Every day, I wake up to the buzz of my (energy-powered) smart phone, still benumbed from a good night’s sleep and slightly reluctant to make my way through the electric mist of yet another morning. I know that the guilty pleasure of switching back again to the “on” mode awaits me and with it, the possibility to indulge my energy addiction with blissful delight.
Turning the lights on. Putting the kettle on. Switching the computer on.
And so starts my conquest of the day, relinquishing a few watts to the profligate modernity even before I have sipped my first cup of coffee. Gone are they, nearly unnoticed, sucked from the power grid by those appliances that seem to make my life preternaturally ordinary. I plug them in, forgetful of the small wonder that this represents, assuming electricity is an evident endowment of contemporary existence.
Not exactly, if you consider that a fifth of humanity can’t precisely turn the light on. An estimated 1.3 billion people don’t have access to cheap energy yet and at the current population growth rate, 1 billion of them might still be left to their own devices by 2030. This means cooking food on traditional fuels such as wood or dried animal dung and having your whole way of life constrained by daylight hours… energy poverty.
Waxing lyrical and beating about the bush on carbon emission targets is nice, but where does access to energy fit on our global agenda? If we are serious about heading off poverty, should not energy be at the forefront of our efforts? Can you imagine living without a fridge to store fresh food, obliging you to resupply every day without a motor vehicle to move around?
Powering the future is about bringing the enormous benefits of electricity to those countries left on the fringes. Universal access to energy will in turn power their own development, their capacity to harness new business, connect to the modern world and rise from poverty through increased productivity and efficiency.
We often think of the future of energy as a Blade Runner movie, dreaming of cars propelled by inexhaustible, candy-sized sources of energy, hovering above the ground in a trail of vapour. We debate endlessly about entire communities being powered on renewable energy at ludicrously low costs.
We talk about carbon capture like an entomologist of a faintly exotic species of butterfly to pin on a board. We design hybrid cars, develop biofuels and speak of “green” nuclear energy, envisioning souped-up versions of what already exists. We think of energy alternatives, but we consistently fail to draft the whole scenario of different, more sustainable life modes.
Powering the future is not about future power.
It is about how we want to shape tomorrow’s world out of our energy choices.
Today, oil accounts for more than 95% of transport energy. Long before the internet, individual and public motor transportation disenthralled whole populations from the tight boundaries of geography, if only to throw them into the torments of urbanity.
With hardly a place beyond our reach within a single day, the combustion engine has profoundly altered the physiognomy of urban development, to the point of subjugating the design of entire town districts to the requirements of modern transportation.
Fossil fuel-burning engines have prodigiously increased our mobility, endowing us with speed, for speed is progress and progress is power. But this comes at a cost: dwindling city centres, metastasising grey zones and throngs of drivers converging forth and back to their suburban dwellings night and day, increasing air pollution exponentially.
Can we imagine a world disenfranchised from motor transportation? Have we only thought of living otherwise? And would it be more enjoyable, healthier, more sustainable? In short, would it be better?
Hence, powering the future is about rethinking our lifestyles too.
Because fossil fuels are (still) relatively cheap, we have been careless in expending them wastefully. We like to shoo away the prospect of peak oil by forecasting the growing use of substitutes to keep our life habits unchanged. Is it the best route to sustainability? And will we make a good deal of exchanging the geopolitics of oil for those of backstop technologies?
Advocates of renewables are often shy on mentioning the huge territorial grabs that such energies entail, creating new legal issues on the use of land. We won’t stave off potential conflicts and recessions by simply ignoring such concerns. Nor can we seriously expect any significant improvement by substituting dirty energies for cleaner ones.
It will take more than that. Energy profligacy entails pollution and wasteful consumption, like excess food obesity. We have to reflect upon a cleaner but equally leaner future, with smarter consumption behaviours. We have to think about more parsimonious modes of existence.
Beyond those necessary but somewhat distant goals, powering the future is about energy literacy.
Back to my daily wake-up routine, I feel like most people for whom energy is available “on tap”: only remotely aware of the effects that my own habits have on wider energy issues. The proverbial “just plug it” has ironically unplugged my pedestrian concerns from their global consequences and how they fit into the wider picture.
Sustainable energy consumption is not conspicuous like organic food or environment-friendly housing. Therefore, achieving leaner consumption profiles implies better consumer knowledge and higher energy literacy.
The International Student Energy Summits have chosen “Powering the Future” as this year’s motto, and for good reason.
We want to enlighten people rather than fudging the real issues in endless polemics. We want to acquire and share energy-related knowledge. And we want to rise to the challenge of sustainable energies.
We were born in a world of abundance ripe with short-term benefits: we now have to envisage scarcity and actively engage in long-run investments. And only true belief and dogged commitment will give our generation the ability to power the future.
This post was originally written by Julien MATHONNIERE, University of Aberdeen | European Regional Summit Team and featured on the Student Energy Blog.
The post Energy Poverty and How Students Are Powering The Future appeared first on The Blog.