There are several clean energy options available for implementation on small and large scales. There are countries now that give incentives –in the shape of loans and discounts—to citizens who decide to go solar. Recent biomimicry research on humpback whales has allowed to increase efficiency of wind turbines and hydroelectric power has been widely implemented around the globe. Clean energy is a fact, it is happening and science is moving towards more efficient, cheaper ways of producing and consuming it. However, traditional, polluting ways of producing electricity are still a major obstacle.
In 2014, the coal industry met 40% of the global energy demand. It also produced 39% of global carbon dioxide emissions. Put into perspective, the 572 operative coal power plants in the United States release as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as trains, planes and cars. Combined. Furthermore, the production of coal energy causes contamination and depletion of water sources –many of the power plants use a once-through cooling system, which causes massive water withdrawals. Moreover the productive process counts toxic heavy metals –such as mercury, cadmium, arsenic and lead—among its byproducts, which unequivocally end in water sources and contaminate them. Other contaminants include unburnt hydrocarbons, small particles and nitrogen oxides –all of them are health hazards and the latter is largely responsible for acid rain (Desmog Blog citing the Union of Concerned Scientists, W/D).
Furthermore, the coal industry and its byproducts are responsible for as many as 22,500 premature deaths in Europe, 100,000 in India and 260,000 premature deaths in China and for death, injury and illness of miners every year (Coal Is Dirty, W/D).
But burning coal is also the cheapest form of energy, considering that the three largest consumers of it are also its three largest producers and there is no ta. The United States, China and India –al big economies– are responsible for the vast majority of carbon dioxide emissions caused by burning coal. The U.S is often called the Saudi Arabia of coal, because of the vast reserves of it the country has sitting under the Appalachians. It is no wonder then, that coal energy makes up 44% of the country’s energy production (Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, W/D), with 40 coal power plants being in the planning or construction stages. These are outnumbered by the roughly 200 coal plants China could build in order to meet its national energy demand.
There have been attempts to transform coal into a “clean energy” through methods such as carbon dioxide sequestration and coal gasification, which both aim to drastically reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Currently, there isn’t enough proof of the first’s effectivity, as it has yet to be determined whether the carbon dioxide that is trapped underground will leak out or not. Meanwhile, only two coal gasification plants exist in the United States and it is too costly to transform the traditional ones into this model. Scrubbers used in traditional plants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions only serve to pollute the soil and water (National Geographic, W/D). Other forms of “clean energy” encompass hydraulic fracturing (fracking), which uses harmful chemicals that leak through the cracks and poison underground rivers, among other adverse effects.
Viable, zero-emission forms of energy –such as nuclear, wind, solar and hydroelectric– exist and are ready to be implemented on a large scale. The underside to them is the cost, and in countries where there is no tax on greenhouse-gas emissions, the incentives to move towards clean energy are non-existent (National Geographic, 2014).
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development seeks, among other things, to incorporate clean energy into the energy mix, so it makes up a larger proportion of the energy mix than fossil-fuel burning energy.
GLOBAL GOAL 7: ENSURE ACCESS TO AFFORDABLE, RELIABLE, SUSTAINABLE AND CLEAN ENERGY FOR ALL
Ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services.
- Increase substantially the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.
- Double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency
Being realistic, this can be hard to achieve in developing countries, where people largely depend on fossil fuels due to their cheap price. Clean energy production can be costly, even for developed countries, and it is in fact, one of the factors held against it. However, when there is a will, there is a way. The Agenda for Sustainable Development provides two general guidelines to which countries must abide in order to achieve Global Goal 7. They are cited below:
- Enhance international cooperation to facilitate access to clean energy research and technology, including renewable energy, energy efficiency and advanced and cleaner fossil-fuel technology, and promote investment in energy infrastructure and clean energy technology.
- Expand infrastructure and upgrade technology for supplying modern and sustainable energy services for all in developing countries, in particular least developed countries, Small Island developing States, and land locked developing countries, in accordance with their respective programmes of support.
Restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions, as well as other pollutants are long overdue. In fact, it is very likely that if they were in place now, clean energy research would be far more advanced than it is now. The fossil energy industry is a hazardous business –it encompasses hazards to its employees, to the environment and to the global economy, as it is not a sustainable practice. We must seek a way of cooling and connecting ourselves without turning the planet into a burning furnace. For tips on how to become energy efficient, please click here and here.