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Handbook of Global Environmental Politics

Edited by Peter Dauvergne

The first Handbook of original articles by leading scholars of global environmental politics, this landmark volume maps the latest theoretical and empirical research in this young and growing field. Captured here are the dynamic and energetic debates over concerns for the health of the planet and how they might best be addressed.
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Chapter 6: Renewable Energy and International Politics

Ian H. Rowlands


Ian H. Rowlands Energy has traditionally been defined as ‘the capacity, or ability, to do work’ (Alexander, 1996: 4). It is central to all that occurs on this planet. Indeed it is critical to the use of virtually any good or service. It can be ‘delivered’, however, in different forms, in different ways and to different ends. Consider, as but one small example, the act of writing this chapter. Electrical energy powers the computer being used, solar energy casts light on the notes beside the computer and various kinds of energy are ‘embedded’ in the coffee mug beside the computer. Although all of these forms of energy (and others not mentioned) are critical, they are not all ‘created’1 in the same way. Hence the overall ‘sustainability’ of energy supply and use will vary, being a function of the entire life cycle and the broader context. While the sunshine streaming into this office is, arguably, sustainable, at least on timescales usually used, the way in which the electricity for the computer is generated is not sustainable.2 The sustainability of the energy embedded in the coffee mug, finally, may be harder to determine. If, for example, large-scale hydropower or natural gas were used in the manufacture of the mug, then the level of sustainability may end up falling somewhere between those of the sun and of the coal-fired power plant. In any case, the sustainability of energy supply and use is a key question for societies around the world...

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