by Sharon Wallenberg
Pax Christi Palm Beach (FL)

Sustainable-EnergyThe United Nations decade of Sustainable Energy For All (SE4ALL) launched on June 5, 2014, will transform the global energy landscape. There are three objectives: First, to end extreme poverty, and build shared prosperity through universal access to electricity. Second, by 2030 over one third of the world’s energy will be from clean, renewable sources. Third, climate change will be confronted with clean, efficient, reliable sources of energy, reducing carbon dioxide emissions. The first two years of SE4ALL will focus on women and children. Sustainable energy links poverty eradication, economic growth, and a healthy environment. It is central to this agenda that countries change how they produce and use energy.

Poverty is energy related. One in five people, or 1.3 billion people, worldwide have no access to electricity. Forty percent of the world’s population relies on wood, charcoal, or animal waste for cooking and heating. Indoor air pollution from this is the equivalent of smoking three packs of cigarettes a day. In all there are three billion people in the world today who live in energy poverty. Many of these are marginalized ethnic groups. Eighty percent of people with no access to energy live in rural areas.

Health depends on energy. Lack of energy is the number one killer of women and children globally. Health care facilities with no access to electricity cannot refrigerate life saving vaccines, or perform blood transfusions. Hospitals may have doctors, instruments, equipment, and machines, but surgery cannot be performed at night without lights. Two-hundred and ninety million women die annually from childbirth.  Maternal deaths in developing nations are usually due to energy poverty. Babies do not wait until sunrise to be born. Death can result when women are turned away from hospitals at night. Babies born by kerosene lantern are often burned upon delivery. No C-sections are performed at night. There are four million deaths annually caused by indoor air pollution from cooking and heating with wood and charcoal, mostly women and children. Half of all pneumonia deaths in children result from indoor air pollution. Solar energy saves lives. Clean cook stoves save lives. The target is for 100 million households to be provided with clean cook stoves during this decade.

Women are affected disproportionally by energy poverty.  Energy is a women’s issue. It can mean the difference between safety and fear, freedom and servitude, and even life and death. The Convention to End Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) refers to women’s electricity rights. Women in the developing world walk miles to collect fuel and water instead of spending their time on education or income generating activities.

Education is impacted by energy because students cannot read or study at night. Security depends on energy because people, especially women, are safer at night in areas that are illuminated.

Food and agriculture are heavily dependent on energy. Solar pumps make irrigation possible in impoverished areas, increasing productivity. Renewable energy makes using tractors and equipment more affordable. Energy insures that food can be produced and conserved better, and more efficiently, positively impacting hunger and poverty.

Water can be pumped from aquifers that have previously been unreachable when energy is available. This is especially important since the demand for water is increasing. There has been fighting, and even deaths, over water. It is so important that the World Bank has started a Thirsty Energy Initiative to address the situation.

Climate change is one of the major problems caused by unsustainable energy. Greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel are a major contributor to global warming. Oil production causes deforestation which is responsible for more than 15% of carbon emissions.

The world is undergoing a shift from a fossil fuel economy to a sustainable energy economy by developing energy from renewable sources: solar, wind, hydro, biomass, and geothermal. These are clean, affordable, and renewable. In fact, there has been a 70-80% reduction in the cost of solar. Currently energy demand is rising, mostly in Asia, making renewable energy most desirable.

Wind is abundant in poverty areas. Vestas computers can predict wind blows for decades to come. One-hundred million people living in poverty are in 7 meter per second wind areas. It is the optimal solution for low cost electricity in remote areas.

Biomass can be found everywhere, but unlike solar or wind energy, it needs to be produced. The challenge is to produce it from trash, sugar, ethanol, and crop waste. It is a renewable carbon, unlike fossil fuel.

Community involvement is essential for success in establishing renewable energy. For example, wind towers installed next to houses causes major social concerns. The community must be the driving force in sustainable energy solutions. Mini grid and off grid solutions need to be implemented to address needs in rural areas.

The Apollo Energy Program is named after the Apollo Space Program. The rationale is that if it was possible for a man to go to the moon, then it should be possible to store renewable energy. The biggest challenge facing renewable energy is storage. Successfully delivering the Apollo Energy Program will promote global prosperity since sustainable energy is the core of development.

Successes in sustainable energy abound.  The president of Iceland said that his country has moved away from fossil fuel to 100% renewable sources. They use solar, wind, and geothermal. Iceland made this change in one generation – house by house, street by street, village by village, until the entire economy reached a clean energy transformation. China has added more energy from renewable sources than conventional or nuclear. Mongolians have solar panels in their tents. New Zealand is 75% renewable. Norway produces oil, but uses hydropower. Denmark’s economy grew by 80% in the past decade, but energy consumption has remained constant.

KLM is the oldest airline in the world, and the most innovative. KLM uses 100% sustainable aviation fuel. Their biofuel comes from feedstock and goes to airplanes. Since aviation will double in the next 20 years, there is a real need to reduce its carbon footprint. The Tesla electric car goes 400 kilometers on one charge of electricity. Tesla is better capitalized than General Motors.

Political involvement is essential. Fossil fuel subsidies must be eliminated to create a level playing field for renewable energy. Renewable energy creates jobs, eliminates poverty, and creates investment opportunities. Economic growth is possible without climate change. This is an opportunity for business to be a force for good. We need to create an enabling environment that can trigger private investment in renewable energy. There is currently a lack of investment in wind and renewable because companies perceive that the risks are too high in the developing world. Pension funds, insurance companies, and others need to be given a sense of confidence and trust. There needs to be collaboration between the private sector, industry, governments, the financial industry, non governmental organizations (NGOs), academics, and civil society. We need to inspire each other!

The world economy has doubled since 1998. It will double again by 2030. Let’s do it right this time, with a low carbon footprint, and renewable, sustainable energy for everyone on the planet.

2 thoughts on “CLIMATE CHANGE: Sustainable energy for all

  1. Thanks for sharing this on the PCUSA blog. Would you share with me where you found it or did you solicit it from Sharon? I didn’t find it on the PC Palm Beach website and I didn’t find her on Twitter.

    We have a Global Restoration call Thurs morning – anything you want me to bring up with them? We will be discussing the People’s March in addition to other items.


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