In a world of abundant transport, constant communication, and never ending developments in technology, it is sometimes hard to imagine a sustainable way of life. Yet, the ever pressing environmental changes; soaring temperatures, rising sea levels and depleting natural resources, means that sustainability is not just something to be talked about hypothetically over the dinner table. It needs to happen, and soon.
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The greatest source of renewable energy used globally is burning biomass, which means the burning of living and dead vegetation. Whilst it is considered to be a sustainable energy source, many experts are critical of the practice. Not only can the burning of biomass lead to deforestation; the production sooty deposits that may enhance global warming, and air pollution; but scientists also doubt its ability to be sustainable. Like many, the charity WWF understands the urgency of finding solutions to the world's energy crisis. In 2011, they teamed up with Ecofys, and ambitiously set out to show that the world can technically become entirely reliant on renewable energy sources by 2050. The Energy Report offered 10 recommendations for creating a 100% renewable energy future; these included developing existing sources of clean energy, using local food sources, eating less meat, and ending energy poverty by providing efficient cook stoves to those in developing countries. Whilst the report was scientific and methodical, it can't help but seem like a utopian fiction; not because of its rationale, but unfortunately the idea that the world can unite to implement these changes seems somewhat far-fetched.
The question of how we are going to provide for all of the world's future needs, on energy, food, water and others, without running into massive difficulties such as: conflicting demands on land/water availability and use; rising, and in some cases, unsustainable consumption of commodities; nuclear waste; fracking, and sourcing regionally appropriate and sufficient energy combinations, remains very problematic. And, what about that thing that is said to make the world go round? Many forms of renewable energies are still more expensive than fossil fuels, and given the choice, the majority of people would still choose the option that saves them the most money regardless of the larger costs.
Nevertheless, the Energy Report claims to demonstrate that it is not only financially possible to make a transition to fully renewable energies, but that it is actually cost effective. Investing in renewable energies can help to develop poorer countries, especially in areas where a large number of people lack access to electricity. In this respect, renewable energies are not only environmentally essential but economically productive and socially fairer. Renewable energy needs to be put into the big picture, and seen as a tool for economic growth, rather than something that costs more per capita. Of course, the best way to reduce the financial burden of energy sources is simply to use less. In this respect, social and financial incentives will be an important role. But education is also vital in the struggle against depleting natural resources. The world needs to wake up to the fact that we can't afford not to change our behaviour when it comes to energy resources.
According to scientists, the production of renewable energy will have to increase by as much as 20 times in order to avoid dangerous levels of global warming, after which point the planet will not recover. They predict that renewables will come to play a much greater role in society however, and that they will overtake nuclear or carbon capture storage by 2050. The transition to 100% renewable energy will present significant challenges, but the report is hopeful that they can "inspire governments and businesses to come to grips with those challenges and, at the same time, to move boldly to bring the renewable economy into reality." Global governments need to seriously consider the many factors that will be necessary in the transition to a sustainable energy future. Finding an answer to these challenges, and creating solutions to the energy needs of the present and future, is one of the most important, desperate and difficult challenges ahead. It is imperative that those in power act now to build a fully sustainable and environmentally less destructive future.
By Camilla James
Author Camilla James was the Online Journalism Intern for Frontier, an international non-profit volunteering NGO that runs 320 conservation, community, and adventure projects in 57 countries across the globe. You can read more similar articles on Frontier's Gap Year Blog and get the latest project and volunteering news from the Frontier Official Facebook page.