The Energy-Environment-Development Triad

EDITORIAL, 23 Mar 2009

#55 | Johan Galtung

A very felicitous idea to bring together three major concerns in what could become a political, economic and intellectual pact. Like a poor, creative family in Kerala wanting to boil their rice, having neither electricity nor kerosene nor wood nor matches but a sheet of black paper, a used tire, a piece of window glass and noon sunshine. With the sheet on the ground, the pot with water and rice on it, the used tire around the pot and the glass on top of that for isolation, the rice is boiled in half an hour’s time.

Renewable energy from that inexhaustible source, reusing rather than recycling waste, meeting basic needs (for a single person use a bicycle tire, for a nuclear family a car tire, for the extended family a truck tire, for more a bulldozer tire). Triadic thinking. Ugly? Put it all in a nicely decorated box. Primitive-traditional-modern-postmodern? Irrelevant problem.

The basic point is to integrate the three, looking for synergies; all the time mindful of the old Hindu wisdom that if we pursue only one we may not even get that one (for an example read that primer on political economics, John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hitman). There is holism at work. Sectorial-global approaches–one at the time–are needed, but we have many huge bureaucracies and single-minded academic disciplines. We also need integrated approaches focused on communities, rural and urban, where people live and feel where the shoes are pinching when only one is pursued, and can put their ingenuity to work.

As a matter of fact, “development ministries” might be wise to bring communities from all over the world–no region, no country has any monopoly on wisdom–together for exchange of positive experiences. There are, say, two million of them and more wisdom to draw upon than from 200 states or 2,000 nations.

Energy impacts on environment impacts on development, with  conflicts all over. How to create cooperative, harmonious peace?

Take the major CO2 excess (and N2O, CH4). Years ago Japan piped CO2 from factories into greenhouses designed for agriculture next to the factory, speeding up the synthesis, producing oxygen, privileging communities mixing industry and agricultures. Putting CO2 to giant use, serving the whole triad, should be possible.

How much global warming is part of a mega-process after the ice age peaked, say, 10-15,000 years ago, and how much is human-made, is a major controversy. Whatever the percentage we should do our best, but quota-trading is not the approach. It smacks of somebody practicing slavery buying some quotas from those with a slavery deficit. The task is to reduce slavery and carbon emission, not to legitimize with fake markets. Much may be irreversible.

But that works both ways, flooding lowlands here, thawing icecaps and permafrost there (with its problems), liberating land in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Russia. Who will pay for the move? If the polluter pays then he who pollutes most will pay most, pointing at USA-China. Or we all share. Cooperation.

We have had development with less developed countries (LDCs) now having things found in the more developed countries (MDCs), electricity, computers, highways, etc., but still with huge masses suffering at the bottom of countries at the bottom, exposed to capitalist machines pumping wealth from bottom to top, producing misery at the bottom (125,000 daily deaths, 25,000 from hunger, 100,000 from preventable-curable diseases), and excess liquidity, trading absurd products, at the top.

Result: a double crisis, one permanent another conjunctural, synergizing, feeding each other. Less so, however, in Islamic banks limiting loans to 30 percent of the capital (sharia). The eco-quake crisis hits those financially closer to Ground Zero, Wall street, more than others.

There are remedies for the permanent crisis. Labor-intensive agriculture and small farms are more efficient and softer on the environment. Water can be distilled using parabolic mirrors on sunshine, pumped from oceans to deserts in oil pipelines drying up as the oil madness subsides; and, Khosla’s proposal, in cubic containers that can be used LEGO like to build houses. Plants Israel-Palestine, and Israel-Lebanon, might be peace-building.

Health can be served through dense networks of polyclinics and health workers who know enough to know what they do not know, top rate hospitals accessible by fleets of helicopters, generic medicines, hygiene everywhere. Education by internet run by solar energy, monopolized by no region, and alphabetization by students (Castro), and army officers (Saddam), living with the illiterate.

Why does it not happen? The energy costs serving the poor are small, the impact on the environment soft. Simply because:

– it is convenient to have poor people who can be paid poorly; and

– lest they treat us as badly moving upwards as we treated them.

This can best be handled in communities with rich and poor working together, like men and women, and older, middle-aged and children, so important as their habits are shaped for the future. China today uses much public-private-people community cooperation.

But there is another side to this issue: we should learn to lift the bottom without threatening the top, preparing them for the inevitable. Like men in patriarchic Spain when women rise. A winning argument in that case might be that with more ability to enjoy the joy of you partner sex becomes better. Equity = peace.

Renewable energy resources for conversion and storage is not good enough. We need local conversion to cut down transportation pollution. And we need energy equality, exploring a variety of profiles among, say, ten energy resources. High-low on all gives us 1024 profiles for all kinds of local resource endowment.

Military force to control resources creates huge suffering; equality helps. Like cooperation between the biggest consumer, USA, and the potentially biggest producer, Iran, on renewables (hydro: gravity and waves; bio: mass and genetic; thermic: geo and hydro; solar: heat and electric; wind, some carbon, some nuclear).

Make energy–underlying all basic needs–free, like streets and parks, health and education in decent countries, up to a point when the user pays for high speed motor highways etc. From tubes, sockets, free panels, like the Internet should be freely available all over. Give each household a 1m3 contraption on four wheels to roll into the sunshine for heating, then tapping for all purposes.

This would help people overcoming misery considerably. As would a labor-based economy next to the money-based one. If an Euro equals an Euro, why should not an hour lecture on mediation by a professor equal an hour cleaning by a cleaning man or woman? If we all have equal value so do hours of our lives. Easily done on a community basis; like local currencies to stimulate using local nature-production-consumption economic cycles. As would a basic needs-oriented economy like health for oil (Cuba-Venezuela).

Markets can make miracles, but a cure-all they are not, nor are them self-regulating. The three classical production factors land-labor-capital can also read nature-humans-capital. Economists have canonized capital equating economic growth with capital growth. How about Nature growth – meaning increased complexity based on diversity and symbiosis? How about Human growth beyond basic needs for survival-wellness-freedom-identity? The spiritual dimension, creating, transcending, not limited to optimization by those prisoners of prisoner’s games, the economists. Thinking New!

We need a Capital-ism not going amok. But we also need a broader economics, with Nature-ism and Human-ism. As we see today.


Concluding talk, Energy Pact Conference, Geneva, March 16-17 2009.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 23 Mar 2009.

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