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Scott MortonScott Morton Ninomiya

Inspiration from the Global South

By Scott Morton Ninomiya

As printed in The Marketplace - May/June 2018

Fossil fuels power our world in 2018: they heat my home and transport my family — probably yours too. The global story of fossil fuels is a tale of great wealth, progress and development. But recent plot twists are revealing big holes in this story.

Our dependence on fossil fuels has left us unprotected from volatile oil prices, created unbreathable air in many cities and caused unstable employment for multitudes of workers connected to fossil fuels. Environmental destruction and climate disruption are further complex plot twists. Most of humanity is not writing the world energy story but rather watching it all unfold: we are the energy audience. We are the tax payers and the energy bill payers and increasingly, we are also the consequence payers — especially in the global south. My doctoral research investigates how more of us can become energy authors — writing practical, creative new energy stories that are more sustainable economically, environmentally and socially.

Alas, in North America our energy story is so entrenched in fossil fuels that that it is difficult for us to even imagine alternative plot lines. Fossil fuels are written between the lines of our infrastructure, political systems and our social culture. Therefore, I’m searching for creative energy authors in places you might not expect. Entrepreneurs in communities across the global south (the so-called developing world) are imagining and implementing innovative and sustainable energy solutions at an unprecedented rate. Employing entrepreneurial ingenuity, they are imagining new stories and mustering the technical know-how, financial resources and political support to make their imagination into reality. These authors are at work from Nicaragua to Nigeria and from Brazil to Bangladesh harnessing local solar, wind, water, geothermal, biofuel and other renewable energy resources.

Clearly, solutions from Nairobi Kenya cannot necessarily be parachuted into Nanaimo, Canada or Nantucket, USA, but energy entrepreneurs in the global south can be pivotal sources of inspiration for emerging energy authors in North America. Southern energy entrepreneurs are increasingly creating visions for a good life that relies on small-scale, decentralized, local energy sources managed by community instead of large-scale energy megaprojects managed by distant governments and corporations. This approach helps to build energy agency among citizens — the sense that it is not only possible, but imperative to build sustainable energy solutions in their communities. My research will explore how that kind of practical inspiration can be communicated and implemented across geographical, technological, political and cultural differences.

I anticipate interest among fellow Mennonites in my research and am excited to share early ideas in The Marketplace. Mennonites come dangerously close to taking pride in our ability to weave creative tales of hope in challenging circumstances. Entrepreneurially minded Mennonites have worked with communities all over the world to imagine stories of justice that seek restoration over retribution, stories of poverty alleviation that build capacity instead of dependence. This history of ingenuity imbues us with promising potential as creative and collaborative 21st century energy authors.  I would be interested to hear the thoughts of Marketplace readers on my research, and your ideas about where I might find some interesting energy stories in the global south (or anywhere for that matter). I look forward to sharing the results of my research over the coming years with you as well. ◆

Scott Morton Ninomiya is pursuing a Global Governance PhD at Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.  His research and advocacy focuses on the pursuit of practical, sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels. He can be reached at sdmorton@uwaterloo.ca