Energy as an Ecological Resource

Most of us think of energy as a commodity. It is something that can be developed and sold to consumers. It’s a tangible product just like oil, wood, corn, or water. This perspective is not strange, seeing how most of us in cities are disconnected from how energy is produced. We don’t see the oil extraction, the tree felling, the growing of fuel crops, or the dam construction. And we don’t really think about the pipelines, power stations, and other types of infrastructure needed to provide us with the energy used in our daily lives. The downside of this perspective is that it doesn’t take into consideration the “hidden” cost of energy on the environment or our society. Instead, it shifts focus away from these. A prime example of this is that energy efficiency is talked about in economic terms instead of the positive effects it has on the environment, communities, and reduction of energy poverty.

Another way to see energy is as an ecological resource. Here, energy is viewed in a much broader scope. It emphasizes the impact of the energy source from the cradle to grave on the biosphere; the impact on soil, water, and air quality, as well as the present and future climate. It also takes into account the effect on human health including workers who are handling the resource during various stages, as well as the impact on local communities. We should treat energy with the same respect as other ecological resources such as the forest or water. Parallels can be drawn between water and energy. Many of us are disconnected from where our water comes from, how it is cleaned, how much we use, and how it is transported. And just like fossil fuels, fresh water is a limited resource. The conservation of both water and energy result in safe access to the resource and a healthier ecosystem. 

The ecological mindset can be found throughout the Energy Justice framework that seeks to apply justice principles to the energy system, from energy policy, production, consumption, security to climate change and sustainability. This framework is based upon the idea that energy is more than just a commodity, it is a social need and it is imperative that we create a sustainable, secure, and equitable energy system. If you want to learn more about Energy Justice, check out our previous blog post: What is Energy Justice?

The next time you flip a light switch, turn on the dishwasher or take a shower, try to imagine the energy required as part of the biosphere and what consequences this has on not only our planet but our communities. 

References

Energy use: The human dimension

Families and the Energy Transition

Evidence: The social science of encouraging water efficiency

Energy justice: bringing people back to the heart of energy decisions

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