A number of readers have requested clarification about the coupling between gender equality and clean energy. The connection is not hard to understand once it is recognized that both gender equality and clean energy are required for sustainable human development. It is well established that attaining gender equality is crucial for humans - both men and women - to grow to their full potential as human persons. It is also well established that humans need a healthy habitat to survive, let alone prosper physically, psychologically, and spiritually. At the moment, the next step is to outgrow homo economicus and become homo ecologicus; but it is hard to imagine that men alone - without the active collaboration of women in a partnership of equals - can accomplish such adaptation. Since the health of humanity's habitat is being destroyed by the use of fossil fuels, a transition from pollution-inducing to clean energy sources is required in order to assure the survival of the human species. Therefore, sustainable human development requires both gender equality and clean energy.
The Coupling of Gender Equality & Clean Energy
It is time to answer some basic questions. Should we have waited for all living humans to become loving persons before abolishing slavery? Same applies to gender equality. How much longer can humanity afford to keep treating 50% of all humans as second-class citizens - if not worse? We need all humans - women in particular - to be educated and able to make decisions if we are to mitigate (and eventually reverse) population growth and the consumption rates that are depleting natural resources and polluting the environment. Men alone cannot do it without the support of women. It follows that the education of women, and their full participation in family decisions and social affairs, is becoming increasingly crucial in today's world.
This may not be a hot issue in the West but it is still a hot issue in many parts of the world; and, even in the USA and Europe, many forms of subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) gender discrimination still persist. This is lamentable, for we need the active and informed support of women worldwide if we are to attain the transition from consumerism to sustainability - and, in particular, the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy - before it is too late. This is now recognized by the scientific community and most learned people throughout the world, with the notable exception of some patriarchal institutions with a vested interest in keeping all human (and divine!) affairs in the hands of men alone. Let's face it: gender discrimination is, fundamentally, a religious issue; and one with extensive human development repercussions. If religion is part of the problem, it must be part of the solution. Readers who have difficulty with this proposition may want to explore the following sources of evidence:
- Energy, Gender Issues and Equal Opportunities, Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, 2011.
- Gender and Human Development, UN Human Development Report 1995.
- Human Rights and Human Development, UN Human Development Report 2000.
- The Real Wealth of Nations: Pathways to Human Development, UN Human Development Report 2010.
- Violence Against Women in Contemporary World Religion: Roots And Cures, Daniel C. Maguire and Sa'Diyya Shaikh (Editors), Pilgrim Press, 2007.
- The World's Women and Girls 2011 Data Sheet, Population Reference Bureau, March 2011.
- Rising Tide: Gender equality and cultural change around the world, Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris, Cambridge University Press, 2003.
- International Network on Gender and Sustainable Energy, ENERGIA International Secretariat, since 1996.
Clean Energy for Sustainable Human Development
Energy is needed for all human activities. Fossil fuels are destroying the human habitat, which is also indispensable for human survival and continued development. It follows that a transition from fossil fuels to clean energy is crucial if future generations are to inherit a healthy planet. The transition to clean energy will have rippling effects throughout the economy, thus fostering a more comprehensive transition from consumerism to sustainability and in conjunction with a change in mentality from homo economicus to homo ecologicus.
As Keith Harrington has pointed out, the transition from consumerism to sustainability is not to be envisioned as a transition from pollution-inducing growth to the so-called "green growth." In connection with the pursuit of economic growth as top priority for policy makers, he states:
"And forget about "green growth." That's the biggest oxymoron since "clean coal." Sure with efficiency and clean energy we can create less pollution per unit of economic output. But getting to the point where we can even maintain our current economic output without cooking the planet will already be an economic and technical challenge of incredible proportions; never mind trying to fuel an economy twice as big." -- Keith Harrington, Death by Growth, Countercurrents, 27 August 2010.
