Another energy future is possible

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Another energy future is possible

by Danny Chivers |


(© UK Tar Sands Network)

Most people in the world prefer renewable energy to fossil fuels or nuclear power. This is what the opinion polls say, again and again. And this is why communities are fighting against mining and fossil fuel extraction and fighting for cleaner alternative energy all over the world.

But supporters of fossil fuels say that of course we all want clean energy in the future, but now we need coal, oil and gas because there is not enough renewable energy. We only burn carbon because we have to, and we've just got no choice. We need to extract those tar sands, or frack that national park, or drill in that frozen ocean, or blow up that coal-filled mountain. It's a shame, but what can we do?

Clean-energy supporters everywhere argue against this every day. We know it isn’t true, but it is difficult to respond without referring to a very long research document or policy report that most people won’t read.

That’s why we (the UK Tar Sands Network) have developed our new infographic and website, Two Energy Futures. It shows all the relevant facts and figures in a visual form, so people can easily see that it’s perfectly possible for everyone on the planet to have a good quality of life only by using renewable energy, which will not affect climate change. As a contrast, it also shows the (terrifying) fossil-fuelled future that the International Energy Agency believes that we will have if governments and industry continue their current energy plans. If this happens, we will have uncontrolled climate change.

Our model of a cleaner fairer future is different from other ‘low-carbon worlds’ in another important way. We haven’t started from the unequal global pattern of energy use in the world now; we’ve started from first principles and asked the question: how much energy do we really need for a good quality of life? Luckily, the latest report from the Centre for Alternative Technology, Zero Carbon Britain: Rethinking the Future, shows very well how much electricity, heat and liquid fuel each person needs for a low-energy ‘Northern-style’ life (i.e. with fridges, hospitals, trains and cinemas). This assumes that we do all the sensible things we know we need to do eg. improved public transport, less driving and flying, well-insulated homes and less consumer rubbish.

We then needed to know how much energy could be produced globally from different renewable sources, so we used the estimates from David MacKay’s book Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air (which seem to be accepted by most energy analysts). And – guess what? – it’s perfectly possible to give everyone on the planet a good quality of life using renewable technology that exists now, even when we plan for population growth.

There are, of course, a few problems. It will not be enough to simply exchange energy sources – we also need to share the global energy more fairly. Current renewable technology can only power the world if the richest minority reduce their energy use. This will allow the rest of the world come up to a sustainable level. We will still have a small amount of fossil oil for plastics and chemicals, and we had to include some energy crops for some liquid fuels and as a reserve power source for high demand times.

But in general, it looks very positive. Another energy future is certainly possible. But could it really happen? That depends if enough people take action to make it happen. There are already people all over the world fighting for a cleaner, fairer future. Our website supports them by showing that what they want in the future really does exist. This is a very important step in planning how to create this future.

Of course, this isn’t the only possible safe future. We’re not saying that we have all the correct answers. But we can confidently state that the world already has the technology to give everyone a good quality of life without needing coal, or tar sands, or gas fracking, or Arctic drilling; and more importantly, without causing a climate disaster for the world. The real future will probably look different from both of the options presented in our graphic. But don’t ever let anyone tell you that we ‘need’ fossil fuels to power the world. We don’t.

Danny Chivers, from UK Tar Sands

Danny is the author of the No-Nonsense Guide to Climate Change

As this article has been simplified, the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed. For the original, please see: