Empowerment. The climate problem is mostly an energy problem. As citizens we play a leading role in the transition to renewables, wearing two different hats as both energy consumers and future energy producers. Cities have the power locally to help overcome the human hurdles – the social and political barriers – that impact more widespread adoption of renewables. Energy is moving away from an abstract phenomenon to an issue of personalised identification. In the same way as locally harvested food is preferred over fruits transported across oceans, locally produced clean electricity and heat provide us with more security and self-determination. We want empowerment and autonomy over our energy supply for the deeply rooted reason that it is one of our essential needs.
Energy is a more fundamental resource than money in driving the economy. The common currency of energy circulates in different ways, but always starts at the level of individuals. Individual energy is converted into social capital – the bonds between people with a shared sense of place and identity – through our interactions with one another in our communities and more broadly within society. The foundation for co-operation, exchange and innovation, is based on these links and the values we share that enable us to trust each other and work together.
Civic energy channels this individual energy by shifting the perspective from person to place. Some of the most pressing challenges we are facing are too big for us individually, yet cannot be solved by the state or market forces alone. The solution is not to ignore the levers of state or the markets, but to build on their strengths. The answer lies in restoring systems that are not so big that they cannot respond to us, but not so small that they cannot tackle the scale of the changes. Powered by civic energy, these systems are built around the places where people live, anchored in local communities and parts of the economy. In this way civic energy is converted into common causes that engage us.
Revolutions in the history of humankind are fundamentally revolutions in converting energy. They are upheavals in our quest for more physical energy from natural resources to power industries and meet the needs of a growing human population. They are also radical shifts in our collective imagination that have captured the renewable energy of people, to power society and redirect its development in new ways.
The first industrial revolution marked the transition from doing by using our muscle power to using mechanical power, with the invention of the steam engine and mechanical production. The technology revolution grew that mechanical capability rapidly by making mass production possible with advances in electricity and assembly lines. The advent of the third digital revolution expanded our thinking by transforming how we access knowledge and communicate, by programming machines to “think” with more speed and dexterity than us. The fourth industrial revolution builds on pervasive mobile internet, artificial intelligence and machine learning, changing the way we interact with the world around us and, importantly, with each other. These epochal shifts have been interspersed by no less important intellectual revolutions that have channelled our human energies by reshaping our social, rational and political behaviour.
The civic revolution turns the world upside down, an inversion from making people more productive to making natural resources and ecosystems more productive. At the same time it stirs our civic state of mind. Our present predicament is not inevitable: we have learned from the past that contemporary narratives and economic orders can undergo rapid and astonishing transformations. All it takes is energy.