There is much talk, perhaps too much talk, about climate change these days. There is also associated talk about using a lot more renewable energy, as if this will avert or reduce the damage we are doing to the earth.

There is no doubt that renewable energy in its modern forms (solar, wind, wave) will be a necessary part of the future. The danger of emphasising renewables as a solution to our ills is that western civilisation has not been a good steward of cheap, abundant and dirty energy (coal, uranium, oil etc). Why would we be good stewards of abundant, but clean, renewable energy? We seem to miss the point that we can destroy forests and oceans (and ourselves) just as easily with renewable energy as with oil based energy.

What needs to be examined closely is our worldview (our foundational assumptions and metaphysical beliefs) that has resulted in humans being such poor stewards of energy. And why we have used so much energy to expand and extend the reach of the human enterprise with such callous regard for its impact on others (human and non-human).

Perhaps one reason is that we have over emphasized and privileged mental work, and inferiorised, backgrounded and denied the work of the body and the earth. We have substituted abundant but non-renewable pre-historic solar energy for human muscle power. Human labour as a renewable energy source is never talked about these days, even though we have an abundance of people.

We have created a caste of energy slaves, both bodily labour (especially people in poor countries, who make most of our stuff), and the labour of nature (ancient solar energy stored as oil and coal). Some research that I have seen suggests that we have some 80 energy slaves working for us to maintain our modern lifestyle. Perhaps, as Val Plumwood has argued, it is time we restored honour and meaning to physical labour, and to question the dominance, and privileging, of mind work. Perhaps we need to live within the level of (contemporary) solar energy the earth receives.

And it’s time we got rid of some of our slaves.