The lightning storm – Fascination amongst humankind. Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla were both fascinated by electricity and energy, trying to untap the secrets to our universe. What if we combine both discoveries, could we possibly find an answer to halt the reliance on fossil fuels? Could Direct Current be the answer?
Pope Francis believes in the concept of “integral ecology”, where all the relationships and connections that exist on planet earth are interconnected from humans to animals to plants at an atomic level within their ecological networks. Nonetheless, the biggest obstacle to change has been our human-centred entitlement to global resources. This can be seen all throughout history beginning with the Spanish Expeditions to South America to steal gold and diamonds from the native lands and people, followed by a similar course hundreds of years later leading to slavery in the Congo Free State to extract both ivory and rubber and the voyage by Europeans to South Africa in the search for diamonds.
All these resources have been taken for granted. They say ignorance is bliss, but to what extent is it truly a bliss? Nathan Rutstein believes that “prejudice is the emotional commitment to ignorance.” Going even deeper Pope Francis reveals that the human mantra “its all about me” needs to be swapped with a shared prosperity and purpose “made up of simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness…[through] authentic humanity”. This means we should care for the poor and the global south who have blessed the planet with all these wonderful natural resources. This means “more efficient and hospitable cities that embrace the poor, smaller/local commerce, better public transportation, respect for all species, and a new focus on quality of life over quantity of goods.”
An example of authentic humanity can be seen in “The Legends of Tarzan” book series, where Tarzan was able to truly connect to nature and the wild species in the jungle and form a deep appreciation to them fuelled by his desire to protect them.
Physicist Fritjof Capra writes:
“At the very heart of our global crisis lies the illusion that unlimited growth is possible on a finite planet…In this economic system, the irrational belief in perpetual growth is carried on relentlessly by promoting excessive consumption and throwaway economy that is energy and resource intensive, generating waste and pollution, and depleting the Earth’s natural resources.”
Before unmasking the possible solutions to climate change, we shall tap into what energy is and what it means for the future of our beloved planet Earth.
What is energy?
Isaac Newton laid down the fundamental law of physics by involving mass, force, and momentum. His second law of motion made it possible to derive basic energy units with 1 joule being the force of 1 newton, which is the mass of 1Kg accelerated by 1m/s2 acting over a distance of 1 meter (Westfall, 1971). However, Newton’s law only refers to kinetic (mechanical) energy.
Our practical understanding of energy was greatly expanded during the 19th century’s experiments with combustion, heat, radiation, and motion (C. Smith, 1998; and D.S.L Cardwell, 1971). This led to the most common definition of energy, “the capacity of doing work.” Work is a generalised physical “act of producing a change of configuration in a system in opposition to a force which resists that change” (J.C Maxwell, 1872). According to Vaclav Smil, these definitions of energy still don’t provide an intuitive understanding of energy until he refers to Richard Feynman, who expressed that “energy has [many] different forms and there is a formula for each one. These are: gravitational energy, kinetic energy, chemical energy, heat energy, elastic energy, electrical energy, radiant energy, nuclear energy, and mass energy” (R. Feynman, 1988). Feynman then concludes that “in physics today there is no knowledge of what energy is. We do not have a picture that energy comes in little blobs of a definite amount”, however, he affirms that there are formulas for calculating some numerical quantity and when they are added all together, it always gives the same number; making it an abstract thing, which doesn’t reveal the reasons for these various formulas.
The threat of irreversible damage caused by climate change has paved the way for green energy. Vaclav Smil believes that this is a poor understanding of energy by “naively calling for a near-instant shift from abominable, polluting, and finite fossil fuels to superior, green and ever-renewable solar electricity.” Whilst instead liquid hydrocarbons refined by crude oil have “the highest energy density of all commonly available fuels” (Vaclav Smil, 2022). Despite this, the UN has stressed the importance of clean energy in SDG 7 with the aim of ensuring affordable and clean energy for all by 2030 (UN – SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy, 2022). Clean energy refers to renewable energy such as solar, wind, tidal, hydro, and geothermal energy (EDF, 2022) needed to reach net-zero, a concept aimed to eliminate CO2 from the atmosphere.
An article from the New York Times suggest that ‘greenwashing’ is a huge problem. Greenwashing is a colloquial term used to describe false or unproven claims in a company’s environmental records, and a German research company – the New Climate Institute ranked 25 multinational companies as very low when it comes to reducing GHG emissions (Manuela Andreoni, 2022). The group’s report said it’s “more difficult than ever to distinguish between real climate leadership and dubious claims in creating cleaner energy” (Ibis).
The Past repeats itself – What is the Net-Zero trap?
