Energy

Let's reduce our energy use, ditch fossil fuels, shift to decentralized renewables, bring our energy systems under local control and diminish the political power of huge energy corporations.

Highlighted Energy Actions
Build community-owned renewable energy sources.
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Build community-owned renewable energy sources.

Most of us do not trust fossil fuel corporations to put people and planet first, but there is no guarantee that "green energy" companies will behave any more responsibly: they are subject to the same profit and growth imperatives as older power companies and utilities. The solution is for communities to produce their own power.

Take action

Get inspired

  • The 100 residents of Isle of Eigg in the UK own and operate their own electricity provider, Eigg Electric, which features a mix of wind, solar, and small-scale hydropower.
  • Avani Bio Energy, a social enterprise in Uttarhakand, India, builds generators powered by gasified pine needles, which are a fire hazard if not collected.
  • Low Carbon Hub in the UK town of Oxfordshire turns unused roof space and fields into renewable energy power stations, funding the projects through community share offers. 
  • The 50,000 members of the Ecopower cooperative in Flanders, Belgium, have reduced their electricity consumption by 50%, and produce the remainder with locally-owned wind, solar and water power.
  • Members of the Bethesda Energy Local Club in the UK coordinate their electricity use with peak generation from a small locally-owned hydropower station.
  • For hundreds more examples of community-driven energy projects already underway, check out The Community Power Report. Also see Energy Stories from Vikalp Sangam (India) and the Community Power Map from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (US).
  • The database Go 100% is a list of communities worldwide that have achieved or plan to achieve 100% renewable electrical energy. (Note that not all projects on this list are decentralized or under community control.)

Build community-owned renewable energy sources.

Most of us do not trust fossil fuel corporations to put people and planet first, but there is no guarantee that "green energy" companies will behave any more responsibly: they are subject to the same profit and growth imperatives as older power companies and utilities. The solution is for communities to produce their own power.

Take action

Get inspired

  • The 100 residents of Isle of Eigg in the UK own and operate their own electricity provider, Eigg Electric, which features a mix of wind, solar, and small-scale hydropower.
  • Avani Bio Energy, a social enterprise in Uttarhakand, India, builds generators powered by gasified pine needles, which are a fire hazard if not collected.
  • Low Carbon Hub in the UK town of Oxfordshire turns unused roof space and fields into renewable energy power stations, funding the projects through community share offers. 
  • The 50,000 members of the Ecopower cooperative in Flanders, Belgium, have reduced their electricity consumption by 50%, and produce the remainder with locally-owned wind, solar and water power.
  • Members of the Bethesda Energy Local Club in the UK coordinate their electricity use with peak generation from a small locally-owned hydropower station.
  • For hundreds more examples of community-driven energy projects already underway, check out The Community Power Report. Also see Energy Stories from Vikalp Sangam (India) and the Community Power Map from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (US).
  • The database Go 100% is a list of communities worldwide that have achieved or plan to achieve 100% renewable electrical energy. (Note that not all projects on this list are decentralized or under community control.)
Use passive (non-electric) renewable energy.
Expand Action
Use passive (non-electric) renewable energy.

One strategy being pursued to address the climate crisis has been to shift from fossil fuels to electric power as the energy source for common activities. But electric power has environmental costs, too, even when renewable energy is used to create it. Consider using human power and passive renewable energy instead.

Take action

  • There are many ways to produce hot water using solar energy. Mother Earth News' article How to Build a Passive Solar Water Heater describes five simple, inexpensive heaters for home use. Lowimpact.org's book Solar Hot Water: Choosing, Fitting and Using a System, provides a detailed overview of the topic, whether you choose to build a system yourself or hire a plumber and use off-the-shelf components.
  • Solar Cookers International has been working for decades to design and promote passive solar cooking, especially in the "less developed" parts of the world. They provide solar cooker construction plans for many kinds of cookers, including a portable one made from cardboard and aluminum foil.
  • Preserving food by canning or freezing usually requires fossil-fuel or electrical energy, but there are other ways to preserve food that are just as effective. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has put together a comprehensive overview of preservation methods for various foods. You can also build your own solar fruit dehydrator with these plans from North Dakota State University.
  • Learn about various non-electric tools and techniques for satisfying basic needs from the Atelier Non-Electric in Japan. The text is in Japanese, but many of the design images are self-explanatory.
  • Low-Tech Magazine contains a wealth of thought-provoking articles, from discussions of "obsolete technologies" to the possibilities of low-tech solutions to modern problems: a great way to encourage out-of-the-box thinking.
  • Often the best solutions are the simplest. Rather than use electricity and fossil fuels to dry clothes, hang them on a clothesline. Rather than building fleets of electric-powered vehicles, promote walking and bicycling. Find other ways to satisfy genuine needs without using mechanical, fuel-based or electric means, and rethink technology with the help of No-Tech Magazine.

