Energy is the backbone to development, a strong economy, poverty alleviation, improved living standards, and has become a basic human right. It powers transportation, communication, technology, medical care, education, food systems, and manufacturing.
Despite this, 13% of the world still do not have access to electricity, and 40% do not have access to clean fuels for cooking. For those who do have access to energy, energy poverty is a very real issue. Rising inflation and cost of living, even in rich countries, has pushed up energy bills to the point where people are having to choose between food or warmth.
The source of our energy is a contentious issue, with 75% of our energy deriving from non-renewable sources, and the demand for energy ever increasing. Fossil fuels are by far the largest contributor to the global climate crisis. Energy production accounts for 75% of all greenhouse gas emissions, and 90% of all carbon dioxide emissions.
Better World Info offers a comprehensive ➡️ platform for energy, with over 9,000 links featuring the most important issues in the energy transition, oil and gas, coal, mining, nuclear power, and renewable energies.
We recommend checking out our related topics on the Climate Crisis, the Environment, and Sustainability. For critical analysis and updates from experts, activists, and NGOs follow our excellent Twitter lists on Renewable Energy, Fracking, and Fossil Fuel Divestment.
For an in depth look into the energy industry in the U.S., the UK, and Europe, we have got you covered. Regarding energy in developing nations find an insightful category featuring energy from a development perspective, including access and infrastructure.
Why do we need an Energy Transition?
Since fossil fuels are the biggest contributor to climate change, world leaders and big businesses are under huge pressure to enforce and support a shift from fossil fuel energy production to clean renewable energy sources.
There are many factors at play and pressure from profit hungry oil, gas, and coal giants are severely hindering progress. Corporate greenwashing has been used as a tactic to distract the public from the reality of their business and allows them to continue operating with impunity. Climate denial and the withholding of key scientific findings has allowed Big Oil to continue upscaling operations. Companies such as ExxonMobil, Shell, and BP have kept this dirty secret since the 1970’s, long before the public were made aware of the consequences of unchecked fossil fuel energy production.
A staggering $423 billion is spent by governments every year subsiding the fossil fuel industry. These subsidies are one of the biggest barriers preventing the shift to renewable energy sources. They are designed to protect consumers by keeping prices low but in reality, they create higher taxes, lower public spending, and enable unchecked pollution.
Air pollution from fossil fuel extraction and burning is now responsible for 1 in 5 deaths worldwide, the equivalent of more than 8 million people per year. In the U.S alone cutting air pollution from fossil fuel combustion would save 50,000 lives a year, and provide $600 billion a year in health benefits.
Devastatingly, climate injustice means that those who are affected first and most severely, are the nations and communities who contribute least to it causes. Developing countries which support higher populations of low-income and disadvantaged people are on the frontlines of climate change, and are the least able to protect themselves. Climate debt is a fair solution to address this injustice, fund adaptation and mitigation efforts.
Switching to clean energy sources not only addresses climate change, it also benefits our health and the air quality of our planet, and it prevents further destruction and pollution of our precious ecosystems.
Currently, 30% of our energy is generated by solar, wind, and hydropower. Not only are these energy sources clean, they are also sustainable. Unlike fossil fuels, the supply of renewable energy will never run out.
At present, only 5 countries produce all of their electricity from renewable sources, mostly in the form of hydroelectricity - Albania, Bhutan, Lesotho, Nepal, and Paraguay. Other countries setting the example are Costa Rica, Sweden, Iceland, Germany, Uruguay, Kenya, Morocco, New Zealand, and Norway. They are all proving that the transition is possible.
The case for the electrification of our energy systems is a key climate solution. Replacing old technology with electric versions for example electric cars and heat pumps allows us to utilise renewable energy easily and affordably.
Coal accounts for 40% of the total energy that we produce globally. It is by far the dirtiest fuel source. Coal mining has hugely detrimental effects to the environment and the communities in the surrounding areas. Its causes contamination of water supplies, destroys landscapes, has long-lasting deadly health consequences for workers, and causes large scale displacement.
Despite this, coal remains a popular source of energy, particularly in developing countries, as production is cheap. Recently, more than 40 countries have committed to a phase out coal including major coal producing countries such as Canada, South Korea, Indonesia, and Vietnam.
The term Big Oil is used to describe the world's largest oil and gas companies. They have massive economic power and hold huge political influence. These super majors include ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Shell, Eni, and Total Energies.
88% of our planets oil and gas reserves are controlled by the OPEC cartel, and other state-owned companies, mostly in the Middle East. Despite the unprecedented need and global consensus to move away from fossil fuels, Big Oil profits reached their highest ever levels in 2022 - $219 billion. This came at a time of spiralling inflation, a global cost of living and food crisis, increasing poverty and hunger, many national economic crises, and in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many of these issues were exasperated by the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the sanctions imposed on Russian gas and oil. This has pushed up energy prices dramatically, and rather than forcing countries to seek alternatives, it merely drove them to seek more gas and oil elsewhere, for a higher price.
Politically, Big Oil influences governments by investing huge amounts into lobbying and political campaigns. These lobbyists obstruct and delay governmental action on climate change and spread misinformation through climate denial.
