Projects like TuNur are promoted as solutions to the ecological and climate crises but in truth they are hollow, tokenistic techno-fixes. They promise to address these problems without fundamental change, maintaining the status quo and the contradictions of the global system that created these crises in the first place.
Big engineering-focused ′solutions′ like Desertec, Tunur and Ouarzazate tend to present climate change as a shared problem with no political or socio-economic context. This perspective hides the historical responsibilities of the industrialised north, the problems of the capitalist energy model and the different vulnerabilities between countries of the north and the south.
North Africa is one of the regions hardest hit by global warming, with water supplies in the area being particularly affected. The spread of solar energy initiatives that further plunder these increasingly-scarce water resources would be a great injustice.
It is often said that when it comes to the climate crisis, “we are all in it together”, but there are many ways in which this is simply not the case. Black and brown populations in the global south are the first and hardest hit. Furthermore, this obscures the role of neo-colonialism and imperialist domination and hides the injustices they represent, from land grabs and displacements to a systematic denial of people′s access to natural resources and energy of their own countries.
We should be very critical of such mega-projects and their self-proclaimed good intentions, which often sugar-coat brutal exploitation and sheer robbery. We must always ask the relevant-as-ever questions: who owns what? Who does what? Who gets what? Who wins and who loses? And whose interests are being served?
Justice and sovereignty
Answering these questions through a distributive justice lens, while taking account of the colonial and neo-colonial legacies alongside issues of race, class and gender reveals an array of parallels between “green projects” and the more obviously destructive extractive industries they are supposed to replace: they deny local people control and access to their land, rob them of resources and concentrate the value created in the hands of domestic and foreign predatory elites and private companies.
The Arab uprisings that started in Tunisia in 2010 were about bread, freedom, social justice and national dignity. Projects like TuNur stand in stark contradiction with these demands. To implement just and truly green projects, which provide for the future of people and the planet, we must take nature back from the clutches of big capital and recast the debate around justice, popular sovereignty and the collective good. The priority must be energy autonomy for local communities and a radical democracy that takes precedence over the logic of a market that sees our land and our livelihoods as commodities to be sold to the highest bidder.
© Open Democracy 2017