Towards Energy Democracy

My name is Anna Galkina and I work for Platform in London and I’m also part of the Switched on London campaign. I’m David Boys, Deputy General Secretary with Public Services International, which is the global trade union federation representing twenty million workers in a hundred and fifty countries. My name is Dinga Sikwele. I’m from the National Union of Metal Workers in South Africa, NUMSA. So, I work for Platform London, based in London. Ny name’s Mika Minio we’ve been focusing initially on the oil and gas industry, since the mid nineties, and increasing also on energy as a whole, on a wider basis. My name is Nick Dearden and I’m from Global Justice Now Well… energy is like the life blood of the global economy. It’s a very valuable commodity but it’s also something that should be a human right. And if we simply run it for profit is very difficult to use it to meet people’s needs. And then you add into that equation the fact that the way of producing energy we’re trashing the planet and destroying our environment. So, if we take all those things together it’s pretty clear we need a massive transformation. If we’re going to meet people’s needs and protect our planet we need to actually take it out of the hands of those who are simply trying to run it to make more money. Could you run a hospital without energy? No, you can’t. If you don’t have the energy to pump the water through the purifying plant and then pump it to the houses, you won’t have water. If you don’t have the energy to light your streets, they’re unsafe If you don’t have energy to power your trams and buses, you don’t have public transport. So, it’s clear for all of our sectors that energy is key. But it’s also key to our overall approach of building just and equitable societies given that more than 50% of humanity lives in cities our cities are powered by electricity and other forms of energy. So it runs through everything we say, and it’s the underpinning, it’s one of the foundation stones of building just and equitable societies. So, for me, energy democracy is a system whereby energy is used primarily for people’s needs. So, you don’t run it like we run it now, with the poorest people in our society paying proportionally of the highest price, and of course our planet paying the highest price of all. Rather you give priority to the needs of everybody. Everybody has the right to a certain amount of energy. You make it as renewable as possible, ultimately a hundred percent renewable. And I think the only way you can really guarantee that is to give people control to make it accountable, transparent and actually democratic, to really put it into the hands of ordinary people. And where that’s been tried, through cooperatives or through innovative public systems, it’s proved a really positive and transformative way of running our energy system in the world. people are actually right away around the world, from London, where we’re campaigning to set up a public energy company which will be democratically controlled by Londoners so that we can have a fair and more renewable energy system in London, right the way around the world to Latin American countries, South Africa India where people are struggling to set up co-ops and so on, to give energy to people who don’t even have any energy, energy that is both fairly allocated and also not harming the planet. Energy is a big issue for workers and ordinary people because energy is a key input into production. Secondly, energy shapes the lives of ordinary people in a big way. without energy there can be no production, without energy people cannot live ordinary and meaningful lives. So, energy is a key input in shaping what people can do how they live and a lack of energy is a form of inequality. And in South Africa, where you’ve had a system of inequality, this extended also to access to energy. Historically in South Africa energy was produced to power mines, to power some of the big industries, and for many people, they didn’t have access to energy. it’s not an issue just for the energy unions. And this is what we’ve seen with the trade unions for energy democracy. We’re bringing in health unions we’re bringing in unions that deal with the janitors, the cleaners of real estate. We’re bringing in different sectors, because the issue of energy cuts across all of our society. Traditionally, there was an idea that all that you needed to do was elect the right government and let them get on with running energy for the public interest. And I think people over the last 40 years have become much more distrustful of the state, because they see the way that the state has colluded various governments of various shades have colluded with big business to take power out of our hands and run our societies as commodities for profit. And therefore we need to approach this with much more scepticism of the state. But that doesn’t mean the state has no role. In fact, we absolutely need to use collective political power through the state, in order to enable people to be able to provide on the scale that we need to provide energy. But people can’t let go people can’t just say okay, we’ve taken it so far. We’ll leave it to you now They need to remain in the struggle. So, we see public municipal energy as something as a way of addressing the challenges of scale in energy democracy. So, There is a lot of optimism for communities trying to take back their own power through small renewable installations. But that’s tiny and the challenge of decarbonising, the challenge of providing renewable energy is huge. So we see municipal energy as something that can bridge that gap between the really massive challenge and and the kind of small scale decentralized responses. And we see London as one of the places that could implement that. We are really inspired by what’s going on in Germany with cities taking back their power and we hope that we can improve on that. We’ve been in the past involved in trying to stop water being privatized and run as a public good. And what that took was campaign organizations, NGOs, people of faith and trade unions particularly, working together to achieve that. And it also required a degree of international solidarity. I think energy is even more of a challenge than water because energy is so central to the way the global economy works and global capitalism works. So, therefore it’s gonna be, it’s gonna mean even more organisations working together But I think at the end of the day we have a very powerful message. One important challenge that I would flag up is the challenge of going big enough and fast enough. Because, for example, the oil that the UK is extracting from the North Sea. We have to stop within the next five years if we are really to meet the kind of 80% decarbonisation that’s recommended by climate experts. At the same time this has to be democratic, there has to be a just transition. So how do you combine these things? How do you shut down fossil fuel infrastructure fast enough? But, how do you it in a way that is just to everybody working there. There is always a big question… how can we get investment for offshore wind? How can we get investment for these solar panels? And if we don’t think what are actually the political structures that we are creating when we install those solar panels and when we source the investment then we end up remaining in that neoliberal space. This period has been quite a short period, historically. There are very very different ways of organising a society. And our belief is that should be organized as democratically as possible. because when people are in control they can make sure that power isn’t simply used to create more inequality. So, examples of different ways of organising our resources like energy democracy like food sovereignty are incredibly important in terms of convincing younger people especially that things don’t have to be like this. That if you get involved you can make society different. And that’s the most important idea in the world. However much I hate something if I really don’t think it’s going to change I’m not likely to try.

Maurice Vega

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