“Clean energy independence should be an area of common ground.” — Van Jones, author, lawyer, political commentator, CEO of REFORM and Founder of The Dream Corps and Rebuild the Dream
No matter how quiet we get, there always seems to be a buzz surrounding us. We hear it in our homes, schools, offices, even on calm, dimly-lit streets. It’s the hum of energy working to power our world.
The buzz is only getting louder. With the global population and industrialized economies growing, demand for energy is skyrocketing. At the same time, we are running out of fossil fuels, which have been the primary source of energy for the last 100 years. Fossil fuels are made up of the remains of long-dead animals, and will not renew themselves any time soon. Fossil fuels are, by nature, a finite resource, and soon there will be none left.
Petroleum, coal, natural gas, and other fossil fuels harm the planet (and people!) in numerous ways — emitting many tons of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, polluting our air and threatening human health. Through destructive extractive practices such as fracking and offshore drilling, as well as transportation and refining of crude oil, the fossil fuel industry has caused horrific massive damage to ecosystems worldwide.
Furthermore, fossil fuel extraction and use disproportionately harm BIPOC and low-income communities globally. Oil spills, methane leaks, and other catastrophic happenings have escalated the climate crisis and endanger vulnerable communities such as the Niger Delta, now one of the most polluted places on Earth. People of color are more at risk of respiratory illness and death because of the pollution they are exposed to as a result of burning fossil fuels, sites which are often located near BIPOC population centers. This is yet another example of how social and climate justice are inextricably linked.
Fortunately, fossil fuels are not the only form of energy available. Wind, water, and the sun are all sources of renewable energy that can be utilized without most of the negative consequences of fossil fuels. In the past, technological and economic concerns limited possibilities for renewable energy, but these obstacles are quickly disappearing. New developments are made every day and prices for solar and wind power have dropped dramatically, now almost competitive with fossil fuel prices! Countries are enacting bold plans to seize the opportunity to switch to renewable energy. For example, the UK now produces more renewable energy than fossil fuels, and China recently became the world’s largest producer of wind and solar energy. Additionally, South Africa began to transition from coal directly to renewables, bypassing natural gas altogether. So what is standing in the way of renewable energy becoming the dominant power source in the United States?
Unfortunately, there is a big hurdle to surmount. The fossil fuel industry’s strong lobbying efforts and deep-pocket political campaign contributions mean that governments are too often on the side of the damaging fossil fuel industry, instead of citizens and the Earth. President Biden has laid out an ambitious plan to move toward solar power, but will need bipartisan congressional support for approval and implementation. Without political leadership, advocacy, and support, renewable energy producers struggle to deliver power, maintain competitive prices, develop infrastructure, and expand to more markets. We have to both fight dirty energy AND grow clean energy, as our partner Green America outlines with in-depth research, information, news, and campaigns.
Just because an energy source is itself “clean,” does not mean it is not without flaws. We must consider the impact of sourcing, processing, building, and transportation on the land, natural resources, ecosystems, species and human inhabitants. An example of a new innovative renewable energy source is pollinator-friendly solar panels. Beyond utilizing solar power, pollinator-friendly panels go a step further in addressing our ongoing pollinator crisis by surrounding solar panels with native flowers and grasses, providing food for insects and cultivating their population growth.
We can also learn from the actions of other countries. Take Germany’s Energiewende, which consists of plans to phase out the use of nuclear and fossil fuel power by heavily subsidizing renewable energy sources. Though Germany did not achieve its projected goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2020, it did achieve the notable goal of reducing the levels 35% compared to 1990 levels. Green energy use is in our future, but bureaucracy continues to stand it its way.
One major movement to change this in the United States is the Green New Deal, a comprehensive plan and pair of 2019 resolutions to transition the economy away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy — sponsored by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey. The Green New Deal focuses on many aspects of energy transition, from new jobs to efficiency to environmental justice. Over 100 Representatives and 14 Senators have signed on, but it will take massive advocacy to put it on the path to reality. As is abundantly clear, social and environmental justice issues are inextricable. The Green New Deal considers social and economic issues in the formation of climate policy. Energy and civil rights matters are indivisible, as the NAACP’s Jacqui Patterson explains, Black Americans are much more likely to live near unclean energy plants and facilities, and therefore more likely to suffer the sometimes fatal effects of those plants and facilities.
