The other day, I discussed how much of a challenge in itself the clean energy buzz can portend to the planet if it’s not properly managed. There are key pointers to why we need to look into the backstage of sustainability and be wary of making the steps and genius of such a measure a mere catch phrase.
Today, I feel it is imperative to look at some of the options we have at addressing the myriad of problems behind the curtains. Before that, I’ll still reiterate the necessity and urgency of having clean energy due to a simple fact: the points I might raise here might be fodder for most denialists. I don’t want that hanging over my conscience. I understand the risks of continued use of non-renewable energy and I wholly support the attempts to go green. To quote the teen climate change activist sensation Greta Thunberg, “fossil fuels should stay underground”.
Additionally, I’d like to mention an important development that puts a lot of strain on the global energy demands and subsequently can affect the timelines for a fully clean energy system. This is the current craze for Bitcoins and how the mining process has an uncontrollable appetite for electricity. It forms part of the overlooked costs of development that needs to be factored into the sustainability debate. It is my strong conviction that those coming up with new technologies should have the wherewithal to factor in sustainability measures in their structures.
As an applied ethics question, we need to rethink our idea of continued prosperity at the expense of the environment. The Green New Deal and its subsequent follow ups need to answer this question. Any deal made for transitioning to clean energy must factor in social justice and have ecological coherence. At the centre of this is the reduction of energy demands. This ensures that the actuality of a transition is not only fast but also doesn’t spiral into further destruction.
Another consideration is shifting the energy demand focus to who matters most. This idea will always be unpopular but it is incumbent upon the developed world to shelve its appetite for energy. From the first post, to achieve peak development, the developing world will need to use more energy; something which cannot be said of the already ultra-developed nations.
To understand this, it’s worth noting that majority of our energy is directed into extraction as well as the production of material goods. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as a result offers a trenchant call to action that demands a radical reversal from humanities path toward civilization.
I know I am detouring from how exactly we need the developed world to act but we need to understand the dynamics we’re dealing with. It is a general consensus that we need to decarbonise and cut emissions to net zero and according to the IPCC report for 2018, this needs to be done by 2050. In the same period, economists project that the global economy will definitely triple. A tripling of the economy is a cognate for both consumption and production. Looking at these two scenarios, one can easily tell that these rates make it near impossible to realise the desired decarbonisation levels by mid-century.
With this grounding, it is now prudent to delve into the radical shift(s) needed to control the the increasing desire for energy, both for consumption and industrial production. With the pressure to slash our consumption habits by approximately 20 percent, the onus of this falls majorly on the middle and high-income economies.
What exactly are we supposed to do? Off the bat, we should shift to goods that last. This is as compared to the current craze for disposable products. To think of a product for longevity would mean designing it for repair and not disposal (as is at times the case) when broken. In the near future, I will talk about how the smartphone industry as is currently set up might be problematic.
The ethos of user-ship as an alternative for ownership offers an interesting paradigm. This calls for accelerated investment in public goods and a desire to share. A case in point can be in shared transport systems which requires a revitalisation of the public transport system. Come to think of it, do you need to really own a washing machine? Isn’t it enough to have this as a shared utility machine?
The reduction of the global industrial output translates to a reduced demand for energy. As a consequence, it becomes easier to work toward targets for decarbonisation. The upside to this approach is in how less of a strain it puts on the ecosystem. By extension, it gives lots of room in which we can alleviate hunger and poverty and also better the biodiversity.
It is not enough to expect people to change their individual consumption habits. The actual work is supposed be be guided by system-level adjustments. The throughput of the materials being used by the developed world need to be immensely slashed. For this to be done, we need to recognise that the current problem is hugely political. It is also necessary to control consumption that is not only luxurious but wasteful. As a reminder, the developed world need to hearken to the fact that it can improve lives without necessarily tripling it’s growth metrics. This is with the recognition that perpetual growth is unsustainable.
PS: It is my belief that I will continue this series on clean energy, with this being the second post. There is a lot to cover and as I was writing this, the Bitcoin aspect came up and I believe it can be factored into the entire debate. It is impossible to discuss energy without discussing the environment and some of the follow up posts might incline more on that.