Get inspired

  • In Can Decreix, a degrowth community outside the French town of Cerbère, the embrace of simple technologies is a joyful way of life. The use of solar ovens and cookers is standard practice, and their many self-designed tools include a pedal-powered washing machine. Website in French and English.
  • Maya Pedal is a Guatemalan nonprofit that turns donated bikes into water pumps, grinders, threshers, tile makers, nut shellers, blenders, trailers and more. They also recondition bikes for their traditional use as transportation. In English or Spanish.

Use passive (non-electric) renewable energy.

One strategy being pursued to address the climate crisis has been to shift from fossil fuels to electric power as the energy source for common activities. But electric power has environmental costs, too, even when renewable energy is used to create it. Consider using human power and passive renewable energy instead.

Take action

  • There are many ways to produce hot water using solar energy. Mother Earth News' article How to Build a Passive Solar Water Heater describes five simple, inexpensive heaters for home use. Lowimpact.org's book Solar Hot Water: Choosing, Fitting and Using a System, provides a detailed overview of the topic, whether you choose to build a system yourself or hire a plumber and use off-the-shelf components.
  • Solar Cookers International has been working for decades to design and promote passive solar cooking, especially in the "less developed" parts of the world. They provide solar cooker construction plans for many kinds of cookers, including a portable one made from cardboard and aluminum foil.
  • Preserving food by canning or freezing usually requires fossil-fuel or electrical energy, but there are other ways to preserve food that are just as effective. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has put together a comprehensive overview of preservation methods for various foods. You can also build your own solar fruit dehydrator with these plans from North Dakota State University.
  • Learn about various non-electric tools and techniques for satisfying basic needs from the Atelier Non-Electric in Japan. The text is in Japanese, but many of the design images are self-explanatory.
  • Low-Tech Magazine contains a wealth of thought-provoking articles, from discussions of "obsolete technologies" to the possibilities of low-tech solutions to modern problems: a great way to encourage out-of-the-box thinking.
  • Often the best solutions are the simplest. Rather than use electricity and fossil fuels to dry clothes, hang them on a clothesline. Rather than building fleets of electric-powered vehicles, promote walking and bicycling. Find other ways to satisfy genuine needs without using mechanical, fuel-based or electric means, and rethink technology with the help of No-Tech Magazine.

Get inspired

  • In Can Decreix, a degrowth community outside the French town of Cerbère, the embrace of simple technologies is a joyful way of life. The use of solar ovens and cookers is standard practice, and their many self-designed tools include a pedal-powered washing machine. Website in French and English.
  • Maya Pedal is a Guatemalan nonprofit that turns donated bikes into water pumps, grinders, threshers, tile makers, nut shellers, blenders, trailers and more. They also recondition bikes for their traditional use as transportation. In English or Spanish.
Use or start a bike share program.
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Use or start a bike share program.

Choosing to use a bicycle rather than a car for personal transportation is good. Making that option possible for many others is even better – and that's what bike share programs aim to do. Most involve a system of self-service stations where users can check out a bike using a membership or credit/debit card. After reaching their destination, they can park the bike in a nearby docking station. Another option is "dockless" systems, with bikes whose rear wheels are locked until a rider uses an app to unlock them. Bike share programs are run by local governments, nonprofits, for-profit companies, or by some combination of the three.

Take action

Get inspired

  • The largest bike share program in the world is in the city of Hangzhou, China, which boasts 175,000 bikes and 2,700 docking stations. Paris is in second place, with 30,000 bikes and 1,600 stations.

Use or start a bike share program.

Choosing to use a bicycle rather than a car for personal transportation is good. Making that option possible for many others is even better – and that's what bike share programs aim to do. Most involve a system of self-service stations where users can check out a bike using a membership or credit/debit card. After reaching their destination, they can park the bike in a nearby docking station. Another option is "dockless" systems, with bikes whose rear wheels are locked until a rider uses an app to unlock them. Bike share programs are run by local governments, nonprofits, for-profit companies, or by some combination of the three.

Take action

Get inspired

  • The largest bike share program in the world is in the city of Hangzhou, China, which boasts 175,000 bikes and 2,700 docking stations. Paris is in second place, with 30,000 bikes and 1,600 stations.
Policy action: Advocate for a shift in energy subsidies.
Expand Action
Policy action: Advocate for a shift in energy subsidies.

From nuclear and coal-fired power stations to big dams, large-scale centralized energy projects are heavily subsidized, and their environmental costs largely ignored. The necessary downscaling of energy use and the transition to decentralized, community renewables will require shifting these subsidies and policies, taking on the powerful vested interests of the corporate-controlled energy system.

Take action

  • Spread the word about how most countries subsidize energy and technology, while putting heavy taxes on human labor. These perverse priorities support job-destroying robots and AI, and lead us to use ever more energy and emit ever more greenhouse gases. Encourage policymakers to shift direction, giving support to small/local/ecological instead of large/global/environmentally destructive.
  • Even with the climate emergency worsening, fossil fuel companies are still being subsidized at the rate of $5 trillion per year, or 6.5% of global GDP. To see how the US government subsidizes fossil fuels, download this factsheet from the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI). And sign Friends of the Earth's petition Stop Bailing Out Big Oil to put a end to those subsidies.
  • The problem isn't limited to the US. Two reports by Oil Change International, Empty Promises and Talk is Cheap, reveal that the governments of the G20 nations spend $444 billion per year propping up oil, gas, and coal production, with devastating impacts on climate.

