I am often asked why ending our dependence on fossil fuels is vital in responding to the climate crisis.
The answer lies in numerous studies that have established the harmful effects of burning fossil fuels, which include smog, acid rain, and toxic air pollution that harm communities and ecosystems. Moreover, energy production’s carbon emissions are the primary source of greenhouse gasses that cause global heating.
When asked for solutions, we advocate for transitioning to renewable energy, but we believe it is not enough. It begs the question: are we truly for renewable energy? The answer is yes, but we must understand that it does not capture the entire discourse of energy’s role in climate action. Allow me to elaborate on this further.
Decarbonization means lowering carbon dioxide emissions to limit global warming below 1.5°C.
We must reduce global net human-caused carbon dioxide emissions by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and aim for ‘net zero’ by around 2050.
To achieve this, we must keep coal, oil, and gas in the ground by fighting new projects, shifting financial flows towards renewable energy development and managing demand for further exploration and extraction.
The transition to 100% renewable energy systems should be rapid and far-reaching, focusing on decentralization to increase access and diminish inefficient centralized grids and power plant architectures.
These actions will require dramatic changes in land use, energy systems, industry, buildings, transport, and cities to prevent the worst impacts of climate change and create a sustainable future for all.
Energy as a means of production
The debate around energy campaigns has been confused for some time, with some suggesting that it is solely about replacing fossil fuels with renewables; however, it goes beyond that.
The means of production are the tools and resources used to create goods and services, such as machinery, land, and natural resources. Energy is one of these means and should be promoted as a social good.
The subject of production are the raw materials and workers who use the means of production, while instruments of production are the tools used in the production process.
Fossil fuels are a subject of production, while renewables are an instrument, so they are not directly comparable.
Campaign goals focus on replacing fossil fuels and seizing control of renewables for the benefit of all, rather than creating a false dichotomy between them.
Energy as a means of production:
1. Instrument of production – Renewables (technology) –> to be controlled by the people
2. Subject of production – (raw fossil-fuels as material/commodity) –> to be replaced by renewable sources of fuel
= Energy/power for all
Fossil fuels are a bad investment
Fossil fuels are no longer a cost-effective option for many countries as they are volatile to various factors, including currency exchange rates. Additionally, coal is very capital-intensive, requiring a lot of infrastructure and a constant water supply.
As energy systems move towards small-scale and decentralized options, fossil-fuel projects may become stranded assets, leaving electric consumers to pay off the lost investment.
They are a bad long-term investment, even without considering externalities such as public health impacts and environmental damage.
The Philippine’s financial sector is massively exposed to the imminent stranding of proposed coal plants in the country, which amount to over 10,000 megawatts or US$21 billion (PHP1.05 trillion at PHP50 to US$1), according to a report released today by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis and the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities.
The report also states investments in renewable energy are more cost-effective and less risky for investors and consumers alike.Download
Beyond emissions reduction
Renewable energy goes beyond just reducing emissions. While it is true that renewables produce fewer emissions, their role in energy production should also involve replacing fossil-fuel infrastructure to have a significant impact on emissions reduction.
It also brings opportunities for a democratic energy system that benefits people and economies.
Renewables are not capital intensive, and it provides better access to electricity for remote areas that are hard to reach by traditional energy infrastructure. It can be modular and use indigenous power sources specific to an area. When owned and controlled by the community, it guarantees that people, not corporations, benefit from the power created.
Power for all
The climate crisis is not just about science, technology, and changing our lifestyles but also about poverty, inequality, and economic injustice. We need to view energy as part of a larger system that changes the way we produce, use, and distribute power.
Climate action should align with development goals like the Sustainable Development Goals, especially in developing countries where political decisions are driven by this connection; for example, in highly vulnerable countries like the Philippines, a focus on building resilient systems and prioritizing adaptation may be more effective than a GHG inventory-centric approach, and community ownership of climate action is crucial for success.
Renewable energy bridges the gap in terms of efficiency and access, making it more compatible with the geography of the many archipelagic countries in Asia. Its modularity also allows for the potential utilization of indigenous renewable energy sources unique to each region. Additionally, this approach enables ownership and control to be directly placed in the hands of local communities.
Ultimately, the goal should be to channel resources towards solutions that prioritizes people and the environment, which requires transitioning to a clean energy economy that is implemented quickly and equitably to ensure no one is left behind. This will entail empowering people and communities while reducing the influence of unaccountable corporations.