Through the analysis of responses to the Energy Vulnerability Lab's 2020 Energy Vulnerability Survey COVID-19 response we have the capability to analyze perspectives of 74 respondents to a survey regarding their capability to access energy resources during the global pandemic. This survey covers a variety of questions regarding their ability to obtain energy resources, as well as how the pandemic has impacted their households' living situation. By analyzing the second to last two question on the survey which is "What do you think your energy rights are?" This question gives us the ability to feel the pulse of how survey participants are thinking about energy justice and the way they are perceive energy as a resource. that should be distributed accross the population and avaiable to all.
Of 74 respondents 36 or about 66% of them believed they had a right to electricity. When analyzing the comments that go along with this question it becomes apparent that some individuals believe that anyone in should have energy resources as "basic energy right." A respondent claimed,
"Well...I think that everybody...no matter their income or economic status should be given the basic energy...should be provided with the basic energy assistance...ummm....yeah"
This shows an example of a progressive and forward thinking perspective surrounding energy access. Values within the current economic system seem to often value the cost of energy resources. Due to the capitalistic perspectives around cost and benefits and these resources being tied to resource scarcity there is a common thread of understanding that claim that resources should be available to those who can pay. One example of this would be,
"It depends where they're getting the energy from- if it's costing money to create the energy then no I don't think I have the rights. I think water should be free for everyone. With solar and wind, someone needs to pay for the construction and maintenance. I believe that people have the right to have access to energy but not entitled to it."
This quote describes the sentiment that if people cannot afford the construction of energy producing utilities, or have the capability to access energy through capital they may not have rights to these neccessities. Although the respondent then discusses that we have 'rights' that are not necessarily "entitled" to such rights.
This entry shows an example of the discordance that many people experience when discussing rights and justice related concepts. When we discuss rights, we often refer to them as a concept to be upheld and demanded, as we have the right to freedom or nonviolence. The concept of rights in the neoliberal and capitalistic political and economic system we live in often ties rights to entitlements that are inversely situated through economic capital, thereby stating if you do not have the money, or ability to contribute to the system through work then your rights are not worth upholding.
The perspective that we have do not have entitlements to a right to uphold our wellbeing through extractions from the commons, that should be considered a public good, describes our inability to separate entitlements to necessary resources that are, in essence availble to all because of their status as a resource found in the natural world, then we cannot be entitled to the right that we deserve. As common human subjects that should have equitable access to justice, we beleive that these rights are often tied to capital in such a way that we must participate in this social agreement that is the traditional economy to be accepted by the broader social system and recognized as a human.
By making energy a resource that is capitalistic in nature we are able charge for resources that come naturally in the world that we must excavate. It is understood that these shared land resources that are nonrenewable such as oil wells, natural gas resources, and coal mines provide a resource that much be extracted and processed to produce energy, it makes sense to us that they cost money.
With new renewable energy resources being used on a broad scale to produce energy it becomes less and less enticing to logically support that we need to charge money for electricity production, energy resources, and other necessities like water. These resources, when put into the economic world, begin to fetishize and attribute cost to resources that are produced in the world through natural processes. They should be considered a common good because the less physical labor and intellectual work put into extracting such resources through the logic of capitalism, then the less the commodity should cost. Once they are in place and maintained they are less cost intensive to collect energy resources and the price should reflect that.
One example of a response that a participant made was,
"Like in a different reality, if we did have those things? "yeah" OK, I think... everyone should have access to things that energy fuels like good transportation in their area or a car, everyone should have at least a basic level of heating and cooling so they can be safe and healthy, the rights to food and energy are combined, so they should have the right to food to fuel their bodies, people should be hungry or cold or lacking medical care or not being able to get to work."
It is this line of thinking, the idea that the alternatives to current ways of receiving and accessing energy are illogical at this point in time because our current way of economic and political organization would not condone it, allows us to question whether these social structures are the best way to uphold equity and justice. Justice pertins to upholding our rights through procedural justice and distributive justice. It is my belief that the formation of justice under positive freedoms, for exmample 'freedom to exercise religious freedom,' reduces justice to the other from their perspective. By relegating rights to an individual in a social agreement that uses negative freedoms to maintain justice, for example 'freedom from persecution and discrimination' we see the rights of individuals much more equitably distributed across the population.
This can be applied to energy justice circumstances, as we currently see a system of procedures of energy distribution that situates individuals to "have the right to pay for energy" but it we reframe the way we think about energy resources as a basic human right we then can transform that positive freedom to a negative freedom that states, "we have the freedom to not go without basic human necessities and needs" these would pertain to energy resources related to our basic human needs. We would be able to distribute equitably the through our right to live, the needs which are: air, heat, water, shelter, and food. We can see that these needs must be met for humans to survive and should become basic human rights. By translating these need into rights, it becomes essential to uphold justice and equity globally.
Energy Vulnerability COVID-19 Survey
Energy Vulnerability Lab 2020, "pece_artifact_fieldnote_1592235477", contributed by James Gall, The Energy Rights Project, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 15 June 2020, accessed 10 December 2023. https://energyrights.info/content/peceartifactfieldnote1592235477