Friday, March 20, 2009

All power to the people

Energy policy has never been more central to the public interest than it is today. It's always been at the heart of the economy and social equality, or lack of it, but today if we continue to use energy in the way we have been it will pose an existential threat to our glorious civilisation.

Yet, as a society, we leave almost every aspect of our energy production in the hands of private corporations, hampering our ability to direct and control this absolutely vital industry. Whilst there are snouts in the trough changing course on energy isn't just made more difficult - it's nigh on impossible.

Of course, I'm for the renationalisation of public utilities in general. Mainly it's the arguments around efficiency, democratic acountability and cutting out the middle man fat cats that I find most persuasive - but with energy there is something far more fundamental going on.

Climate change means we have to fundamentally change the way that we are using natural resources right now. Those with vested interests in the current structures cannot help but act as a conservative force on the radical reforms required. It's impossible for them, even when they agree in theory, to overcome their sectional interests, even when it might mean a loss of profitability in the long run (see Stern).

I genuinely believe that even with the most progressive board they will find it impossible to put the planet before their profits - even if it were legal for them to do so. We wouldn't leave the conduct of a war in private hands, and climate change threatens more lives than any war we've fought in to date.

The example of historic clean air acts proves that government intervention is essential to bring the self destructive tendencies of private enterprise to heel. But whilst robust government legislation would be more than welcome it seems to me that the problem is so urgent and the industries in need of such a comprehensive overhaul that we need to take things far further - to bring energy production in house through the nationalisation of the utility companies.

As we speak the first day of Green Party conference has just finished and I was pleased to see that they passed a motion recognising the need for more democratic control. The motion (on economics C01 amendment 2 for those who want to look it up in the conference guide (pdf)) states that we are for;

"Taking all energy distribution into public ownership and ensuring that energy production becomes a mixture of public and private enterprises... The distribution mains for electricity and gas will be brought into a fully accountable public sector. Energy production would be a mixture of public and private enterprises."
I think this is a very positive and pragmatic motion which, if enacted, would dramatically increase our purchase on what actually happens within the industry allowing energy to be more properly integrated into the wider strategy of saving the world.

Obviously, it talks about a mixed economy and I'd go further than that, but I accept there is a role for the social entrepreneurs (for example) who've set up renewable technology companies or micro-generation businesses and they aren't top of my list for bringing under the People's Commissariat for Power although I do think we have to recognise that they only exist because the government has refused to take the issue of renewable technologies as seriously as the situation has demanded.

PS: some of the attendees of conference are "twittering" follow them here over the next few days.

1 comment:

Strategist said...

Thanks for this post.
Nice to feel that common sense and practical radicalism is alive & well - in Blackpool on a Friday evening, of all places...