Power To The People: Regenerative Design for the Just Transition to a Renewable Energy Commons
Anthropogenic climate change is the most cataclysmic issue facing all life on our planet. The IPCC recently announced that 12 years remain to prevent 2.7ºC of warming in order to avert a complete climate catastrophe. It is up to my generation to mitigate this calamity, as today’s young people will inherit the brunt of extreme weather events, rising sea levels, biodiversity loss, and global temperature increases. In particular, low-income folks, indigenous people, and communities of color are disproportionately affected by climate change, as made evident by the Flint water crisis, the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the proximity of working class neighborhoods to coal-fired power plants. Furthermore, as economic inequality worsens, greenhouse gas emissions increase. The Carbon Disclosure Project reported that 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global carbon emissions. Therefore, climate change is an issue of justice, equity, and power — upheld by unremitting legacies of colonialism, white supremacy, neoliberalism, and patriarchy. Fossil fuels account for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change. Therefore, we need to transition to 100% renewable energy immediately. However, we must also transform the structures of power that preside over our energy system to ensure the just transition to a democratic and cooperative energy economy. Political power, or governance, and economic power, or capital, over the renewable energy sector must be redistributed to communities impacted by climate change to establish autonomy, self-determination, and ownership. Combining theoretical analysis with field research, case studies, scientific data, and current events, this thesis proposes a solution to our climate crisis by eradicating ecological violence and fostering a renewable energy commons. This capstone comprises of an interdisciplinary project-based thesis that culminates in the launch of a startup organization called Power To The People. The written component of my thesis is separated into two parts that investigate the nexus between regenerative design, energy democracy, and social ecology. Part I explores the causes and consequences of climate violence — specifically, the role of capitalism and the state in perpetuating hierarchies of power across race, class, and gender. Part I concludes with a social, political, economic, environmental, and technological blueprint for shifting our energy system into a commons by designing infrastructure for an ‘energy internet,’ inspired by phenomena observed in the ecosphere and consciousness. Part II describes a business plan for the operations of Power To The People. The business plan is a response to the problems and proposals illustrated in Part I, outlining the organization’s strategy to mitigate climate change, dismantle ecological violence, foster energy democracy, and cultivate a renewable energy commons. At its core, the organization’s strategy is 1) to advance the movement for climate justice through the application of regenerative design, and 2) to develop community-oriented energy economies, models of social ownership, and platforms for energy democracy. Power To The People is an incubator for the renewable energy commons, and this thesis is a primer for the just transition towards a more regenerative and equitable future. As the Green New Deal rightfully gains popularity across the United States, this project aims to push conversations about energy democracy, social ownership, and the commons into popular discourse. Therefore, the proposals and analyses herein can be considered an addendum to the Green New Deal. By synthesizing interactive media, design-oriented methodologies, civic engagement, and traditional analysis into a project-based capstone, I hope this thesis can transcend the academy and inspire a comprehensive strategy and manifesto for mitigating our climate crisis. As college students, we have the radical ability to transform our communities into microcosms of the world we wish to inherit. That is the intention of this thesis.