The renewable energy revolution is stalled by greedy energy corporations and governments which prioritise rapid and unequal economic growth over the health and wellbeing of humanity and the environment. Why the shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy is no longer a radical choice but a functional necessity.
The renewable energy revolution is arguably the most efficient mechanism of achieving utopia. With the switch from nonrenewable to renewable energy comes exciting innovation, new forms of global interaction, decreased carbon emissions and the abolition of racist industrial practices, which disproportionately harm the health of minorities, both globally and domestically. However, as long as dirty energy corporations maintain a stake in political decisions, this progress is stalled. Hence, the revolution can only occur once governments around the world realise that investing in the environment brings about not only social benefits, but also economic benefits, often rivalling those produced by investing in fossil fuels.
as long as dirty energy corporations maintain a stake in political decision, progress is stalled.
Currently, non-renewable energy sources such as fossil fuels still supply about 80% of our total energy usage. As a result, carbon emissions are ever increasing and any practices which aim to reduce atmospheric carbon, such as reforestation and conservation, are fighting a losing battle. Importantly, fossil fuel combustion is not confined to lower income countries but instead dominates energy production in higher income countries that do have the ability to invest in renewable energy. In fact, in the US fossil fuel combustion accounts for 75% of the country’s total carbon dioxide emissions. Part of the reason there is such a failure to shift from non-renewables to renewables is that big non-renewable energy corporations have a huge influence on state politics because of the investment they provide into the state. Hence, significant decisions regarding the fate of humanity and our planet are left in the hands of those responsible for its destruction.
Further calls for the necessity of the renewable energy revolution highlight that the current practices of the fossil fuel industry disproportionately affect the health of minorities globally and within countries. Perhaps the most shocking example of this is in the global superpower that is the US, in which fossil fuel combustion facilities are far more likely to be located in black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) communities.
For example, the area now known as Cancer Alley stretches along the Mississippi river and is lined by petrochemical plants and refineries. The haunting consequence of this is that the area has the highest risk of cancer in the country – 50 times that of the national average. Hence, the fossil fuel industry is responsible not only for the rising carbon emissions but also the deaths of many more people as a result of its blatant disregard for human rights in the pursuit of profit. This can only be expected to worsen if we continue to rely on fossil fuels as climate change and capitalist practices create more global crises, such as COVID-19, which ultimately target BIPOC communities.
Despite what big energy corporations and state governments say, however, the switch to renewable energy is not such a radical, unimaginable feat. Instead, it would be the result of deliberate choices by governments to simply prioritise the health of their populations and the environment over the relentless generating of profit for the sake of generating profit. Surely in a modern democracy this can’t be considered hugely radical. And despite the insistence that this cannot be done, Costa Rica is a perfect example of the fact that it can. Most of Costa Rica’s electricity comes from renewable sources – mainly hydroelectric, but also geothermal, solar and wind. In March of 2015, the country had used solely renewable energy for 80 consecutive days. And whilst much of this can be attributed to the wealth of renewable energy sources, the only reason that these resources were harnessed was as a result of deliberate government policies which invested in nature and its population.
HENCE, the FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY IS RESPONSIBLE NOT ONLY FOR THE RISING CARBON EMISSIONS BUT ALSO THE DEATHS OF MANY MORE PEOPLE AS A RESULT OF ITS BLATANT DISREGARD FOR HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE PURSUIT OF PROFIT.
In 1948, Costa Rica famously abolished its military despite having large-scale civil unrest due to its previous civil war. The funding meant for the military was then redirected towards social projects – such as free education and healthcare – and environmental conservation – taxing gasoline and investment into hydropower and national parks. Furthermore, the government borrowed money from the World Bank to pay farmers to maintain the forests instead of cutting them down.
These deliberate domestic and international policy choices fostered a mindset which prioritises environmental and social wellbeing over rapid and unequally distributed wealth generation. Importantly however, these choices meant that Costa Rica didn’t need to choose between economic growth and environmental or social wellbeing, but instead enabled them to use the results of it to generate economic growth – culminating in the huge eco-tourism industry.
Comparatively, countries which have previously relied upon fossil fuels to fuel their economy face a more significant challenge when confronted with the necessity to switch to renewables. And yet, even this can be taken in their stride if governments are properly committed to it. For example, Australia remains one of the biggest exporters of coal and gas globally. However, the government and corporations are finally making a move towards becoming a significant exporter of renewables, specifically to Asia. Australia has a huge potential for solar and wind energy generation and therefore the decision to focus on renewable energy trade is no more radical than the initial decision to focus on non-renewable energy trade.
Thus spawns the numerous solar and wind farms in the Northern Territory, such as project Sun Cable. These aim to capture renewable energy and export it to Asian countries who often don’t have the land to harness their own energy. Namely, project Sun Cable is aiming to supply a fifth of Singapore’s total electricity demand by 2027, as Singapore itself lacks the strong winds and land space to generate their own renewable energy. This forms the basis of another key project known as the Asian Renewable Energy Hub, in which Australia aims to trade energy as currency through Asia to replace its fossil fuel trade.
Smaller countries less influenced by big energy corporations are increasingly realising that humanity’s survival is not fundamentally tied to fossil fuels, and thus the question that remains is if countries manipulated by greedy energy corporations will do the same.
What is especially clear from this is that the switch to renewable energy trade fosters global cooperation – often of a kind which rightfully empowers smaller, lower income countries such as Costa Rica, as opposed to the usual Western countries. Hence, whilst the switch to renewables may seem like a radical and impossible change, it is necessary both for preserving what little we have left of the environment and the fate of sidelined communities throughout the world.
It is seen as impossible because it would require governments to reject the money of energy corporations and instead prioritise their populations and environment in order to achieve maybe slower, but definitely longer-term economic growth. Smaller countries less influenced by big energy corporations are increasingly realising that humanity’s survival is not fundamentally tied to fossil fuels, and thus the question that remains is if countries manipulated by greedy energy corporations will do the same. If they do not, the goal of utopia will remain just that – an abstract concept with no ties to reality.
Art by Tina Smaile