Energy Borders is a slow travel project, driven by a wish to relate to the international dimension of energy challenges.
It’s on the news, in documentaries and in literature. But what’s happening in Ukraine or Russia is hard to put into perspective. Especially, when you are engaged in speeding up a sustainable energy transition. Daily news reminds us of the sheer magnitude of changes necessary for the world to gain a new sustainable equilibrium. All this can be overwhelming, creating a sense of hopelessness or apathy.
Apathy is not our style; something must be possible. With this personal humble project, we hope to find new perspectives and surprising evidence of creativity and resilience in ourselves and the people we meet. We will share our sense of wonder with anyone interested in following our project.
There are three things we wonder about a lot and would like to put into international perspective.
1. Energy borders is about changing lifestyles
To start with the bad news: a phase out of fossil fuels from the energy mix will require lifestyle changes from everyone. No renewable energy technology can prevent this. The good news is that behavioral economists have long established that we buy and do a lot of energy-intensive things that don’t make us happy all.
Still, it requires courage to accept that some things simply won’t be possible without fossil fuel. Take flying, eating meat at every meal or striving for more and more stuff as an equivalent of happiness. A phase out of fossil fuels requires we abandon growth as a central tenet of our existence. But is that really a bad thing?
We need to reduce our material demand. Now we realize that this is easier said than done for anyone – Marijn: ‘I take such good care of my stuff, this doesn’t count for me!’- but especially for those who derive status from wealth, or those who have too little to live decently, this will be hard (understatement).
Making us wonder: do changes in energy lifestyle and material consumption make sense, from the perspective of people we’ll meet? And what do we learn about ourselves when we abandon our own energy-lifestyle for a few months?
2. Energy borders is about changing perspective
The transition from a fossil fuel dominated world to a renewable energy system will lead to a shift in perspective for many. It is a shift from a world of geo-political negotiations – with deals between China and Russia securing gas-provision catching headlines – technology-driven engineering of large scale energy plants and complex energy-intensive international supply chains; to a world in which local and regional collaboration determines where the windmills, geo-thermal and waste-to-energy-facilities will be situated and how to organize a more local economy.
During this shift, a lot of things become messy and new perspectives are needed. In the Netherlands younger generations seem to shift their values from preferring ‘access’ to goods over ‘ownership’. Green, do-it-yourself lifestyles are becoming more fashionable – look at us and how trendy we are! Fancy electric cars such as the Tesla-S have become a status symbol among well-to-do. Local self-organizing and collaboration is on the rise.
But we wonder: is any of this happening elsewhere as well? What are some of the developments that drive sustainable change in the countries we’ll visit? Or is there no such thing as a drive towards sustainability?
3. Energy borders is about energy wonders
If there’s anything economists and biologists have in common, is that they share a fascination for the principle of self-organization. Biologists know that all of life acts according to a simple set of rules encapsulated in DNA, RNA and protein molecules. Economists know human beings will organize their lives according to dominant economic principles and morale. Both economists and biologists know that humans also have personal power to change organizing rules. Biologists call this neuro-plasticity – for which solid evidence exists. Economists call this bottom-up or grass-root change – which lacks serious research so far.
To summarize: humans will do what seems logical within the system or subsystem boundaries they find themselves in. Whenever organizing rules change, humans adapt. Sometimes, though, humans simply change their behavior and as a consequence create new organizing rules.
Let’s make this more concrete: in the Netherlands government incentives for renewable energy changed some of the organizing rules, allowing people to come up with creative solutions. Bottom-up energy cooperatives experimenting with local renewable energy production, also forced institutions to come up with new organizing rules, such as the ‘zipcode-rose’ rule.
We wonder: What’s happening in the countries we’ll visit? Are organizing rules changing when it comes to energy, allowing for creative solutions, do subsystems or cultures exist in which people find ways to shape the future they want, as a consequence changing the organizing rules?
As said before, with this personal project, driven by our curiosity and sense of adventure, we hope to find new perspectives and surprising evidence of creativity and resilience in ourselves and the people we meet. We will be on the look-out for people that have ideas and answers, or trigger new and relevant questions that we’ll further explore.
Please contact us if you think you can help us in any way possible!
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