The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere made 2016 the hottest year since records began. Scientists have warned that the exploitation of fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal) is primarily responsible for carbon dioxide emissions and we need to reduce the production of these fuels. Ecological movements worldwide have begun to tackle this problem by showing that we can all take action to help the situation. In this primer, we present the background knowledge and explain how you can get involved.
The sustainability of the planet requires a transition towards a new model of energy. This transition is critical to reverse the effects of global warming, say experts from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). However, this transition is much more complex than technology specialists and economists had predicted.
Current energy production systems are designed to consume an enormous amount of energy by rapidly burning fossil natural resources like coal, oil and gas. The massive use of fossil fuels in energy production causes emissions of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is causing a large-scale ecological problem. In order to understand the complexity of the transition to renewable energy, it is essential to make a distinction between electrical consumption and energy consumption. While renewable technologies can generate electricity on a large scale, they are not yet ready to generate enough thermal energy to supply the demand. This is important because, among other things, we use thermal energy to heat our homes.
The importance of taking action now
Global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) have increased significantly over the last 20 years, by almost 50% since 1990. According to the IPCC, there was a higher increase in emissions between 2000 and 2010 than during the previous three decades.
The atmospheric changes and the increase of the global temperature pose (1) a great danger to the conditions of life on Earth. Rising sea levels — caused by melting of the poles — are already a real consequence of climate change, as are severe storms, extreme temperatures, droughts and the disappearance of ecosystems.
Countries have agreed that the limit for global temperature increase should not exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial values (measured since the second half of the eighteenth century). Exceeding this increase would mean irreversible environmental disaster with many consequences presently unpredictable. To avoid such a disaster, experts have agreed that 80% of available fossil fuels reserves must remain buried .
There is an urgent need to take action against the growth of fossil fuel industries. As well as governments and other institutions, there are also social organizations who advocate (2) for an energy transition towards cleaner energies. These include 350.org (the name indicates the maximum level of parts per million of CO2 desirable in the atmosphere according to scientists) and the climate movement Break Free From Fossil Fuels. These initiatives are coordinated to bring together individual and local actions simultaneously throughout the world. Ultimately, energy demand depends on consumers. It is only with a paradigm shift (3) from them that the energy transition can be addressed.
Energy consumption and electricity consumption
Electrical consumption is the energy used in the form of electricity such as light or appliances in our homes. This consumption is measured in kilowatt/hour.
Energy consumption is the consumption of fuels to produce different types of energy, such as the thermal energy required for heating, or the fuel needed for the engines of vehicles. Energy consumption also includes the production of derivatives of these fuels. An example would be the derivatives of petroleum that are used to make medicines and fertilizers. This means that sectors such as agriculture and medicine are also oil-dependent industries.
The intensive agriculture of tomatoes is a good example of high energy demand in an agricultural activity. Petroleum derivatives are necessary for all phases of planting, collecting and marketing this crop. From the installation of the greenhouses, to the use of pesticides and fertilizers, to packaging and transport. The food production chain is designed to absorb large oil inputs and this increases the value of the products. In addition, the production of petroleum products, such as plastic, significantly increases energy consumption.
Energy demand is present in our daily life, for example, when we use electrical appliances or transportation, consume medicines or purchase products that need packaging. 78.3% of the energy consumed in the world to produce and have at our disposal these products and services, comes from oil, coal or natural gas. Only 19.2% comes from renewable energies. The remaining 2.5% is produced with nuclear energy, according to data from the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the XXI century.
Renewable energy vs sustainability
The advance of renewable energies is not always synonymous with (4) sustainability. Brazil has managed to supply its national electricity grid with 70% of energy from non-polluting electricity generation. Much of this electricity originates from large hydroelectric dams (5).One of the largest hydroelectric power plants in the country is Itaipú, on the Paraná River on the border with Uruguay. The dam is 7,744 metres long with a maximum height of 196 metres (the equivalent of a 65-storey building) and it divides in two the course of the river.
Large hydroelectric dams in Brazil and China have led to significant environmental impacts and displacement of local populations. For instance, as Adrian and Clarence Leong explained in a previous article published in Cosmopolita Scotland, the mega-dam project, Three Gorges on the Yangtze, “has set a record for the number of people displaced (more than 1.2m) and cities flooded (13 cities, 140 towns, 1,350 villages). It caused the submergence (imagine Atlantis, only a lot more polluted) of hundreds of factories, mines, and waste dumps, creating a “festering bog of effluent, silt, industrial pollutants and rubbish” in the reservoir.” For this reason, many environmental groups question the agendas in the development of renewable energies in these countries.
May 2017: The Month of Global Protest
This May, activists from all over the world are protesting against the overexploitation of fossil fuels and their impact on climate change. In May 2016, 30,000 people from five continents coordinated their local actions within a global mobilization titled Breaking Free From Fossil Fuels. Activists carried out demonstrations not only against oil companies but also against banks and institutions responsible for investment in the fossil fuel industry.
This year, actions are being coordinated within the divestment campaign. This campaign has two objectives. The first is to identify the economic engines of the fossil fuel industries, such as insurance companies, pension funds, savings banks and universities. The second is to present alternatives for investment in the renewable energy sector.
