A Quaker Rethinking of Utilities And Energy

The debate continues concerning Labours plan to tackle energy prices. For some, the idea of addressing a market that seems out of control carries weight and ethical purpose. For others, the concern that an approach like this could lead to economic struggle and limited energy availability, produces further evidence to rethink. Regardless the side of the debate one sits, I am mindful of an argument that found momentum in the 18th and 19th century from a band of radical and creative thinkers called ‘The Quakers’, that dared approach this topic - but from a different angle. 

Their argument was this.

  • Utilities and energy are deeply linked to creation.
  • Creation, amongst other things, is God’s gift to humanity / life.
  • This gift must not be abused but be respectfully approached as an act of worshipful living.
  • Utilities and energy is for the support of creation, specifically humanity - and thus, must not be controlled or dominated by a select few.
  • To harness this resource, frameworks can be put in place that carry collective ownership yet also embody business values of sustainability and investment.
  • These frameworks must not be owned by shareholder wealth, but any profit from income, subscriptions, bills should be 100% invested back into the ‘betterment’ of the service to support all.
  • No one should be without this resource due to financial demand - it is immoral and contrary to this gift.

They presented a number of different models, practising these values through a series of business ventures that some call ‘Quaker Capitalism’. Some succeeded, others failed, and some turned into the very thing they once fought hard against. Yet through this intricate historic journey, I am left challenged by what they dared throw into a debate that carried the same fears and hopes we now have today.

We so desperately need to break out of a fear that everything will collapse if we dare to think another way. Collapse is not necessarily a bad thing, because in its rubble green shots of life are more noticeable. And if we think that utilities and energy frameworks operate best when controlled by shareholder wealth or individual profit, then surely we are missing something about the very connection it has to the land we live and breathe.