A Green Alliance pamphlet, co-authored with Nick Eyre, of the UK Energy Research Centre.
This pamphlet argues that energy policy needs to be refocussed around demand, rather than supply.
From the moment that our ancestors first discovered fire, energy use has been closely linked to progress. Agriculture is basically a way of diverting solar energy into useful crops – and farming liberated people from the daily hunt for sustenance, allowing modern societies to flourish. And, of course, the industrial revolution was essentially an energy revolution: exploiting fossil fuels to change radically the way that we live, work and even eat. We now each use fifteen times the amount of energy that we did before the industrial age.
Until now, energy use and social progress have been inextricably linked. But now, for the first time in history, it makes sense to use less energy, not more. Climate change, diminishing oil supplies and worried over energy security mean that we can no longer rely on more energy to drive more progress.
Yet politics has yet to catch up with this new reality. Our energy politics is overwhelmingly dominated by the supply side. We still assume that we can simply substitute high-carbon energy for low-carbon energy, chuck in a bit of energy efficiency, and carry on as we are. Politicians have yet to grapple with the fundamental question: how to break the habit of generations, and use less energy, not more.
Nick and I use the pamphlet to ask what would happen if we got serious about energy demand. We argue that a new approach to energy politics would open up new solutions, in transport, land-use planning and food, for example – that would help us build a more resilient economy and society.