decreasing ability of both present and future generations to inhabit them.

Although it has become a deeply pervasive source of anxiety, society has created taboos against the public expression of anguish, leaving many paralysedoverloaded and sleepwalking through the shopping malls. Nowhere is this better reflected than the priority of these issues in the current UK general election debates and party manifestos – explore this yourself via the Centre for Alternative Technology's ‘Manifestometer.

Over recent years, this deeply buried collective anxiety that we know there is a problem and we know we are not solving it has transformed the way contemporary culture portrays our future: from an exciting new world of progress to one of darkness and uncertainty. Whenever contemporary culture looks ten or twenty years ahead, we now paint dystopia and ecological collapse – clearly something is broken.

A powerful tool in healing any broken relationship is to be able to see a positive way forward. The Zero Carbon Britain project has been developed by CAT to help us to think differently. Our most recent report, ‘Re-thinking the Future’, shows that physically, we have all the resources and technologies we need to transform our living systems but we are locked into the fossil fuels paradigm, so change must be driven by a cultural shift. We know once triggered, cultural norms can shift quickly; as we have seen with attitudes to the banks that backed apartheid in South Africa, to gender discrimination, to health and safety in the workplace, to smoking in public places or to the unacceptable sexual conduct of celebrities. Once a cultural shift is catalysed, legal, political and administrative frameworks follow suit. We must now how we think about our relationship with energy.

We should, of course, acknowledge that fossil fuels have enabled a fantastic transformation: fuelling the embryo of human society, much like the yolk of an egg fuels the development of the chick. But we know our relationship with fossil fuels as it is today cannot go on forever, as burning them releases the massive amounts of carbon dioxide locked away when they were formed. The science is clear - to stabilise the climate and stay below the globally agreed limit of 2ÂșC, our relationship with energy must allow us to rapidly eliminate our emissions of greenhouse gases.

The next chapter the relationship between humans and energy must begin now, our yolk is used up, we must now bust out into the sunlight. But today, our tools for energy capture are now no longer limited to soil, canvas and wood; we now have an incredible array of renewable technologies that can capture enough energy from our annual sunlight ration to more than meet our global needs.

The conclusion of story is still unwritten, but is has become clear that our 21st century challenges can no longer be met with a 20th century approach, including how we think about the future!

I am deeply appreciative of the inspiration by Satish in leading me to this story and my exploration of how we can heal this dysfunctional relationship.We first met in 1979, right at the opening of my career, when I was taking a year out before university, working in a Watermill in Cumbria. His evening talk as part of his ‘No Destination’ UK walking tour inspired me to not just think about a different way of living but to really 'live' these ideas and to make real, practical and enduring changes - especially as he was, quite literally walking his talk! His inspiration took me to the Centre for Alternative Technology, where I have now been working for 26 years.

Paul Allen FRSA

Thank you, Paul. You can be part of making our documentary series about Satish by going to our Indiegogo campaign page. We have until Friday 29th May to reach our target. Help us make it happen!



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