Big Oil is dirty. Deadly air pollution, contamination of soil and water sources, large scale destruction of public lands, and habitat destruction, are just some of the human and environmental impacts of this industry. For more information checkout our section dedicated to fossil fuel companies – the bad guys.
In our comprehensive category on Big Oil find reliable information on fracking, gas flaring, windfall taxes, various pipeline protests including EACOP, Enbridge line 3, Nord Stream, and Dakota Access. Learn about the disastrous effects of oil spills, and how the oil industry is a leading cause of conflict.
Nuclear power is often hailed as the clean and safe energy solution to decarbonising our energy sector quickly, and avoiding the worst of the effects of climate change. The reality, as proven in the disasters at Fukushima and Chernobyl, is very different.
In their very nature nuclear power plants are unstable. They are vulnerable to natural disasters, use an enormous amount of water, and are wildly expensive to run. They can also become a target in war for example in the case of Zaporizhzhia in Ukraine.
Nuclear power is so risky that insurance companies worldwide do not provide coverage for nuclear power plants. The immense potential liability associated with nuclear accidents is simply too great. The costs of clean-up, health care for affected individuals, and compensation for property damage can reach astronomical amounts, and is always footed by citizens.
The biggest concern with nuclear energy production is that of radioactive waste. This unresolved issue has yet to be solved by any government. The waste remains radioactive for thousands of years and is a huge problem for future generations. For this reason, nuclear energy can never be labelled as sustainable or green.
Nuclear fusion is another hot topic, recent breakthroughs have pushed it back into the limelight, but with the high costs and slowness of progress it is just not viable when compared with renewable energy sources.
This technology, can also be used to manufacture nuclear weapons, create mass destrution, and is nothing more than a form of terrorism. It is a dangerous distraction from renewable energy funding and installation.
For more information on nuclear energy check out our country-by-country guide, where you can learn about the recent Fukushima wastewater release, and controversial Iranian nuclear energy ambitions. Be sure to check out our section on risks and costs, and information on nuclear phase out campaigns.
Massive funding and investment into the renewable energy sector is vital and urgently needed.
In order to limit global warming to 1.5°C, the world needs to triple its renewable energy capacity by 2030. The good news is that the installation of renewable infrastructure has been larger than that of fossil fuel and nuclear for the last 4 years.
Solar energy is the fastest growing renewable energy sector. It is clean, has created a huge number of jobs, the panels are long-lasting and can function for decades, and once retired are able to be recycled and repurposed. It is estimated that solar electricity generation could surpass gas by 2026, and coal by 2027.
Wind energy has proven to be cost effective, sustainable, and the worlds potential for wind powered electricity exceeds production. Wind is the world's leading non-hydro renewable technology. China is leading the way as both onshore and offshore wind power generator. In 2020 there was a 56% increase in global capacity from the previous year, in this rapidly growing sector.
Hydroelectric energy uses dams and reservoirs to harness the power of water in motion. It is the most common form of renewable energy, again with China as the largest producer. 71% of all renewable energy is provided by hydropower, the largest in the world being the Three Gorges Dam in China, with generators big enough to produce a gigantic 22,500 megawatts of power.
Due to its nature, hydro power is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, namely drought. They also cause large scale displacement of communities, are expensive, and they disturb large areas of natural habitat affecting wildlife.
We already have the technology, so what is holding us back from making the switch? High initial costs of installation are one barrier, as well as misguided political influence, and the enormous weight of the fossil fuel industry. The geographical nature of renewable energy makes is more feasible in some countries than others, and limitations with energy storage remain an unsolved issue.
If we can align our global goals to limit climate change, stop propping up the oil industry, and secure investment, then renewable energy is the very realistic solution that we have been searching for.
Find further information on other renewable options such as biomass and biofuels, hydrogen power, and geothermal energy. Discover excellent portals for statistics, energy indexes and reports, as well as the organisations committed to our renewable future.
A Green Energy Transition for a Better World
The energy transition is essential to provide future generations with a planet worth living for, to commit to sustainability goals, and to ensure the protection of our environment, ecosystems, and our health. Better World Info advocates for a just and timely transition, one which takes into account the needs of all, and not just lining the pockets of fossil fuel tycoons.
As a participatory platform we invite energy experts, antinuclear activists, and climate campaigners to contribute their extensive knowledge and share their top resources on the energy and electricity sector. We must continue to expose the wrongdoings of polluters and uplift the clean energy industry.
International cooperation and the sharing of technological advancements are crucial to promote the use of renewable energy worldwide, and in turn reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. The energy transition not only offers the opportunity to mitigate the climate crisis, but also to help the poorest nations to develop faster, and to create a sustainable future for generations to come.
“Our oil-based society depends on non-renewable resources. It requires relentless probing into vast reaches of pristine land, sacrificing vital bioregions, and irreplaceable cultures… We must all move shoulder to shoulder in a unified front to show this administration that the true majority of people are willing to vote for a cleaner environment and won’t back down.” Environmental advocate Leonardo DiCaprio.
Author: Rachael Mellor, 25.09.23 licensed under CC BY-ND 4.0
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John Deutch is the former director of CIA and the author of "The Crisis in Energy Policy. He has been a member of the MIT faculty since 1970 and has published over 140 publications in physical chemistry, technology, energy, international security, and public policy issues.