The movement Breaking Free From Fossil Fuels brings together several environmental associations and platforms around the world. Two of the most representative platforms are 350.org and People and Planet. These encourage universities, businesses, youth groups, local political groups and faith groups to take action. Their motto is “think global, act local”.
Groups from all continents are already organizing local initiatives which you can join:
- In New York, there has been a gathering in front of the the Trump Tower to denounce the new president’s policy of climate change denial.
- In New Zealand, there has been be a protest against Westpac Bank, investor on a big coal mine.
- In Vietnam, a parade with a globe in the form of a giant lung is organized to represent the damage done by carbon pollution emissions to the human respiratory system.
Actions are again demonstrating the problem of dependence on fossil fuels with a big dose of creativity, as we saw in 2016. Here are some of the most original examples from last year:
Canada: 800 people surrounded the Kinder Morgan oil terminal by sea and land in Vancouver. 200 surrounded the sea terminal by kayak and 600 people demonstrated in a sit-in (6) protest at the oil company’s doorstep to demand that governments keep fossil fuels underground.
Nigeria: Actions were carried out at three emblematic sites in the Niger Delta. The objective was to show what happens in oil extraction areas when there is no more oil to extract. It aimed to show the oil wells that remained dry, the face of the devastation, the internal crises, the pollution and the poverty that was brought to the communities of the zone following extraction of the fuel.
Germany: 4000 activists joined in Lusatia, a region where one of the largest coal mines in Europe is located. For 48 hours, they blocked the excavation of coal and power plants. They also camped on the train tracks during those days to prevent the transport of coal from one place to another.
Philippines: More than 8,000 people from the islands got together in the city of Batangas, where there is plans to build a huge coal-fired plant that would occupy 20 hectares. All activists called for its cancellation, as well as the suspension of the plans to build another 27 plants in the Philippines.
And now … what can I do?
Cosmopolita Scotland advocates for independent and critical, but above all constructive and positive journalism. In this, our second special issue on the environment, (you can check our first special issue in this link) we want to showcase the different strategies that environmental activists are undertaking to accelerate the transition from a fossil fuel-dependent energy system to renewable energies. Here are some ways that you and your community can also take part.
In the world
There are numerous actions around the word that you can take part in. These are some of them:
- You can follow 350.org, a movement that has presence in many countries, and sign their petition “Freeze New Fossil Fuel Development” to meet the targets in the Paris Agreement.
- Become a member of a global movement of people who demand for our right to a stable climate and a healthy environment.
In Scotland and The United Kingdom
- Join the go-fossil-free campaign to ask members of Parliament not to put their pension funds in banks that finance fossil fuel extraction projects.
- Ask your bank to stop or otherwise withdraw your savings from your accounts through the Move Your Money campaign. The top 5 banks in the UK are also the ones that invest the most in fossil fuels and in extractive and fracking companies.
- Ask the UK Government to respect the Lancashire county council’s democratic right to say no to fracking.
In Latin America
- Join the campaign to save the heart of the Amazon in Brazil, started by the indigenous community of Munduruku to fight against the loss of their land, their means of livelihood and many rare natural species that live there.
- Follow the Latin American Coalition against Fracking for Water, Climate and Sustainable Agriculture, COESUS, which aims to create a network of legislators, government-related people, and volunteers to combat fracking in Latin America.
- Inform yourself about what NGOs are working in the country and what actions they take. Among them, you can have a look at Friends of the Earth Spain and 350.org Barcelona.
- Sign the petition “Ni un grado más” from WWF and asks the Government for a 100% renewable energy system.
- Find out what is happening in the Doñana National Park (in Huelva) where Gas Natural intends to create an underground fuel depot to be used once this fuel is exhausted.
Use of English for advanced Spanish-speaking students
(1) To pose (sth)
Definition: in this context to cause (something) to exist; create.
Example: “The atmospheric changes and the increase of the global temperature pose a great danger to the conditions of life on Earth.”
Translation: crear, generar
Comment: other meanings are to (cause to) get into or hold a physical position, as for an artistic purpose (posar); to pretend to be what one is not (pretender); to state, or put forward for others to consider (presentar algo, como por ejemplo una idea).
(2) To advocate
Definition: to support or urge by argument.
Example: “[…] there are also social organizations who advocate for an energy transition towards cleaner energies.”
Translation: abogar por (very formal); propugnar.
Comment: when use as a noun it means supporter or defender (defensor) or lawyer (abogado).
Definition: a change from one place, position, etc., to another:
Example: “It is only with a paradigm shift from them that the energy transition can be addressed.”
Comment: When use as a period of work it translate for ‘turno’.
(4) Synonymous with
Example: “The advance of renewable energies is not always synonymous with sustainability.”
Translation: sinónimo de.
Comment: notice that the preposition that follows is not ‘of’ as it might literally translate from Spanish but ‘with’.
(5) Hydroelectric dam
Definition: a structure to impound water and produce hydroelectric power as water passes through and into a river below. The more water that passes, the more energy is produced.
Example: “Much of this electricity originates from large hydroelectric dams.”
Translation: presa hidroeléctrica.
Definition: an organized protest in which the demonstrators occupy a public place and refuse to leave it.
Example: “[…]and 600 people demonstrated in a sit-in protest at the oil company’s doorstep to demand […]”
Photo by CGP GreyCC