Energy philosophy – Ethics of Renewables

The dream of bringing about a renewable energy revolution has been on the cards for quite sometime for a long range of actors starting from multilateral donor agencies, governments, scientists and activists. The climate change debates and conferences around the globe have discussed everything under the sun about mitigation measures but hasn’t changed anything but climate. The underlying issue is that there is no call for a change in lifestyle rather than the offsetting and adaptation measures. Even if you don’t subscribe to Buddhist philosophy of ‘desires are the cause for sorrow’ , here there is no choice but to believe that the aspirations and lifestyles itself is the single biggest problem when we talk about climate change.

Moving on to the moral and ethical domain of climate change it is evident that a clear injustice is been practiced in inter country and intra country strategies. Here the intention is not to discuss the inter country debate about the developed and developing countries regarding the carbon emissions but a rather micro environment of intra country differences in rural and urban population. it is already a well known fact that the ethics of carbon credits are questionable and in the sustainable development paradigm the right to pollute (when it is offsetted elsewhere) in no way can be justified as an ethically correct strategy.

In the context of developing countries like  India this urban and rural divide means a lot to the renewable energy development. Is there a genuine interest in ‘clean and green’fuel availability in the country?. Especially in the context of ambitious national programmes like JNNSM( Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission), it is quite visible that international organisations and donor agencies push for a lot of capacity building in this sector. As a renewable energy enthusiast this move is certainly perceived as positive change  but i take it with a pinch of salt because a line of renewable energy fundamentalism* is emerging here which lacks clarity.

The participatory and decentralized approaches in the rural electrification scenario has been often an anti thesis to the usual claims of empowerment. The question here is in the urban context nobody participates and not even care about the energy sources from which we obtain our electricity. moreover people consider it a pain to be a part of any such endeavors or rather there is not at all a question about participation in any civic matters or infrastructure development. so how come poor farmers and bonded laborers substituting there ‘bread and butter’ with the work for building their micro hydel project becomes empowerment and participation? I find it more of a fancy word or research interest for urban bred people including me who has a green and sustainable world out there but not at all a part of our daily lives.

For instance my experience in Ladakh has been quite interesting when i noticed that there lifestyle is inherently sustainable.Organic farming, solar passive houses and compost toilets are there natural way of living. so philosophically speaking the urban India finds the duality in sustainable living which is totally absent in rural areas. But we still contest the possibilities for rural electrification by emphasizing the remoteness and economics of grid integration. Then let me ask one thing, if the hills of niyamagiri and sarvepalli are accessible for mining and profitable business why it is only a challenge for gird arrival?

This clearly points out the double standards being practiced in the case of energy access for the poor. Even for the activists who blame the dirty coal and mighty nuclear a life style change is not seen to be practiced any where while the poor villagers has to compromise with the inefficient, intermittent renewable energy technologies. I do agree that something is better than nothing , but it is not the way to go forward. The old calculations of ‘willingness to pay’ (money spent on kerosene and fuel wood) are to be substituted with  amount spent by their counterparts in urban areas. which would give entirely a new picture. The energy democracy we envisage should contain participatory models not only in extreme poor areas but also in posh apartments in cities.Other wise it is just the white man’s burden  replaced by the urban elite’s burden. Remember, our ancestors dreamt about living green, we are still debating about living green and for the next generation there is no choice but to live green.This transition of life style is what ‘sustainable development’ would actually mean in my opinion and probably the brundlandt report shaped it differently.


About felixvarghese

Chemical Engineer, Independent Analyst in Renewable Energy, Work experience with SELCO Foundation and Prayas energy group. Environment enthusiast and in love with renewable energy.
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