Abundant, Cheap, Clean... Contentious? Why is energy a battlefield today?

Sunday 1 November, 10.45am until 12.15pm, Lecture Theatre 1

On the campaign trail Obama declared America’s ‘addiction to foreign oil’ was destabilising both the Middle East and the climate and that the resulting ‘threat goes to the very heart of who we are as a nation, and who we will be.’ Energy has gone from being a technical question to a very public one, with everyone seemingly having an opinion on the issue. From environmental to security concerns, everything seems to boil down to energy – how much, where from and what type?

Coal is too dirty, oil is running out, gas is controlled by unreliable regimes, nuclear is too risky, biofuels push up food prices, big dams displace the poor, wind and solar seem too far off to make a difference now. Is it true that there are no good options? Do China’s ambitious new renewables targets point the way forward or is this just a drop in the ocean of a bigger energy quagmire?

Energy is basic to human industry, essential for everything from running computers to transport. The development of new energy sources has traditionally not been the subject of public concern and has at most been met with muted excitement, such as with the discovery of North Sea oil fields. Is it a positive development that such a practical problem has today infused discussions on everything from foreign policy and the environment to the ethics of personal behaviour? There is certainly demand for more energy. But even if this can be is secured, will it boost human prosperity by helping overcome scarcity, or will it simply accelerate the destruction of the planet?


Listen to the session audio…

Other formats are available here

Thomas Deichmann
editor, NovoArgumente; author, Die Steinzeit steckt uns in den Knochen: gesundheit als erbe der evolution

Duncan McLaren
chief executive, Friends of the Earth Scotland; co-author, Tomorrow's World: Britain's share in a sustainable future

David Strahan
award-winning investigative journalist and documentary film-maker; author, The Last Oil Shock: a survival guide to the imminent extinction of petroleum man

Dr Jim Watson
director, Sussex Energy Group, University of Sussex; deputy leader, Tyndall Centre Climate Change and Energy Programme; co-author, China's Energy Transition

James Woudhuysen
visiting professor, London South Bank University

Rob Lyons
science and technology director, Academy of Ideas; convenor, IoI Economy Forum

Produced by
Alex Hochuli communications consultant, researcher and blogger based in São Paulo
Recommended readings
Kill Oil

A carbon strategy the world can afford.

Peter W. Huber, Wall Street Journal, 17 September 2009

Britain facing blackouts for first time since 1970s

The looming problem in Britain is caused by the scheduled closure by 2015 of nine oil and coal-fired power plants. They are the victim of an EU directive designed to cut pollution.

Andrew Porter, Daily Telegraph, 31 August 2009

‘Peak Oil’ Is a Waste of Energy

We can’t let the false threat of disappearing oil lead the government to throw money away on harebrained renewable energy schemes or impose unnecessary and expensive conservation measures on a public already struggling through tough economic times.

Michael Lynch, New York Times, 24 August 2009

New Labour's power vacuum

The UK government's obsession with energy self-sufficiency and renewables looks set to lead to blackouts in the next few years.

James Woudhuysen, spiked, 19 August 2009

How long till the lights go out?

Thanks to its posturing politicians, Britain will soon start to run out of electricity. What should it do?

Economist, 6 August 2009

A Government still addicted to petrol

Why not bet on true sustainability: get serious about energy efficiency, renewables, electrification of transport and a European supergrid, and commit the sort of money they have recently been throwing at the banking industry?

David Strahan, Independent, 26 April 2009


''If the world could be more thoughtful about energy supply, we could all afford to be thoughtless about our personal use of energy.'

James Woudhuysen and Joe Kaplinsky, Beautiful Books, 22 January 2009

Session partners