In March of 2021, a piece of legislation entitled The CLEAN Future Act was proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill would bring greenhouse gas emissions down 50% by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2050. This will require a massive integration of renewable energy sources into our energy grid in order to eradicate reliance on dirty energy. The bill follows the GREEN Act, introduced in summer of 2020, which would increase tax incentives for green energy use.
While working on large scale systematic change to ensure a renewable energy future, what can we do about fossil fuel use right now? Most of us are not able to choose where the energy for our home or car comes from, but if you do have the choice of a renewable energy provider or hybrid or electric car, take advantage of those resources!
Support companies with clean energy use, conservation, and emissions commitments and follow through with these commitments. “Energy conservation and clean energy sources are the best ways to both slow the rate and intensity of climate change, and to support the natural resilience and adaptability of plant, animal, and human communities,” as our partner Klean Kanteen affirms and practices. For whatever greenhouse gases it has not yet eliminated, the company purchases real, permanent, quantifiable, verifiable, enforceable, and additional carbon offsets and renewable energy credits to be 100% carbon neutral.
Tell your campus to divest from fossil fuels. Colleges and universities, like pension funds and and other institutions, invest gifts and endowments, using profits to cover operating expenses, even if that comes at the expense of planet or people. The divestment movement seeks to end the funding of exploitative, oppressive industries and operations, like fossil fuels, which drive climate change and threaten BIPOC communities. After a long fight, in September 2021, Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard scored a huge victory when Harvard University announced it will completely divest its $42 billion from all fossil fuels. “It took conversations and protests, meetings with administration, faculty/alumni votes, mass sit-ins and arrests, historic legal strategies, and storming football fields. But today, we can see proof that activism works, plain and simple,” the campaign group said. We all can and must demand accountability — starting on your campus!
One key way to make a difference in your own life is to reduce the amount of energy you use on a daily basis, by doing everything from turning off lights to taking public transportation and much more. Together, we can cut our consumption of fossil fuels, as we work to ensure they soon become a thing of the past. And we know full well that such a world is possible!
When global transportation and industry halted due to COVID-19, we saw immediate effects of reduced fossil fuel use upon the environment. Pollution dissipated, rivers cleared, and wildlife returned to, explored, and flourished in urban and suburban areas. It is vital to note that these temporary benefits, however positive they may seem, came at the steep cost of jobs, livelihoods and lives — and therefore are not a sustainable form of change. However, it did offer a glimpse into what a less-fossil fuel centric future could look like and provide reassurance that reducing fossil fuel use can cause rapid positive change. It is never too late!
Read this article about fossil fuel racism. Then research fossil fuel plants and refineries located near your home, neighborhood, city and surrounding areas.
Look at this map of power plants in the US. Has your community been impacted by such systems? How so? Why or why not? Does your community benefit from the energy produced at the closest plant? How do racism and the growth of fossil fuel industries intersect?
Write a short (250 words) summary of what you find in your research. Consider including:
- What communities are most impacted by fossil fuels in your area?
- Are there efforts being made to improve the problem?
- Are local representatives supportive of these movements?
Create a powerful visual about the intersection of environmental justice and fossil fuels.
Transitions to renewable energy require policy change, which means electing leaders who champion and support policies that usher in a sustainable energy future. So, we must become informed about policymakers’ energy platforms.
Research a few local, regional or national politicians’ stance on renewable energy. If you’re in the U.S., check out whether your Representatives and Senators support the Green New Deal and other policies regarding climate change, environmental justice, and renewable energy.
- If your local politicians support renewable energy and are engaged in fighting the fossil fuel industry, pick one policymaker to share why and upon what you agree on Instagram.
- If your representatives or local leaders do not support renewable energy or have a pro-fossil fuel energy platform, reach out to one (or two or more!) and ask them to reconsider! Use resources from our partner Green America to include facts about energy.
Renewable energy hinges on innovation and out-of-the-box thinking. You can explore emerging green energy solutions on the Project Drawdown website. While bureaucracy often puts up roadblocks in the world of sustainability, green energy starts with you.
First, go on a short walk around your neighborhood, or take a virtual tour online. Look around and take photos (or screenshots)! Are there empty spaces in which green energy could be implemented? Do you see any forms of green energy that already exist?
Then, do your research.
- What kinds of renewable energy systems exist in your area?
- How can you improve them?
- What clean energy apparatuses might be feasible in your area?
- What types can you see being installed in your neighborhood?
- How can you imagine more green energy being used in your area?
Share your findings and thoughts with any friends and family. Write a summary and reflect on the reaction and thoughts of those you spoke with.