Jeremy Grantham has recently made clear that the transition from consumerism to sustainability will require more than just cosmetic adjustments in the global economic system. In brief:
"The world is using up its natural resources at an alarming rate, and this has caused a permanent shift in their value. We all need to adjust our behavior to this new environment. It would help if we did it quickly. ... The fact is that no compound growth is sustainable. If we maintain our desperate focus on growth, we will run out of everything and crash. We must substitute qualitative growth for quantitative growth. ... From now on, price pressure and shortages of resources will be a permanent feature of our lives. This will increasingly slow down the growth rate of the developed and developing world and put a severe burden on poor countries. ... We all need to develop serious resource plans, particularly energy policies. There is little time to waste." -- Jeremy Grantham, Time to Wake Up: Days of Abundant Resources and Falling Prices Are Over Forever, GMO Quarterly Journal, April 2011.
Can the scientific and engineering communities deliver?
"Electric power is everywhere present in unlimited quantities and can drive the world's machinery without the need of coal, oil, gas, or any other of the common fuels." -- Nikola Tesla (1856-1843)
It could well be that no magical and earthshaking technological breakthroughs are needed to open the path toward clean energy. When Tesla made the above statement in 1933, someone asked if this discovery might upset the economic system. His terse reply: "It is badly upset already." He probably was referring to the Great Depression of the 1930s, but isn't the global economic system "badly upset" today? Here is another thought worthy of consideration:
"Considering the many productive uses of petroleum, burning it for fuel is like burning a Picasso for heat."
-- Big Oil Executive who prefers to remain anonymous
So clean energy for sustainable development is not a matter of demonizing oil. It is a matter of overcoming the misuse of oil in ways that are detrimental to the environment and hazardous to human health. So what if clean energy equipment requires components derived from oil? The enemy is the pollution-inducing burning of oil, not oil itself. What about electric cars? They are coming and they would be wonderful - if the electricity they consume is not produced by burning oil or coal.
The biggest obstacle to clean energy is not lack of technology or lack of human capacity: science and technology can deliver, and humans can adapt. The biggest obstacle is "politics as usual."
Planning the Transition from Fossil Fuels to Clean Energy
Graphically, the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy can be envisioned as a gradual substitution of fossil energy consumption by clean energy consumption:
The Energy Report: 100% Renewable Energy by 2050, Page 92
Published by the World Wide Fund for Nature, January 2011. Copyright 2011 WWF.
For more on the criticality of clean energy for sustainable development, the following basic references are recommended:
- Energy Report & Scenarios 2000-2050, World Wide Fund for Nature, February 2011.
- Green Economy Report, United Nations Environmental Program, February 2011.
- Special Report on Renewable Energy (SRREN) - Summary for Policy Makers, IPCC, May 2011.
- Decoupling Human Well-Being from Resource Consumption, UNEP Report, May 2011.
- America's Climate Choices, USA National Academy of Sciences, May 2011.
These publications cover the spectrum of energy technologies, energy-related economic and social issues, energy-related environmental issues, and practically every other conceivable issue except the most crucial one: the lack of political will to move from fossil fuels to clean energy. This lack of political will is nurtured by the propensity to seek short-term profits without consideration of social responsibility; a propensity that reinforces, and is reinforced by, the obsession for material growth with utter disregard for the inner well-being of people and the ecological integrity of the human habitat. The result is a lack of political will that allows the perpetuation of absurdities such as using public funds to subsidize fossil fuels rather than clean (and renewable) forms of energy. Somehow, political will to tax the socially irresponsible use of fossil fuels, and incentivize the socially responsible use of clean energy, must be democratically created. The time window of opportunity to do this is becoming shorter and shorter.
The following time frame is hereby offered for consideration:
For further analysis of this transition concept, click here
There are four phases in this transition concept:
- The first phase (2011-2020), concientization to enable incentivation, is about creating a critical mass of popular support for the required tax reforms. Now that we recognize the importance of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), the task is to enhance CSR with Citizen Social Responsibility (another CSR!) to form a strong Corporate and Citizen Social Responsibility (CCSR)
movement capable of demanding the adoption of Triple Bottom Line (3BL) practices to balance people-profit-planet priorities (people first!).
- The second phase (2021-2030), incentivation to enable redistribution, is about the transfer of subsidies from fossil fuels to clean energy, possibly by adopting more fully the Land Value Tax (LVT) originally proposed by Henry George (1839-1897). George's theory is that the LVT would simplify the tax code, reduce taxes on land improvements, and provide adequate revenue for governance. Properly managed, these "land revenues" could translate into "citizen dividends" to be distributed to all citizens (next phase).
