The IUCN Academy of Environmental Law series
Edited by Jordi Jaria i Manzano, Nathalie Chalifour and Louis J. Kotzé
Chapter 1: Energy governance: a key challenge in the era of globalization
Societies need to build material infrastructures and feed their reproduction through energy production and consumption. A fundamental element of this social metabolism, conceived as the complex interaction between society and nature where human beings obtain resources and produce waste, is the energy cycle. It is now informally recognized that we are possibly living in a new geological epoch called the Anthropocene where social metabolism is increasing with the expansion of our capitalist world-system. Within this trajectory of exponentially growing energy consumption, environmental impacts are simultaneously increasing and the Earth and its systems are being pushed towards critical tipping points which might eventually mean an end of life as we know it. This accelerated growth and its concomitant anthropogenic impacts is arguably the greatest challenge facing contemporary societies today. To respect the biological thresholds of the planet, it is imperative that our social metabolism is adapted to a fragile and closed Earth system which consists of humans, non-human but living entities, and non-living entities. The aggressive and massive energy consumption by humans during the last two centuries (a distinct period since the Industrial Revolution) has obvious and alarming consequences for the functioning of the biosphere. Since cheap and easily accessible sources of energy, such as coal and oil, were available during this period, social metabolism has increased as a result with no chances of replenishing such non-renewable energy resources.