Severn_flood_2007_Interview_with_ITV_(central), Iain CutherbertsonThe public conversation over our energy generation ignited again in recent weeks with two intriguing publications.

First, the latest “Public Attitudes Tracker Survey” results came out. This is a nationwide survey from DECC which gives us a pretty good indication of what people feel about issues like energy generation, efficiency and climate change. I don’t usually pay that much attention to questionnaires of this nature but this one is quite revealing in the strength of some of its conclusions. One particular statistic was that 80% of people support solar, while only 24% support fracking.

The second publication was a report from DEFRA entitled “Shale Gas, Rural Economy Impacts”. Produced by the government’s own Rural Community Policy Unit it seeks to address the implications of fossil fuel extraction such as fracking. Unfortunately, much of it has been redacted, so it is hard to know what to think.

However, despite the public preference appearing to strongly favour renewables, and despite the uncertainty over our understanding of fracking, a parliamentary briefing paper outlined that there have been “clear signals of Government support for the industry”.

The impression we get then, is of a closed, non transparent policy process where the opinions of citizens seem to count for little. Overall, it leaves us participation folk scratching our head. We probably do need more deliberative public engagement as Rebecca Lawson argues in her blog for E3G, as no option arrives entirely controversy free, especially at the local level. But the bigger question for me is how can we get the government to listen?

One tempting answer for some folk is civil disobedience, and groups like No Dash For Gas have made headlines at Balcombe and more recently by super-gluing themselves to DEFRA. Like many of my young(ish) peers, I often feel like doing this myself; it seems like such a cathartic solution to the frustration and fear I experience at what I see happening to my future. When people seem so unwilling to listen, what’s the point in engaging them with any more dialogue? By disrupting the daily quiet, I can force a reaction. The knowledge that at least I’m eliciting a response; that I am finally being heard, is quite thrilling. I know many of my peers see this as the only solution.

But however much I want to be a front line campaigner, I realise there has to be a parallel path. Some of us need to be around for the longer game; to have a calmer, deeper, conversation. After all, there’s still plenty of people who just don’t know enough about our energy generation options yet, so shouldn’t they have a chance to make their mind up, and add their voice?

Even more excitingly, despite the national government’s response, there are plenty of opportunities opening up at the local level. Local communities and their authorities have increasing numbers of decisions to make that really do merit a deeper, more open discussion: What about this shale well? How about setting up a decentralised solar network? How do we build resilience to climate change? These sort of questions would be perfectly suited to a public dialogue, and offer a huge opportunity to local government to be part of the solution by generating energy, income, and a stronger community.

In the coming months, Involve hope to explore how we can best help this programme. If you’d like to find out more or collaborate with us, we’d love to hear from you.