We already have the technology for a fossil fuel-free world

Kara Moses says a new online resource demonstrates that everyone on the planet can have a high-quality lifestyle with existing clean energy technologies

July 24, 2013
5 min read

2energy

We need fossil fuels to fuel the world. We don’t have the technology available now to meet the energy demands of the world with clean energy. We need to ‘bridge the gap’ between now and the time when these technologies are fully developed, with things like shale gas and new nuclear. Don’t we? This familiar rhetoric is challenged by an innovative interactive infographic and website launched today by the UK Tar Sands Network. Based on the latest research, the online resource demonstrates that everyone on the planet can have a high-quality lifestyle, completely fuelled by existing clean energy technologies.

‘We’re constantly told by governments and industry that we need fossil fuels to power the world,’ says Danny Chivers, the researcher behind the infographic. ‘This simply isn’t true. Here, for the first time we’ve brought together research to show that a cleaner, fairer energy future is possible, and presented it in a publicly accessible way.’

Two Energy Futures lays out two possible future scenarios. The ‘Fossil-Fuelled Future’ is based on recent predictions by the International Energy Agency (IEA). This is the future the IEA believe we are heading for if governments and industry continue with their current energy development paths and commitments on energy and climate change. In other words, this future is not a worst-case scenario – it’s the best that politicians and businesses are currently offering us.

In this scenario we’d almost certainly be locked into disastrous runaway climate change and experiencing far more of its consequences such as serious floods, storms, heatwaves, droughts, extinctions, collapsing food supplies and the loss of millions of people’s homes, lives and livelihoods by as early as 2035.

Brighter future

The alternative scenario – the ‘Cleaner Fairer Future’ – is much brighter. In this future, there is a decent chance of avoiding runaway climate change and all of the devastating effects it would bring, by relying entirely on renewable energy sources such as wind and solar (both of which are supported by more than 90 per cent of the world’s population). Rather than basing the model on current wasteful and inequitable energy use figures, as others have done previously, they instead asked how much energy was actually needed for a decent quality of life, using estimates taken from the Centre for Alternative Technology’s Zero Carbon Britain: Rethinking the Future report, and started from there.

The figure used is 13,000 KWh of energy per person per year, which includes all the energy used on people’s behalf for public services, manufacturing, etc. In order to achieve this, the rich minority would need to reduce their energy use to allow access to this amount for everyone else. For most people, 13,000 KWh is much more than they currently use (the average current energy use per person in the developing world is 5,500 Kwh/year). This is enough for a high quality of life by global Northern standards, but only if we are living less wastefully and more efficiently. This means good public transport and reduced flying, energy efficient homes, more local food and manufacturing, and reduced consumerism would all be necessary.

The amount of energy it is possible to generate from renewable sources was based on figures from Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air by respected energy expert Dr David MacKay. This is perhaps the most surprising, and reassuring, finding of the research: that everyone on the planet can have a high-quality lifestyle, fuelled by existing clean energy technologies and in an environmentally sustainable way – even taking predicted population growth into account.

Different economies

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this world is only possible with some hefty political and economic changes; a future where energy is fairly shared out and tight controls on energy crops are possible would require a very different kind of economic system to the one currently in place, the report says. As long as GDP growth is used as our main measure of ‘progress’, reducing industrialised nations’ energy use to a sensible and fair level would be extremely difficult if not impossible. But different kinds of economies are possible and are starting to enter mainstream debate, as we saw at the Rio+20 UN Sustainability Conference in 2012.

‘We face a disastrous future if we accept our governments’ inadequate emissions reduction policies and the fossil fuel industry’s terrifying expansion plans,’ says Chivers. ‘It doesn’t have to be this way. An alternative energy mix, without fossil fuels or nuclear power, is perfectly possible. The barriers are not technological, but political.’

The developers of Two Energy Futures hope that it will provide an invaluable resource for those supporting and fighting for clean energy and challenge the rhetoric that we don’t have the technology to go fossil fuel-free at the moment.

‘There are people all over the planet taking action to ensure a cleaner, fairer world,’ says Jess Worth of the UK Tar Sands Network. ‘We hope that this website will arm them with the information they need to help bring about a fossil-free energy future.’

Explore the infographic: www.twoenergyfutures.org


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences

The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally

Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform


86