Abundant, Cheap, Clean... Contentious? Why is energy a battlefield today?

Sunday 1 November, 10.45am until 12.15pm, Lecture Theatre 1

On the campaign trail Obama declared America’s ‘addiction to foreign oil’ was destabilising both the Middle East and the climate and that the resulting ‘threat goes to the very heart of who we are as a nation, and who we will be.’ Energy has gone from being a technical question to a very public one, with everyone seemingly having an opinion on the issue. From environmental to security concerns, everything seems to boil down to energy – how much, where from and what type?

Coal is too dirty, oil is running out, gas is controlled by unreliable regimes, nuclear is too risky, biofuels push up food prices, big dams displace the poor, wind and solar seem too far off to make a difference now. Is it true that there are no good options? Do China’s ambitious new renewables targets point the way forward or is this just a drop in the ocean of a bigger energy quagmire?

Energy is basic to human industry, essential for everything from running computers to transport. The development of new energy sources has traditionally not been the subject of public concern and has at most been met with muted excitement, such as with the discovery of North Sea oil fields. Is it a positive development that such a practical problem has today infused discussions on everything from foreign policy and the environment to the ethics of personal behaviour? There is certainly demand for more energy. But even if this can be is secured, will it boost human prosperity by helping overcome scarcity, or will it simply accelerate the destruction of the planet?


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Thomas Deichmann
editor, NovoArgumente; author, Die Steinzeit steckt uns in den Knochen: gesundheit als erbe der evolution

Duncan McLaren
chief executive, Friends of the Earth Scotland; co-author, Tomorrow's World: Britain's share in a sustainable future

David Strahan
award-winning investigative journalist and documentary film-maker; author, The Last Oil Shock: a survival guide to the imminent extinction of petroleum man

Dr Jim Watson
director, Sussex Energy Group, University of Sussex; deputy leader, Tyndall Centre Climate Change and Energy Programme; co-author, China's Energy Transition

James Woudhuysen
visiting professor, London South Bank University

Rob Lyons
science and technology director, Institute of Ideas; convenor, IoI Economy Forum

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