No one is disputing that in any consideration of existing social problems, the question of energy supply is of prime importance.
But the vital question is about the reasons why the existing world capitalist system cannot take up the technical possibilities which now exist for the setting up of a safe and adequate world energy system. This question also takes us out of the sphere of applied science and technology and inevitably into the sphere of world economics and politics. From a practical point of view, society has available a wide range of technical options and there are large reserves of skill, labour and materials, yet at the same time we suffer from a chronic inability to take these up in a free and consciously regulated manner. In the field of energy supply, as in every other field, such resources, skills and production methods which are taken up will be determined by the economic imperatives of the market system or consistent with the existing national economic or military strategies. Socialism would not be bound by the economics of market competition to use methods which embodied the least amounts of labour in their production. Global energy policy is not being driven by concerns about the environment. It’s about ownership and control of key resources, who has them, and who’s got the weaponry to seize them.
There is no single alternative to oil, so a suite of alternatives will have to be employed. The main problem with renewables is that the oil-addicted capitalist economy has starved them of funds, because set-up costs are prohibitive and returns long-term. This is true of geothermal heating systems, wind and tidal systems, ocean thermal electricity, biowaste to oil reconversion plants, solar technology. Capitalism is not, of course,really interested in saving energy. Energy companies could offer customer discounts to those who were frugal, but in fact that's not the way to make money. Thermal Conversion Process can take any type of carbon waste including animal remains, car tyres, old computers and human sewage and within half an hour turn it into useful fertilizer minerals, carbon charcoal and oil. What’s the catch? Lack of profit. Paul Horsnell, Head of Energy Research at investment bank Barclays Capital: “To transport and process all the waste, pay the energy costs, provide for the capital costs and still make a profit does look difficult at first sight. By comparison, fossil fuel oil is actually pretty cheap.”
Under capitalism renewable sources will only be adopted on a wide scale when the price becomes right.
We live in a social system predicated on endless expansion and it is the blind, unplanned drive to accumulate is the hallmark of capitalist production – the profit motive – that has created the environmental problem, not individuals. There can be no such thing as sustainable or environmentally friendly capitalism. It is completely impossible under capitalism for humanity to use the earth's resources for the benefit of all people, and it is equally impossible for it to deploy the accumulated knowledge, the skills and the techniques of production which now exist in a direct relationship with human needs on a basis of world-wide co-operation.
If capitalism uses up the obtainable oil in its customary spendthrift way, then socialism is going to have to employ solutions, both in means of supply and modes of consumption.
What is, for a socialist, strange is nobody ever suggests that we just take drop in energy consumption and live with it. How can we continue to live the life of the motorway-commuter without petrol? Oh no, we can't possibly give that up, we'll have to use hydrogen or electric cars. How do we continue to have all our cities' department stores lit up every night so people can window-shop at 4 am? Dread the thought that consumers should have their nocturnal browsing habits constrained.
Humanity may have no choice but to adapt to a low energy way of life. Yet studies abound that demonstrate that traditional intensive farming methods can out-perform industrial agricultural methods. People may desire this change but the economic framework of capitalism won’t allow it.
Fusion power is the Holy Grail but that infinite energy would be uncomfortable to capitalist markets. It could never be allowed to get out. If fusion ever came about , we can be sure about one thing - our electricity bills won't go down. New technology tends to deliver wealth upwards, to the rich who own and control it, not downwards to the rest of us.