Sunday 30 October, 12.30pm until 1.30pm, Upper Gulbenkian Gallery Lunchtime Debates
To a casual observer, two of the biggest news stories of early 2011 – the Arab Spring and the partial meltdown of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant after an earthquake and tsunami – could hardly have seemed more different. But for many in the West, the two events had one important factor in common: both had global consequences for the problem of energy. Political unrest in the Middle East and North Africa sent panic through the energy markets as oil supplies were once again threatened, while the spectre of nuclear meltdown at Fukushima offered a grim reminder of the risks posed by moving beyond ‘dirty’ fossil fuels. Indeed, barely a year goes by without an energy problem dominating the headlines: be it the BP oil spill of 2010 or recurring disputes between Russia and Ukraine over gas supplies. Even before one factors in the challenge posed to the EU27 countries by their commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 20% on 1990 levels by 2020, energy security is near the top of the agenda of every leading nation.
With renewable energy still a long way from being able to meet the shortfall, many gloomily predict a future of brown-outs, tough energy efficiency measures, regular deep-sea drilling disasters and even bitter resource wars. Yet not everyone is so pessimistic. The discovery of huge reserves of shale gas around North America and Europe has been dubbed a ‘game-changer’ in terms of security and reducing environmental impact, although some doubt the safety of the apparently miraculous ‘fracking’ process. Despite the apocalyptic nightmares, however, even some leading sceptical campaigners conceded that the avoidance of catastrophe at Fukushima demonstrated the potential safety of nuclear energy over other available forms. Others advocate ambitious global energy grids of the sort under construction in the North Sea and west coast US, but even this might end up creating more security headaches than it solves.
Will the struggle for energy security result in a new ‘Great Game’, as some predict, with increasingly energy-thirsty developing countries joining the fight for dwindling resources? With the UK’s notoriously ambivalent approach to providing abundant energy, will ‘less is more’ become a patriotic duty as well as an eco-mantra? What role can innovation and alternative energy sources play in keeping the lights on?
Listen to session audio:
|Professor Gordon MacKerron|
director of Science and Technology Policy Research, School of Business, Management and Economics, University of Sussex
government relations manager, climate changes, Shell
visiting professor, London South Bank University
associate fellow, Institute of Ideas
If we care about the security of our energy supplies: if we care about the affordability of our electricity: if we care about reducing the UK’s carbon emissions, then there is no alternative to unprecedented amounts of all viable, proven, renewable sources of electricity BUT we will still also need a significant proportion of nuclear energy in our electricity mix.Dame Sue Ion, Independent, 24 October 2011
From fracking to Fukushima, to oil spills and the threat of global warming, an alarming aspect of the energy debate is the way it has become conducted through the prism of fear.Tony Gilland, Independent, 24 October 2011
Now the technology exists to extract the reserves, the promise is of an industrial renaissanceEd Crooks, Financial TImes, 6 October 2011
Andrew Simms and Rob Lyons debate whether the fracking process of gas extraction is safeRob Lyons & Andrew Simms, Guardian Comment is free, 23 September 2011
How will mankind keep the lights on and the temperature down?Economist, 18 September 2011
Shale gas should make the world a cleaner, safer placeEconomist, 6 August 2011
Other Europeans fear fracking. Poland is steaming aheadEconomist, 23 June 2011
Never before has humanity faced such a challenging outlook for energy and the planet. This can be summed up in five words: “more energy, less carbon dioxide”.Shell, 2008