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Q&A with Stefan Bouzarovski

The New Statesman talks to Stefan Bouzarovski, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

The New Statesman talks to Stefan Bouzarovski, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham

Can you see us ever going to war over energy? Do you think it's going to be a defining political issue?
It's an interesting question as to whether we have not already gone to war over energy. Certainly energy security is something that will shape the political agenda for decades. We are moving from a centralised energy system to a much more distributed one, where energy production becomes much more visible in our everyday life. This is a dramatic reconfiguration that is bound to change the political and physical landscape in which we live.

The consensus seems to be that the best way to get energy security for the European Union is through collective action. Is that achievable?
That we are adjacent to Europe - which is a massive energy-consuming space but not necessarily an energy-rich space - creates the need for a stable co-ordinated effort at the EU level to deal practically with the significant challenge of moving those resources across multiple national boundaries.

I do not think that the debt crisis will necessarily derail that effort. I think what might derail that effort, however, is the rise of particular national politics within various EU member states. There has been, as someone said, a slow but continuous drumbeat in the movement towards a better co-ordinated energy policy at the European level.

What part does Britain play in that?
Britain has played a role in this but whether it could play a greater role is open for debate. Certainly Britain, as a country at the end of the gas pipe, is very vulnerable.

Given that here in the UK we are likely to increase our gas-import dependency to perhaps two-thirds or even more of our total gas consumption, that certainly increases the rationale for Britain to play a much more involved role in the future.

How do you envisage the UK securing energy?
What are you trying to do, when you say we want to be energy-secure? Geographers have often emphasised that it is different whether you are protecting, from an energy security point of view, an individual household, or an individual city, or an individual region, or a set of regions, or a country, or a transnational bloc. The policy in each case might be different.

Is gas the future?
Gas cannot be the future in the long run. Conventional gas is a finite resource, and it is also a hydrocarbon, which emits CO2. I think we cannot look at gas to provide a solution beyond a certain time frame.

There is the whole rise of unconventional gas - but that is problematic, as we know. The question of whether gas is a medium-term solution towards a possibly more low-carbon future is up for debate and is one of the decisions that remains to be made.

In the future, should we be more worried about not having enough, or not having the right kind of energy?
I would ask: what does "enough" mean? And what does "the right kind of energy" mean? Again, the question associated with that is: enough for whom? And the right kind of energy for whom?

We are likely to have to address our energy consumption battles very rapidly. We need to improve our energy efficiency to a much greater degree than we have been doing until now.

The right kind of energy, for me, is energy that is environmentally and socially just. And I am worried about that. I am worried that we are moving increasingly in a direction where energy is not environmentally and socially just.

Where does the main responsibility for cutting carbon lie? Is it with the consumer, government or business?
I would say, again, that the government has to be the force behind the making of energy policy and it has to respect these issues of distributive, procedural justice to a maximum extent. Unfortunately we are in a position today where the consequences of energy policy are largely shouldered by consumers through price increases.

During your career have you had your assumptions proved wrong or revised your scientific opinions?
I would never use the word "wrong". For me, almost everything we do has a relative right and a relative wrong to it. We are not really in the business of proving things - we are in the business of demonstrating the greater or lesser validity of particular statements.

Are we all doomed?
I vehemently oppose the discourse that assigns a doomsday or catastrophic scenario to our energy future. If you look at past predictions of the future of our society, also within the energy debate, you will find that apocalyptic scenarios have always been around and the human race has demonstrated an astounding creativity and resilience to deal with challenges.

Having said that, we are living in a very challenging time. So the problems, the difficulties, the hurdles we have to overcome are indeed greater than ever.

The CV

1997-2000 Chairperson, Federation of the Young European Greens
1999-2003 Dulverton, Scatcherd and Larkinson Scholar, University of Oxford
2004-2007 Senior Research Associate, Oxford University Centre for the Environment
2008-2011 Visiting Professor, Faculty of Science, Charles University, Prague
2011 Founding Member and Secretary, Energy Geographies Working Group of the Royal Geographical Society
2012 Co-ordinator of the newly-established Energy, Society and Place Research Unit, University of Birmingham

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.