Dr. Jennie Stephens, Professor of Sustainability Science and Policy at Northeastern, and Associate Director of Strategic Research Collaborations at the Global Resilience Institute, spoke at the Kostas Research Institute on the potential social and political changes that could occur as a result of the global shift from fossil fuels to renewable energies.
The talk was delivered as part of Northeastern’s NU@Noon series.
Professor Stephens explained that the shift to renewable energies would entail a fundamental paradigm shift from a system of intense competition for scarce fossil fuels to a system that does not require competition for non-scarce resources such as solar, geothermal, and hydroelectric power. She analyzed the potential benefits of these systems and argued that a more decentralized and community controlled electric grid could be more resilient.
Stephens explained this idea in the framework of “Energy Democracy,” a concept that explains the political and social changes that could result as a consequence of increasing use of renewable energy and shifting energy from a corporate, centralized structure, to a community-controlled, decentralized structure.
“Energy democracy is about re-envisioning and redefining political power through energy power,” said Stephens. “Instead of Energy consumers, think of ourselves as energy citizens. Instead of thinking of energy as a commodity that we have to compete for, think of it as a public good. Instead of thinking of it as energy infrastructure, think of it as public works and common resources.”
Professor Stephens connected this concept to other social justice issues such as income inequality, feminism, and racism, while highlighting how energy intersects with these ideas. She pointed out that the energy sector could benefit from greater innovation driven by greater diversity, and that a more just energy system could protect vulnerable groups, such as the poor minority communities in Houston that were disproportionately exposed to petrochemical runoff after Hurricane Harvey.
Providing a preview of the future, Stephens highlighted the role that Northeastern University is playing in advancing the study of energy in an interdisciplinary context, and highlighted the economic benefits that the development of renewable energy could bring to the economy and local communities.
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