Should we decentralise for real change?

Is the best way to deliver a transformation to a new and sustainable economic model by decentralising governance and political decision-making?

Here’s a question. If a decentralised energy infrastructure forms a crucial part of the transition to a new and sustainable economic model, does it follow that the best way to deliver that transformation is by decentralising governance and political decision-making?

There’s plenty in this thought to unpack – and that’s just what the latest ecosurety lunchtime debate ended up doing. Partly the question hinges on how far you buy the idea that a future sustainable economy will be decentralised. Here, most of us agreed the evidence looks compelling.

Stepping beyond fossil fuels

One proponent of the vision is the author and thinker Jeremy Rifkin. In Rifkin’s analysis, we have to step beyond the oil and fossil fuels based economy – and fast. So what can replace it? Five connected steps:

  1. Shifting to renewables
  2. Transforming buildings everywhere into micro-generation power plants
  3. Deploying storage technologies to store intermittent energies
  4. Developing an internet-enabled, decentralised grid to manage power
  5. Transitioning to electric plug-in vehicles

Building on existing technologies

Rifkin paints a powerful picture. What’s particularly good is that it is mostly built on existing technologies and capabilities – but just put together in a smarter way. And to the five elements Rifkin picks out there’s another decentralising tendency we explored that may well play its part – the way the internet has enabled crowdsourcing to drive movements and change, thus shifting power away from the centre.

And to decentralise how things run really does seem to hold the key to this. That’s because making the world energy-smart in tens of millions of tech-enabled ways all over the world isn’t a programme that’s easy for central governments to deliver.

Things will move too slowly. So we need to find a way to give control to those pushing the boundaries in terms of smarter planning and smart tech to make things happen: small, nimble projects that are pushed through quickly at a local level to show the way ahead, leading to bigger and more lasting change.

Empowered local government

The government involvement in this picture surely needs to be an empowered local government rather than being run by the centre. Of course there will be a need to join things up properly every step of the way, but the dynamism of the shift must come from the grass-roots: from the bottom up rather than top down.

It’s interesting stuff to explore - if you'd like to find out more about Rifkin's argument a 20 minute video is available here.

What are your thoughts?

Steve Clark

Non-executive director

Steve established Ecosurety in 2003 in response to the lack of flexibility, innovation and customer-focus in the compliance scheme market. He took inspiration from the mobile phone market, which continues to provide a diverse range of pick-and-mix options for the customer, and built the original business on a commitment to provide flexible, friendly and tailored support for all clients.

He is passionate about bringing the latest business concepts from other markets and industries and applying them to the environmental sector for the benefit of clients.

Written by Steve Clark Published 17/02/2015 Topics Sustainability

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