- The third phase (2031-2040), redistribution to enable democratization, is about democracy with social justice, i.e., assuring distributive justice by democratically adopting thresholds of Universal Guaranteed Personal Income (UGPI, or UGI) and Maximum Allowable Personal Wealth (MAPW, or MAW), with "with both the lower bound on personal material poverty and the upper bound on personal material wealth set and adjusted democratically by all society" as proposed by Robley George (no relation to Henry George) in Socioeconomic Democracy.
- The fourth phase (2041-2050), democratization with solidarity and sustainability, is about the full implementation of the principle of subsidiarity, originally formulated by Luigi Taparelli D'Azeglio, SJ (1793–1862), in the forms checks and balances to ensure that decisions are made at the lowest possible level (global, national, local) of democratic governance. It is noteworthy that the principle of political subsidiarity was subsequently integrated with the principle of economic solidarity developed by Heinrich Pesch, SJ (1854-1926).
These four phases are further analyzed in the Development of Clean Energy Technologies supplement (work in progress). Needless to say, these four phases are both sequential and recursive, and the recursions will be so complicated that it is not practical to split too many hairs in advance; but they are hereby proposed as a high level concept for the transition towards cleaner energy, a cleaner environment, and improved social justice and human well-being in a world of human solidarity and environmental sustainability. At the moment, the most urgent priority is to foster the global Corporate and Citizen Social Responsibility (CCSR)
movement, otherwise known as the Global Citizens Movement (GCM).
Global Citizens, Gender Equality, and Energy Politics
Programs "from above" such as the UN Millennium Development Goals will no doubt be helpful in attaining environmental sustainability, hopefully by the end of this century. Many national governments also have programs in place pursuant to the same end. But politicians need support (and a bit of pushing?) from below, i.e., from the grassroots. This is precisely what global citizen movements are all about.
A "global citizen" is a person who is concerned about issues that transcend national boundaries, such as the management and conservation of the planet. A "global citizens movement" (GCM) emerges when people from all nations work together to resolve such worldwide issues. Many such movements are already active, albeit with varying degrees of cohesion and coordination. A recent start worthy of note is The Widening Circle (TWC), a new effort by an alliance of several international grassroots organizations to foster a GCM with some degree of "unity in diversity."
The purpose of a GCM is to foster human solidarity and environmental sustainability "from below." The rallying cry is that extreme capitalism seeks profits for the sake of profits, no matter what the human and ecological consequences might be. But by now it is well known that extreme socialism is nothing but capitalism turned inside out, with the state monopolizing the accumulation of wealth at the expense of both people and planet. GCMs are pushing - from below and democratically - for a fair balance as encapsulated, e.g., by the Triple Bottom Line concept of balancing business profits, human needs, and the sustainable use of natural resources.
This brings back to mind the issue of gender equality:
"The first form of communion between persons, instituted by God by design, is the partnership of man and woman." -- Jim Wishloff, On the legacy of Heinrich Pesch, Entrepreneur, Spring 2006.
It cannot be overemphasized that cross-gender solidarity is the very foundation for all forms of human solidarity. The family is the fundamental cell of society, but a patriarchal family is a broken cell - for in the family, as in all secular and religious institutions, "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." We can see this in many historical events in which women have participated in a
process of liberation and human development, only to be pushed aside when it comes to institutionalizing the structures of power; and anyone who reads the newspapers knows that this is still happening in some parts of the world.
Many good people, including some religious leaders, were still upholding the morality of slavery as recently as the late 19th century. Many good people today continue to uphold the ethics of material economic growth and the continued burning of fossil fuels for "cheap" energy. And many good people today, especially some religious leaders, continue to uphold the patriarchal system which excludes women from roles of authority. As long as women are deemed unfit for religious authority, their contribution to public service will remain marginal - the few exceptions that can be cited merely confirm the general pattern. And as long as patriarchy prevails, the outlook for clean energy is grim, and so is the outlook for sustainable human development.
Until recently, gender equality and clean energy were matters of common sense; both are quickly becoming moral issues that are critical for the future of humanity.
For more on the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy,|
see Supplement 3 of this issue.