Our energy future is a topic of constant discussion and the recent issues with the nuclear reactor in Fukushima, Japan have further heightened the debate. The cost of oil will continue to rise as we approach peak oil (although the current U.S. average of $3.69 per gallon is still much cheaper than most other countries), not to mention that it leaves us at the disposal of OPEC and other main oil-producing nations. Coal and nuclear power are riddled with problems as well and not one of these three options provides us with a sustainable source of energy. So, where does our energy need to come from? The answer isn’t found in deep wells or within mountains. In the film The Fourth Revolution- Energy Autonomy, director Carl-A. Fechner looks at our energy future and makes a powerful argument for an oil-free, completely renewable energy future. This is not some utopian dreamworld; Fechner provides examples from all over the world where changes are taking place.
What Won’t Work- The Status Quo
Clean coal requires pumping the carbon deep into the earth. How’s the carbon get there? It will require energy to get the carbon waste into the earth for storage. That’s not a very efficient process, and it still doesn’t guarantee you that the carbon will actually stay there. Furthermore, the extraction of coal is one of the most environmentally-invasive processes and is a huge detriment to the local community and its waterways.
Gas is likely to surpass $4.00 per gallon this summer. Our oil consumption continues to rise, as does the profits of the large oil companies. While the percentage of our oil from imports has decreased, we still have become so dependent on oil that if OPEC doubled the price of a barrel we would have no choice but to pay it. Additionally, accidents happen, causing a great deal of unnecessary damage to the environment from oil spills and other disasters. Petroleum can now be found in everything around us; this level of dependence is unhealthy and needs to be broken as soon as possible.
The issues with nuclear power have not changed since Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, as can be expected when dealing with such a fragile substance like enriched uranium. The current reactor situation in Fukushima, Japan supports this. Three issues will never allow nuclear power to be a sustainable and viable option: water inputs, waste disposal, and security. Millions of gallons of water are required each day to mine uranium in addition the water required for heating and cooling within the power stations. Tons of radioactive waste are produced every month and is stored underground, leading to concerns of leaking and national security. Radioactive waste sites along with nuclear power plants can become targets for terrorists and a liability during natural disasters. Once they’re damaged, they’re not easily fixed either, as we can see in Japan.
Where We Need to Go
Virtually every living organism gets their energy from the sun, in one way or another. What’s even better about solar energy: no one owns it. The sun is there everyday for anyone who wishes to take advantage of it. It’s an unlimited source of power. In La Calahorra, Spain there are three solar power plants that use over 200,000 mirrors to secure power for the area. In Mali, the Mali Folk Centre was founded on the principles of providing African villages with a renewable source of energy. Yet another example from the film is the Grameen Bank, which has financed over 400,000 mini-solar systems in rural Bangladesh. Windpower is another sustainable option for our energy future. Thanks to the work of Preben Maegaard, parts of Denmark are completely energy autonomous and 20% of the entire country’s electricity now comes from wind power.
The ability to fulfill our energy needs through renewable sources is not some far-fetched ideal. Former German Parliament member Herman Scheer was renewable energy’s biggest advocate before his abrupt passing this past fall. Scheer argued that the only ones who stand to benefit from our current energy infrastructure are those who own it– everyone else loses. A move to a renewable energy economy would be the biggest economic structural change that has ever been seen, a true revolution.