Do you know where your power comes from?
This website is the other side of the online map, Time To Change / Just Transition. Together, map and website form a geographic information system. Its aim is to provide swift and trustworthy access to geolocated knowledge about the North American energy landscape. Publicly available data, compiled by government agencies and civil-society organizations, has been collated into three thematic sections, covering the oil & gas industry, coal and its devastating environmental consequences, and emergent electric power production based on renewables.
A GLOBAL button located at the bottom center of the screen allows you to place the North American energy system in a broader context (though for now, the information is less precise at global scale). More importantly, a LOCAL button lets you examine the energy landscape in your own geographical area. Some analytics have been added to the sidebar information display. Advanced editing tools have been developed to allow trusted groups and individuals to correct errors and add features. We are actively seeking partnerships for the elaboration of localized knowledge.
Conceived and launched during the Covid-19 pandemic, the project recognizes two urgent timelines. The first one is obvious: It’s the warning issued in 2018 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC scientists call for a reduction of CO2 emissions by 45% below 2010 levels before 2030. Beyond that fast-approaching date, they call for a drawdown to net-zero emissions by 2050, in order to avoid the devastating consequences already revealed by intensifying droughts, wildfires and hurricanes. If you consider the complexity of the current energy system, and above all, the many resistances to leaving it behind, then you may agree that the active input of a well-informed and determined citizenry will be absolutely crucial to meeting these IPCC deadlines.
Our second timeline is shorter and far less widely understood, although it’s crystal clear in the eyes of economists and national-level officials. They proclaim that over the next two to five years, governments will need to spend their way out of the global depression provoked by Covid-19. What’s more, the governments that make this choice will need to direct the money toward gainful employment at all levels, to produce the multiplier effects of shared prosperity that stable employment brings. The proponents of a Green Recovery or a Green New Deal see the creation of a carbon-zero energy system as a golden opportunity to overcome the Covid depression, while staving off the most devastating consequences of extreme climate chaos.
Of course, this is no done deal. To distract from the mounting dangers of ecological collapse, politicians could choose to stoke internal divisions, imagine outside enemies, build walls against “foreign invaders,” and then, almost inevitably, start wars. Does this resemble any number of elephants in the room? The second timeline is more urgent than the first. In the US, we’re talking November 4 of this year.
So if we all had ten years until ecological disaster, and if governments had trillions to spend tomorrow, what would you do?
We advocate for a Green Recovery/Green New Deal, and believe that collaborative information and communication infrastructure can help facilitate citizen oversight and grassroots guidance of government programs. Our aim is to contribute to what labor organizations and front-line communities across North America have been calling for over the last ten years, namely a Just Transition. This is a program of civilizational change, where the technological move away from fossil fuels becomes a political pathway toward meaningful employment, comprehensive social services and a healthy environment for everyone. We believe that these benefits cannot simply be provided from on high, but must be actively co-produced by all communities, regardless of race, ethnicity, geography or current economic status. A corporate greenwashing recovery would amount to nothing more than a switch from Big Oil to Big Energy. Only a Just Transition can achieve social peace, substantial equity, and the crucial missing factor of universally shared respect for racial, cultural, sexual and individual difference.
So what do you think? Are we just dreaming? In the realm of North American energy production, “citizen oversight” has so far consisted of scathing but ineffective critique, while “grassroots guidance” has taken the highly controversial forms of massive popular protest and non-violent direct action against new fossil-fuel infrastructure. We too are scathingly critical. We too believe in the power of popular protest. Yet as alternative generating facilities come on line, as energy consumption plummets under pandemic conditions, as worthless pipeline projects are withdrawn in the face of legal and economic challenges, as failing shale-oil companies explode the myth of “unconventional” energy production, and as the oil majors lose their formerly privileged positions on national and international economic scorecards, we believe that a new era may be dawning. To get to the light of day, the rising sun of social and ecological recovery is going to need a serious push from the people at the bottom.
Do you know where your power comes from? It may come from a detailed knowledge of how energy is actually generated under current conditions, and from an expansive vision of how it could be and is already being generated differently. It may come from the conviction that knowledge does matter, when it’s directly connected to action.
Feel free to use and improve this map, and to share and expand the aspirations that underlie it. The generation of power for civilizational change is a process that can involve everyone, at every scale of critical awareness and constructive activity.