An astonishing fact dates from 1926, at Nikola Tesla’s seventieth birthday press conference, when he revealed the successes of the Second Industrial Revolution and the environmental consequences that were to be felt during the remaining of the 20th and beginning of the 21st Century:
“Before the end of this century, you will be able to communicate instantly by simple vest pocket equipment…Earthquakes will become more frequent. Temperate zones will turn frigid or torrid… and some of the awe-inspiring developments are not so far off.”
If Tesla knew in 1926 that climate change was real and due to the industrial revolutions and that the whole world would be in danger of a future apocalypse, then why didn’t the rest of the world believe him? Why did it have to reach past Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth documentary to understand that the effects are real? Were the politicians and businessmen naïve and entitled at the time or were they persuaded more by greed? Most probably a mixture of both.
Nonetheless we can’t continue to blame the mistakes of our ancestors in search for the right solution for the future. However, is Net-Zero the right path and our only saviour?
Well…The gold standard for reaching Net-Zero comprises of a company identifying and reporting all emissions it is responsible for creating, reducing them as much as possible, and then – if it still has emissions it cannot reduce – the company invests in “projects that either prevent emissions elsewhere or pull carbon out of the air to reach a “net-zero” balance on paper” (Miltenberger, 2021). The problem for these Net-Zero goals is that there is no standard to abide by focusing on a trial-and-error approach which isn’t good enough to work around climate-related issues. Furthermore, a company may choose not to reinvent their supply chain to reduce their emissions, and instead, rely solely on carbon capturing technologies.
BP is a great example of this. in February 2020, soon after the pandemic hit, BP announced that they would do all they could to reduce their emissions by 2050. It may sound promising, but BP’s Net Zero claims only applied to direct emissions caused by drilling and processing oil and gas, and not to their products’ emissions like car exhaust. This means that BP was able to claim they are eco-friendly by reducing emissions from operations, without considering the polluting destruction of their gasoline or natural gas. Currently, BP isn’t reducing emissions from their infrastructures and refineries. This therefore gives BP leeway to emit vast quantities of GHG as they see fit until 2049 when they’ll offset those emissions with massive tree planting operations or reliance on carbon sequestration technology that hasn’t yet been tested on a global scale. Then the final year will be focused on “sucking up all the emissions it has created” through both methods mentioned above and BP will probably continue to pollute in the future while vaguely using the term “Net-Zero Targets” or “Eco-friendly Company”.
In short, Net Zero doesn’t mean zero emissions, it just means reducing our reliance on oil and gas. Companies like BP know it and can continue to find loopholes in the systematic framework since in a capitalist economy “profit and competition” incentivizes this exploitation from greenwashing and political trickery, making it easier to “make more money claiming you are not polluting than actually not polluting”.
In 2019, a report by Lisa Song suggested that “if the world were graded on the historic liability of carbon offsets, the result would be a solid F”. Her main message was that the current programs aren’t working to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere. Jason Gray shares the same sentiment by going even further in suggesting that “if [the world waits] to have the perfect information, it might be too late.”
How can we become more sustainable?
The manufacturing, transportation, and agricultural industry aren’t the only industries that have to revolutionize. It’s also the consumers. If as a society we consume less, can we reduce the effects of climate change? Are we prepared as a society to pause and instead use our ingenuity, aka resourcefulness, to find a sustainable way of living? If we learnt how to sew when there is a small tear in our clothes instead of throwing them away because “they look old” or “it’s last season’s fashion”, would that make some of the difference? If we look at our self-care regimen, are there incremental small changes we can do now, that will help tomorrow, instead of reliance on electricity?
Do we need to always be on a phone or is it possible to take breaks from electronic devices?
What are the changes we can make now as a society that, big or small, can positively effect the climate patterns tomorrow, and the day after that, instead of waiting for the data?
Once we are able to truly understand that on top of the manufacturing and energy industries making genuine incremental changes, we may be on the right path to prevent the inevitable: The end of the world.
Traductrice: Divine Y.
Spanish: Lourdes Molina
Italian: Alessandra Monopoli
French: Divine Danga
Portuguese: Elisa Braga
Butice, Claudio. “KING LEOPOLD’S BRUTAL LEGACY: Congo’s war against women.” November 8, 2018. Accessed July 15, 2022. https://www.theelephant.info/features/2018/11/08/king-leopolds-brutal-legacy-congos-war-against-women/
EDF. “Types of Renewable Energy.” 2022. Accessed July 16, 2022. https://www.edfenergy.com/for-home/energywise/renewable-energy-sources
Miltenberger, Oliver; and Potts, Matthew. “Why corporate climate pledges of ‘net-zero’ emissions should trigger a healthy dose of skepticism.” March 25, 2021. Accessed July 13, 2022. https://theconversation.com/why-corporate-climate-pledges-of-net-zero-emissions-should-trigger-a-healthy-dose-of-skepticism-156386
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