Solving the Energy Crisis: all about lightbulbs and lifestyle?

Sunday 1 November, 3.45pm until 5.15pm, Lecture Theatre 1

Energy efficiency and energy saving play a big role in energy policy. Everything from loft insulation to public transport is used as a carrot to encourage us to use less energy and the UK’s energy minister claims that introducing smart meters ‘will empower all consumers to monitor their own energy use’. Meanwhile the ‘stick’ of taxes and rationing threaten in the background. Some campaigners go even further, telling us to cut out flying. Is this about helping consumers to make better choices, breaking our energy ‘addiction’ or is it a patronising and authoritarian intervention in individual choice?

Campaigners urge us to switch our lights off for Earth Hour, while arguments for building new plants are met with a cynicism about energy giants’ profits and cosy corporate relations with government. But when EDF’s ‘Save Today Save Tomorrow’ campaign urges individual consumers to reduce their consumption and British Gas sells energy-saving gadgets alongside power, it seems as if everyone is joining the energy-saving bandwagon. History shows that despite gains in efficiency, growing economies need a lot more energy. Today this point is made by emerging economies in favour of not signing up to stringent carbon-reduction agreements. But is it time to change the expectation that economic growth means more energy use? Proposals for a Green New Deal argue jobs and growth can be found through maximising efficiency, while some even argue that more provision merely encourages carefree, even luxuriant, energy use. Meanwhile, an energy crisis looms, only delayed by the recession itself.

As the developing world uses more energy, are we using more than our fair share? Does increasing energy use in China and India make personal sacrifice here irrelevant or does it make it more urgent? Is changing our energy lifestyles a necessity, unrealistic, or unacceptably authoritarian? And what about a future where we are not obsessed with reducing consumption?

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Dr Brenda Boardman
emeritus fellow, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford; author, Home Truths: a low-carbon strategy to reduce UK housing emissions by 80%

Professor Jacquie Burgess
professor of environmental risk and head of school, environmental sciences, University of East Anglia

Martin Haigh
energy consultant, Shell; lead consultant, Shell's World Energy Model

Ben Pile
independent researcher, writer, and film-maker

Peter Sammonds
professor of geophysics at UCL; director, UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction

Alex Hochuli
communications consultant, researcher and blogger based in São Paulo

Produced by
Alex Hochuli communications consultant, researcher and blogger based in São Paulo
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