New Internationalist Issue 284

[image, unknown] New Internationalist Issue 284

From this month's editor

My God, what's happening to you? I do believe you are being seduced by science!'

I found, still find, it hard to believe. But something unusual was happening. And the tell-tale sign was there: a buzz of excited optimism as I related to my patient colleagues inspiring facts about the awesome energy potential of the sun, wind and tides.

My enthusiasm wasn't there in the beginning as I ploughed my way through piles of books and papers on 'energy'. ('Such a deadly word,' remarked a friend and I instantly knew what he meant, pictures of pylons and faceless men in hard hats flashing through my mind.)

Then came the startling realization that if you had to blame one thing for the most serious threat to life on earth today it would be: energy. Global warming, acid rain, air pollution, radioactive waste. You name it. They all result from the ways in which we, in the twentieth century, have chosen to generate and use our energy.

Vanessa Baird Hard on the heels of this insight came another, actually far more significant, one. It does not have to be this way. Not at all. We can change it. The science, the technological know-how is there. It's just that for the past 100 years or so we have chosen a certain energy path; one that relies heavily on fossil fuels and more recently nuclear fission instead of using the sun, wind, air, water or other 'renewable' sources. We could have done it differently. We just didn't.

We can do so still. Whether we will is another - a political - matter. The more people I talked to during the course of my research the more I came to realize that alternative energy is actually one of the most hopeful areas to work in and write about today. Seduced by science? Maybe. But if one is going to be seduced by science it may as well be the natural, holistic and life-affirming type rather than the divisive, invasive, life- denying one.

Perhaps I make change sound easy, which of course it isn't. And it's not just conservative attitudes and vested interests holding us back. It's also that we are not operating on a level playing-field. If we are talking about changing the world's energy systems we have to realize that the industrial North is glutted with energy, using seven times as much per capita as the South consumes. The South is starved of the cheap energy it desperately needs to fuel economic growth and haul itself out of poverty. So Northern and Southern priorities are likely to be quite different.

To explore this tension I have used a fictional device and created two characters, Gloria Thembisa from South Africa and Claire Green from England. This magazine follows them in their exploration of various energy paths. The device is fictive but the substance of the magazine is factual, with contributions from other writers interspersed with the narrative. Special thanks go to Sara Chamberlain for help with this research.

And now it's time to unfasten your mind-belts. The journey is about to begin.

Vanessa Baird

Vanessa Baird
for the New Internationalist Co-operative

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