The energy transition is not a hobby

April 12, 2022

With the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia, we have to face the fact that our dependence on fossil fuels poses a structural problem. To some extent, the West can impose fossil fuel-related sanctions, as the US and U.K. are doing, but, for Europe, saying goodbye to all of Russia’s oil and gas supplies is a no-go. In the EU, Russia provides more than 40% of EU gas and coal and 25% of its crude oil and has little infrastructure and technology in place to import energy from other locations. The immediate response in the West is to try to source oil and gas elsewhere and to compensate domestic energy users for rising energy costs. Understandable as this may be, in the end it only shifts our dependence to other nations.

Instead, we should use this crisis to broaden the debate about our energy system and the transition to local and renewable sources. Instead of relying mostly on ideological arguments, focused on climate change or air pollution, the debate should take energy security and the resilience of our economies much more seriously. This is not to say that European policy makers were blind to the issue of energy security, but it has never taken up a central role in European public debates as it has done in the US. Consequently, investments in the energy transition were easily framed as leftist hobbies that had little to do with economic realism. By now, the realism of this crisis should open everyone’s eyes to the harsh necessity of moving away from fossil fuels.

Burning questions: 
  • Russian aggression has, so far, led to a sense of unity among Europeans. Can this sentiment be mobilized to spur investment in the energy transition?
  • What is the necessary no-regret policy we can adopt to compensate for energy poverty and low-income compensation? How will this affect the carbon emission reduction targets of the Paris Climate Agreement?

Series 'AI Metaphors'

1. The Tool
Category: Objects
Humans shape tools.

We make them part of our body while we melt their essence with our intentions. They require some finesse to use but they never fool us or trick us. Humans use tools, tools never use humans.

We are the masters determining their course, integrating them gracefully into the minutiae of our everyday lives. Immovable and unyielding, they remain reliant on our guidance, devoid of desire and intent, they remain exactly where we leave them, their functionality unchanging over time.

We retain the ultimate authority, able to discard them at will or, in today's context, simply power them down. Though they may occasionally foster irritation, largely they stand steadfast, loyal allies in our daily toils.

Thus we place our faith in tools, acknowledging that they are mere reflections of our own capabilities. In them, there is no entity to venerate or fault but ourselves, for they are but inert extensions of our own being, inanimate and steadfast, awaiting our command.
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2. The Machine
Category: Objects
Unlike a mere tool, the machine does not need the guidance of our hand, operating autonomously through its intricate network of gears and wheels. It achieves feats of motion that surpass the wildest human imaginations, harboring a power reminiscent of a cavalry of horses. Though it demands maintenance to replace broken parts and fix malfunctions, it mostly acts independently, allowing us to retreat and become mere observers to its diligent performance. We interact with it through buttons and handles, guiding its operations with minor adjustments and feedback as it works tirelessly. Embodying relentless purpose, laboring in a cycle of infinite repetition, the machine is a testament to human ingenuity manifested in metal and motion.
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About the author(s)

FreedomLab Fellow Vivian Elion is an Advisor for Regional Approach at the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO). In this role, she supports provinces, municipalities and entrepreneurs in adopting national sustainability policies concerning construction, the environment, and society. Vivian studied Global Business and Sustainability at Erasmus University Rotterdam, specializing in sustainability tensions. During her tenure at FreedomLab, she developed the Deep Transitions Framework into business services.

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