A Racialised Perspective Of Climate Change Politics
Energy security is one of the most talked about topics not only in terms of the debates around climate change action but also conventional policy.
Energy price and stability have very real economic implications for any nation and there is now more than ever increasing concern to secure the resource by internalising energy generation.
Energy security is a term which has been adopted by many climate change actors to rally support for domestic renewable energy networks and lessen dependence on imported energy. It is true that this long term strategy can stabilise prices and help tackle climate change- but we have to be very careful in the way we promote this action.
I could not support the development of renewable forms of energy more but I hope this article ensures a degree of caution as to how these actions are framed. We must ensure that a clean energy transition does not bring about transitions of another kind in international politics.
The term 'energy security' has been used in the UK and US to describe internalising energy production as a way of lessening the dependence on energy imports.
'Foreign Oil' is a frequently used term to describe these imports. What image does this conjure?
Foreign Oil is portrayed by politicians and the media as unreliable, expensive and viewed with suspicion. A reliance on it is presented as a weakness and something which must be reduced.
Energy security when used in this narrative promotes a very inward looking nationalist policy. It invokes the classic dichotomy of 'us' and 'them' as mentioned by so many scholars of Edward Saids 'Orientalism' before. The nation turns away from the globalised energy market and seeks to generate its own power within its sovereign territory.
Specific oil exporting countries are hardly ever singled out in energy security debates but instead the blanket term 'Foreign Oil' is used frequently in the US. Foreign Oil is presented through a racialised lens- the term invokes a sense of mystery, suspicion and distrust of oil exporting countries. The term 'foreign' directly labels this oil as 'the other'; it is not part of the domestic nation.
In contrast the move to lessen Europe's dependence on energy imports directly targets Russia. The move away from Russian gas is justified on the same grounds as foreign oil. Russia is distanced from the European culture and energy exports are viewed as an unstable resource. Putin's Russia is seen as ignoring classic economic rationalisation in the wake of sanctions which further increases tension as the ability of European importers to influence energy supply is waning.
Contrary to this energy uncertainty domestic fossil fuels are often perceived as safe and reliable through the idea of heritage and tradition. The move to re-instigate domestic fossil fuels such as coal and gas conjure up images of prosperity and job creation in post-industrial regions.
Sometimes energy security is used to promote more renewables but other times it is used to justify digging out more tenuous forms of fossil fuels such as shale gas and tar sands. Energy security is a term used across the political spectrum to invoke different action but always to lessen dependence on imports.
The often cited US Dash For Gas and its economic 'miracle' of slashing gas prices is used to justify action to frack in other countries without concern for local environmental degradation and a blatant disregard for contextualised economics. These domestic fossil fuels are often termed 'bridge' fuels as they are supposed to assist with the short term energy and economic strain as the renewable sector increases and takes over- but far too often that long term sustainable energy perspective is lacking.
An action to securitise energy supply by internalising energy generation can create a distrust for the rest of world and in particular OPEC countries. The negative framing of foreign oil and Russian gas reinforces political mistrust of exporting countries and portrays them as unreliable trade partners.
Energy nationalism in the UK comes at a time when anti-EU sentiment is high and a powerful force in public opinion running up to the 2015 general election.
We should ensure that we do not invoke a mistrust of 'the other' and a spirit of racism to legitimise climate change action via energy security.
We must diminish our reliance on both foreign and domestic fossil fuel resources and set out a long term strategy for a clean energy transition.
We must use contemporary debates around energy security as an opportunity to reach out and build new international partnerships with countries that are pioneering innovative renewable technologies.
We can't afford to just burn bridges; we must reach out and build new crossings.
The EU Energy Systems scheme which seeks to link and integrate renewable energy is one such project that we should support. The sharing of renewable technology will ensure that it becomes more cost efficient and profitable. These schemes can help spread the risk of investment in new technologies as well as sharing the benefits.
We should ensure that the term 'energy security' is used in a legitimate way to invoke these new renewable energy partnerships and not used solely to politically distance ourselves from an 'untrustworthy' global energy market which invokes a mistrust of the 'other' while we shift to exploiting domestic fossil fuels.