In my last non-music post I talked about the world of possibilities opened up by renewable energy, and the fact that we could fairly easily generate more power than we currently need, and use that for other projects to make the world a better place. This is a theme I’ll be returning to fairly often in the foreseeable future, and in this post, I want to set aside possibilities, and look at what’s actually happening in some places around the world today, because some places are already taking the serious steps toward that better world.
As with wealth, food, medicine, and education, the global distribution of energy resources is unequal, and unjust. The output of industrialized nations continues a long history of global impacts on the environment and on human communities around the world. It cannot be stated often enough that the status quo of our “global economy” continues the extraction of wealth – with no regard for the human or environmental cost – from the so-called developing world, particularly the continent of Africa. There are many, many reasons for why so many humans live in such unnecessary poverty, but if we are to build a society that lives in harmony with the nonhuman life majority of life on this planet, we will need to address more immediate concerns like survival, and human rights. I’ll be writing more on that point in the near future.
Those of us who have easy access to as much electricity as we want don’t really spend enough thought on what a powerful, diverse, and universally useful resource it is. It won’t solve all problems, but making electricity – even just a little – available to a community that didn’t have it before, opens up the world. A small PV panel or a small wind turbine can bring light for studying or protection, communication, small-scale refrigeration, and even the ability to use power tools.
Fossil fuel advocates, both amateur and professional, will occasionally try to make the case that we need fossil fuels to lift people out of poverty, but the reality is that while they’re talking about it, solar and wind power are actually doing it. Part of the climate denial narrative on developing nations has been the idea that there is only one path towards a high-tech society, and that all developing nations must start with coal power like we did. That’s bullshit, and it’s particularly dishonest because of all the communities around the world that are currently leapfrogging over fossil fuels, and straight into societies powered by renewable energy. The reality is that renewable energy is easier to bring to new places, far, far cheaper at small scales, and doesn’t come with the health problems you get with kerosene lanterns or generators.
So we’re already seeing places that had no electricity getting it through renewable sources, and because of the modular nature of things like photovoltaics, communities can keep increasing their power supply as they have the resources to do so. The more power you have available, the more doors are opened. You can go from pumping water, to water purification, and even water reclamation from waste. You can go from reading lights and refrigeration to a drought-proof, pest-proof enclosed farm with recycled water, refrigeration for produce, and electrical mills for things like flour or meal. You can cook and heat without the problems inherent in using wood for those purposes, and also lower the temperature of your homes, which will become more important as heat waves become more frequent. And all of that can be done one solar or wind generator at a time, which is a hell of a lot faster, cheaper, and more reliable than waiting for your government to arrange for a large power plant and wires running to where you are.
So that paints a picture of how a community can go from little or not electricity to having as much as they want, but what about those of us already entangled in a fossil fuel infrastructure? I’ve already covered the fact that we can meet demand, but what would this distant, utoptian futur- what? Oh, right.
It’s not the future. Not really. It’s the present, where people have actually put in the effort. Let’s talk about Germany.
Germany has provided a good amount of entertainment for me, in the last couple of years. For a long time, folks who are set against solar power have tried to make the claim that it’s not feasible for one reason or another. Generally, the arguments are that it’s too expensive to install, raises prices too much, isn’t viable north of the tropics, and also nighttime. It’s really astonishing how much climate deniers seem to think they’re the only ones who remember that the sun exists, and that it’s not always shining on all parts of the planet at all times. Germany is fun because it’s at about the same latitude as the U.S./Canada border, and it has rather a lot of renewable energy, including solar power. Germany is basically a demonstration that the U.S. really has no excuse to avoid renewable energy. Some will claim that German citizens pay a higher rate for their power, but the reality is that their power bills are lower, because efficiency and conservation actually work!
But hey, let’s see what life looks in the most solar panel-infested part of that high-priced wasteland: