Energy Democracy for All

Energy Democracy is a term that many may not have heard of before. It could change the way we all think about the energy we create, the energy we use, who benefits, and who is harmed by energy extraction and consumption. “Energy Democracy is a shift from the corporate, centralized fossil fuel economy to one that is governed by communities; designed on the principle of no harm to the environment; that will support local economies; and contributes to health and well-being of all peoples,” according to Center for Earth Energy & Democracy (CEED)

Breathe Free Detroit in partnership with Midwest Environmental Justice Network hosted a workshop led by Dr. Cecilia Martinez, co-founder and Executive Director of CEED in Minneapolis, MN, and Say Yang, CEED Program Coordinator. CEED conducts workshops across the country. This past month, they came to Detroit.

On a floor papered with large maps, people guessed how many tons of carbon are emitted per person each year in various countries. While estimates for France and the UK were close at about 5-6 tons per person, estimates for the United States came in far too low. At an astounding 17 tons per person, the United States is the carbon-emitting culprit, more than double some European countries and more than five times the emissions of most South American and African countries. Of course China is catching up with us in per person emissions and currently releases the most carbon overall due to higher population. 

The workshop then got down to the businesses of exploring the ten tenets of Energy Democracy, which include human rights, community governance, energy as a commons, reclaiming relationship, rights of nature, and acknowledging, acting, and repairing historical harms.  In the discussion, we acknowledged the commodification of the Earth providing for a merely transactional relationship with it. This shallow relationship leaves no room for respect of the intricate connections between water, land, air, people and other living creatures. 

Due to the dismissal of the importance of these relationships, we’ve experienced many natural and human-made crises recently. Ahmina Maxey, former coordinator at Zero Waste Detroit and current U.S. and Canada Regional Coordinator at GAIA (Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives), commented that “Everyone wants to help when the crisis hits. But, we need to change the system to prevent the crisis. We can’t keep waiting.”

Possible solutions include small-scale energy systems in which the people who benefit from the system also are the ones who bear any ecological costs. People who benefit from our current energy system most often do not see the harm in their communities of poisoned water, poisoned air, and damaged land. For example, children who live near the Detroit incinerator, which creates energy for DTE and buildings in downtown Detroit, have asthma hospitalization rates five times higher than children in other parts of the state. “For us to create energy systems that serve the needs of the planet, these energy democracy principles can serve as a filter,” proclaimed one participant. 

“We simply need to consume less,” said another participant because, “Energy sources wouldn’t be so onerous and exploitative if we didn’t have to produce so much.” One other participant poignantly stated, “Mother Earth is pissed.”

CEED will continue to share the ten principles of Energy Democracy across the country and possibly even come back to Detroit for further workshops. The organizers know that “Energy Democracy will require a transformation of the politics and economics that created the fossil fuel energy system we have today and is a long-term project. ...there is a critical need to act now.”
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Published on April 25, 2018