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Renewable Energy and Social Anxiety 2022-2050

What are our prospects for renewable energy and social anxiety?

Key points

  • Anxiety generally takes the form of concerns regarding cost, employment, and reliability.
  • People are anxious about their views and property values diminishing when it comes to implementing renewable energy, like onshore wind farms.
  • A debate is needed over the term freedom bearing in mind the limited freedom we create for others when we think only of the here and now.

The crisis in Russia and Ukraine has led to many extravagant claims: the return of the West; the decline of corrupt money; the limitations of NATO; the weakness of the European Union—and an end to fossil-fuel dependency in the Global North, to be displaced by nuclear and wind sources.

New research from the International Energy Agency clarifies where we stand on energy tendencies. Emissions account for much of our climate emergency—perhaps 60 percent from natural gas and 40 percent from oil. When COVID-19 struck, there was a dramatic decrease in demand for gasoline in particular. Those emissions dropped 5 percent at the peak of the coronavirus.

Although that has changed, no one is predicting a return to pre-pandemic levels of consumption. Peak oil demand—not supply—is now anticipated to come within the next fifteen years at most, despite population growth and the spread of affluence.

Crude oil is currently dominated by three producers: Saudi, the US, and Russia. The latter two also lead in natural gas. Russia suffers from the Dutch Disease—when valuable natural resources are uncovered, capital and the state are insufficiently intelligent to engage in counter-cyclical planning, and money rushes to a finite commodity that is subject to elasticity. The concept derives from the impact on investment across the economy that followed the discovery of plentiful natural gas in the Netherlands in 1959.

Last year, 45 percent of Moscow’s budget came from crude oil and gas, making the country vulnerable to the sanctions currently being applied, though China, which doesn’t participate in such things, remains its largest customer, as part of that country’s enduring passion for non-renewable energy. The Russians are very Dutch, the Chinese very Leninist.

Despite being a public entity, the International Energy Agency (IEA) doesn’t want to make the fine grain of its research available to you or us, other than at exorbitant cost. But its 10-Point Plan to Cut Oil Use is available, and interesting.

The Agency says this could have an impact right away, untethering Europe from Moscow and making the Dutch Disease a devastating malady. The plan would slash global demand for oil by 2.7 million barrels a day—the same as Chinese drivers use 365 times every year.

The IEA often appears captive to traditional energy interests, but here, it seeks to cut freeway speeds, cheapen mass transit, impose car-free Sundays in cities, make work from home a norm for the middle class, follow Colombia’s model of alternating vehicular road access by license plate, encourage ride-sharing, improve truck efficiency (which should mean their use only between freight-train terminals and final destinations), rapid shifts to electric cars, use of high-speed rail, and reductions to business travel. It leaves out a key aspect—cutting fuel use by the U.S. and Chinese militaries—and the insanity of any car-based transportation system.

Who should take responsibility for these shifts? Deloitte and Reuters recently surveyed capitalist leaders around the world. They found that just a fifth of the globe’s two thousand biggest corporations are committed to net-zero emissions targets—and that improving the situation is deemed a governmental, not a capitalist responsibility. We know, for example, that the self-anointed revolutionaries of crypto-currency can’t be bothered with such goals.

But there is good news. The International Renewable Energy Agency estimates that 42 million jobs will be created around the world annually by 2050 as part of our energy transition, by contrast with 19 million three years ago. Here at home, the offshore wind industry may employ 44,000 people in 2030.

What does this imply for the social anxiety often occasioned in people’s minds by the shift required for planetary survival? That anxiety generally takes the form of concerns regarding cost, employment, and reliability. The research shows that intense public consultation is needed between experts on the science and economics of this transition and experts on the lived experience of citizens—i.e., the public.

Capitalism is onto this necessity in its promulgation of controlled fusion, where social anxiety has fed into popular opposition to putatively unsafe technologies. But so are progressives, notably via the idea of social acceptance as applied to the complex issue of onshore wind farms, which produce predictable protests from people fearful of their views and property values diminishing–with nary a thought for our planet’s survival.

Over three decades, that field of knowledge has expanded beyond the needs of capital to encompass a pro-science, pro-environmental alternative stance.

It is clear that notions of justice—for all of Earth’s stakeholders, from other living creatures to landholders’ descendants—form part of these struggles. One of the difficulties we face in the U.S. is that the need for distributive justice, such that goods and services are equally available to all, is overdetermined by a narrow concept of freedom that focuses on freedom from control, not freedom to live fairly.

That limited doctrine tends to follow broader ideological convictions. The implications for understanding why that powerful fraction of society dismisses environmentalism in the name of liberty are complex. They include social anxiety.

We think a public debate is needed over the term freedom that bears in mind the limited freedom we are creating for others, and our future kin, when we think purely in terms of the here and now and our own seeming, fleeting, convenience. That can take us beyond both Russian power and anxiety.