Methods and psychology of slowing down: Paralysis, delays and (un)willing alliances
For decades, the established power industry has used targeted disinformation to explain why renewable energy could not be a viable alternative. Whilst this arsenal of arguments is now largely exhausted, the industry’s new mantras against energy change, which aim to delay and justify procrastination, are so subtle that they sound plausible even to some supporters of renewable energy. Nowadays, no one in the established power industry is willing to appear blind to the dangers of traditional energy sources, and thus energy concerns are pouring millions into advertising their role as promoters of renewable energy. They try to create the impression of attempting to realize real opportunities, although this is easily refuted – a quick look at the German Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) shows that more than 90 per cent of the investments resulting from this Act have been made by municipal utilities, communities of users or individuals, and not by power companies for whom these investments would have been easier to ﬁnance. In 2009 alone, families throughout Germany together invested more in producing solar electricity than the four major German power companies E.ON, RWE, EnBW and Vattenfall combined. Two of the traditional power industry’s delaying tactics are obvious. The
ﬁrst is to talk up alternatives which are presented either as a “bridge” to renewable energy (supposedly available only in the future) or as their equivalents. This approach is targeted at creating a “renaissance” for nuclear power and introducing “more climate-friendly” coal-ﬁred power plants. This tactic helps to ﬁxate global energy discussions on the dangers to the climate of CO2 emissions, as if there were no other risks and dangers involved in conventional energy supply. The second tactic is to bring large-scale renewable energy projects into play – projects which are time-intensive and predominantly require the participation of major investors. In doing so, the power companies seek to maintain their hegemony by diverting discussion towards ﬁelds of action in which they need fear little competition. This tactic even ﬁnds favour among supporters of renewable energy where these are insuﬃciently aware of the connection between time pressures and structural problems. In their relief that energy corporations ﬁnally appear ready to focus on renewable energy, they
fail to recognize that this is, in truth, an economically-motivated delaying tactic. This tactic is accompanied by playing down the signiﬁcant problems involved in nuclear and fossil energy, and simultaneously playing up apparent (or partly true, yet recognizably superable) problems which need to be overcome during the transition to renewable energy. Willingly or unwillingly, those who allow themselves to be deﬂected from
the urgency of energy change by such “bridging tactics” belong to the alliance of procrastinators whose most popular arguments are as follows:
Change must take place in global unison, or at least in agreement with comparable countries. Change would otherwise be impossible to eﬀect, because of the economic damage one would inﬂict on oneself. Anyway, on a global scale the actions of a single country hardly count. Closely allied to this excuse is the claim, and demand, that the ideal instrument for guaranteeing a sustainable energy supply is the trading of carbon emissions certiﬁcates based on internationally agreed consumption rates. This is the only way to bring global climate problems under control and simultaneously to signiﬁcantly improve energy eﬃciency, which is seen as more important and more economical than the transition to renewable energy. All other political measures are either counterproductive or need to take a backstage role. I examine this subterfuge in the section “organized minimalism” (p43) based on the ideas followed by world climate conferences to date.