Energy and Equity, Ivan Illich

– Introductory note by Eric Britton

As the first entry in our new xRx Library corner, we thought it would get us off to a vigorous start if we open with the long essay that Ivan Illich famously wrote in 1973 under the title of “Energy and Equity”, which in many ways is close to the concerns set out here. His approach is of course not scientific, but it is informed and in many ways relevant to the concerns of this collaborative investigation: Energy, Growth and Democracy. When Illich wrote this back in the early seventies, the “running out of resources” and anti-growth notions of the time were deeply colored by the publicity surrounding the Oil Crisis, Club of Rome, The Limits of Growth, etc.

However, Illich’s anti-growth positions were not entirely without nuance. His main target was our unrelenting refusal at the time to “discount any social limit on the growth of energy consumption”. And when he speaks of energy restraint, he is basically addressing the dominant energy technology and practices of that time, namely grossly inefficient use of fossil-based fuels. Not all that far from Ayres’ stated position here. Likewise when he writes: “Participatory democracy postulates low-energy technology. Only participatory democracy creates the conditions for rational technologyhe is close to the concerns that bring us here.

Now let’s listen to Illich.

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