Othering within the energy sector

Othering

Our world is changing rapidly: from climate change to mass migration, and many other regional and global transformations. It is not strange that many of us find ourselves on unfamiliar grounds from one day to the other. As humans, we are wired to handle a certain amount of change well, but too much of it can lead to stress and collective anxiety in society.

Our ability to navigate these transitions is dependent on the leaders, structures, and dominant narratives in our societies. Stories are powerful tools that can shape our worldview and determine whether we embrace or reject these changes. The dominant paradigm in many societies today is to create an “us vs. them” narrative where the deep collective anxiety is directed at the out-group where they are blamed for the undesirable changes. This collective anxiety aggressively turns into anger where it morphs into a deep sense of othering.

Othering is generally defined as a set of common processes and conditions that propagate marginality and group-based inequality. Members of the othered group are seen as less worthy of dignity and respect and ultimately denied their humanity. Most often people don’t “know” the group they are othering. Othering is complex, who gets defined as “other” differs from place to place and is based on a wide range of attributes including race, disability, occupation, nationality, religion, or language. Othering acts as an invisible barrier that prevents people from accessing opportunity and acceptance.

Renewable energy versus oil and gas

There is tension and polarization in the energy sector today. The clean energy sector has established itself as somewhat morally superior to the fossil fuel sector. The oil and gas industry has been given the identity of one that is evil, dirty, and money-hungry. The polar opposite of the ideal renewable clean and green identity. The truth is much more nuanced. Renewable energy uses parts of the infrastructure designed for fossil fuels, and technological advancements in the fossil fuel industry have paved the way for renewable energy advancements as well. It is important to realize that fossil fuel technologies such as carbon capture and storage might be required to meet ambitious CO2 targets. While we are in this transition phase it is important to make the workers of the fossil fuels industry “part of the solution”, rather than “part of the problem” 

Othering of historically underrepresented communities 

The well-being and basic human rights of historically underrepresented communities are often sidelined and sacrificed to prioritize the needs and wants of powerful, privileged, and wealthy members of the society. The colonial history of Turtle Island is a painful reminder of othering communities where many Indigenous Nations are forcefully displaced to allow for the exploitation of the land by resource extraction corporations. Many who resist and remain to steward the land are exposed to high levels of pollution and are left to deal with the degradation of the environment.

Large-scale projects in rural and remote communities sometimes involve altering the ecosystem and the land, and the ownership lies with the external corporations. This inevitably leads to these communities being excluded from the decision-making process and they are stripped of their sovereign right to govern and maintain their ecological, cultural, and economic well-being. The benefits of these projects leave the community for the advantage of the affluent groups.

Energy, policy, & othering

From heating our homes to cooking and powering our appliances, energy plays a vital role in our everyday life. Most of us do not think about where our energy comes from or how it is produced. For those of us living in prosperous urban centers, electricity and natural gas seem abundant and easily accessible. But for many low-income and middle-income communities, keeping the lights on is not that easy. This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as energy poverty, the inability to access affordable and clean energy. 

The structures and policies governing the current energy system have not been adaptable to the rapid changes in technology and climate change. This has resulted in systemic barriers preventing historically underrepresented communities from accessing modern energy services. These barriers and exclusive policies have turned into critical forces that structure the othering of underrepresented communities by which the divide between the group with access to affordable and clean energy and the outgroup becomes institutionally embedded.
While affluent communities and individuals are adopting sustainable energy solutions, historically underrepresented communities are left behind with high energy bills, drafty homes, and deteriorating health conditions.

The Path Forward

To move towards a sustainable and just future, we need to take a step back and reflect on the stories we tell today and to our future generations. This journey should be co-created with everyone’s voice heard and included. This reimagination of our communities built around Belonging is underway: join us as we explore these pathways in our future writings.

References:

The Problem of Othering: Towards Inclusiveness and Belonging

What Is Othering? 

Us vs them: the sinister techniques of ‘Othering’ – and how to avoid them

Could a sociologist help petroleum people polish their clean-tech image? 

The Role of Fossil Fuels in a Sustainable Energy System

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