One of the unique aspects about being in school again is the exposure to concepts, ideas, writers, and philosophers that I would not necessarily come across in my general reading. One idea in particular, which was not new, but was covered in more depth than I thought possible this semester, was the notion of hegemony. Largely credited to Antonio Gramsci, a jailed Italian writer during Mussolini’s reign, Merriam Webster provides the following definition:
1: preponderant influence or authority over others : domination <battled for hegemony in Asia>2: the social, cultural, ideological, or economic influence exerted by a dominant group
Hegemony suggests a complete and total domination, one that is so overarching that people do not necessarily realize its power or preponderance. I would submit that nonrenewable energy has just such a hold over us today. As seen in the second part of the aforementioned definition, economic influence is a major part of the hegemony of nonrenewable sources of energy. According to the Department of Energy’s Kid’s Page (a misnomer really, given the depth and clarity of information), 92% of energy consumed in this country comes from oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear sources, what I will refer to as “The Big Four”.
The total and utter dominance of these sources of energy stifles the discussion surrounding alternative sources of energy. Looking at the infrastructure for transportation, one sees that short of electrification of vehicles (which would still rely on coal and nuclear energy for roughly 70% of electricity generated in this country), the trucks and cars on the road today depend on nonrenewable sources of energy (mostly oil products, but also natural gas). Train travel is nowhere near the level of use that would enable a move toward sustainable fuel sources. Despite research into biofuels, renewable energy, and other alternatives, The Big Four still dominate.
This bleak picture does not suggest its impossible to move in the direction of clean, renewable energy. However, naming and being aware of the dominance that The Big Four perpetuate over the economy, policy, and our everyday lives is the first step toward breaking free from these nonrenewable sources of energy.