Policy action: Advocate for a shift in energy subsidies.

From nuclear and coal-fired power stations to big dams, large-scale centralized energy projects are heavily subsidized, and their environmental costs largely ignored. The necessary downscaling of energy use and the transition to decentralized, community renewables will require shifting these subsidies and policies, taking on the powerful vested interests of the corporate-controlled energy system.

Take action

  • Spread the word about how most countries subsidize energy and technology, while putting heavy taxes on human labor. These perverse priorities support job-destroying robots and AI, and lead us to use ever more energy and emit ever more greenhouse gases. Encourage policymakers to shift direction, giving support to small/local/ecological instead of large/global/environmentally destructive.
  • Even with the climate emergency worsening, fossil fuel companies are still being subsidized at the rate of $5 trillion per year, or 6.5% of global GDP. To see how the US government subsidizes fossil fuels, download this factsheet from the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI). And sign Friends of the Earth's petition Stop Bailing Out Big Oil to put a end to those subsidies.
  • The problem isn't limited to the US. Two reports by Oil Change International, Empty Promises and Talk is Cheap, reveal that the governments of the G20 nations spend $444 billion per year propping up oil, gas, and coal production, with devastating impacts on climate.
The Big Picture

By now it is widely understood that burning fossil fuels is a leading cause of the climate crisis, and that we need to drastically reduce – if not eliminate – the use of this energy source. That energy shift is a recurring theme among the initiatives described in this section. Another theme is the importance of bringing our energy systems under local control – something best done by relying on community-owned sources of renewable energy.

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Local control is important for a number of reasons. When large and distant corporations control the energy we rely on, we have little say in where that energy comes from. Most national electric grids currently contain a relatively small proportion of power from renewable sources, with power also coming from nuclear, coal, or fracked natural gas. Even “renewable” sources of energy include large-scale hydro-power projects, which have their own serious social and environmental costs.  While we may pay extra to our utility so that the power we use is renewable, the reality is that the electrons that flow to our homes from the electric grid can’t be segregated by their source.

Decentralizing and asserting local control over the energy we use helps to diminish the political power of huge energy corporations – power they use to bend public policy to their own profit-seeking ends. Fossil fuel corporations have a well-deserved reputation for ignoring their impacts on local communities and the environment, but it is wishful thinking to believe that renewable energy corporations – if they become equally large – will behave in a fundamentally different manner. Just as the “hip” and “alternative” tech companies of the 1990s have turned out to be just as socially irresponsible as other corporations, we can expect that pattern to be repeated with renewable energy companies that today sell themselves as environmental saviors. In any case, some of the biggest players in the renewable energy field are also fossil fuel companies. [1]  

What’s more, it’s a mistake to believe that renewable energy is somehow ‘clean’. Solar and wind projects require metals and rare earth minerals whose mining and processing have disastrous environmental impacts, and require large amounts of cement, one of the worst greenhouse gas emitters. [2] In some places forested land is being clear-cut to make way for large-scale solar installations, and in others they take up prime agricultural land. [3] Because of noise issues, industrial wind turbines are often sited in remote areas, where they can disturb wildlife habitat and disrupt migration patterns, and kill significant numbers of birds and bats. [4] Large-scale hydropower involves huge dams that flood upstream ecosystems, while putting downstream communities at risk. [5]  

For these reasons, the shift towards renewable energy needs to be accompanied by equally important efforts to reduce overall energy use. After all, there is no way that – in its present form – the growth-obsessed global economy can be run on renewable energy alone. If we hope for a world run on renewable energy, in other words, we need to take steps to dramatically shrink the scale of economic activity. 

Localization provides a way to do exactly that. In part, that’s because localizing minimizes the energy currently devoted to transporting people’s basic needs all across the planet. But there are other ways localization reduces our energy needs. When we localize our food systems, for example, we not only cut down on food miles, we reduce the need for energy-dependent packaging, processing and refrigeration; small farms selling to local markets, meanwhile, use more human labor and less energy-intensive equipment.  

On a more fundamental level, breaking free of the chains of the global economy means freeing ourselves from the consumer culture’s treadmill, in which mindless consumption – fueled by planned obsolescence and a constant barrage of advertising – leads to endlessly rising demands for energy. When we localize, we give ourselves the opportunity to live far richer lives while consuming far less energy and other resources.

References



[1] James Murray, “How the six major oil companies have invested in renewable energy”, NSEnergy, January 16, 2020. https://www.nsenergybusiness.com/features/oil-companies-renewable-energy/

[2] Jason Hickel, “The Limits of Clean Energy”, Foreign Policy, September 6, 2019. https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/09/06/the-path-to-clean-energy-will-be-very-dirty-climate-change-renewables/

[3] Naila Moreira, “A Choice: Forests or Solar Panels”, Daily Hampshire Gazette, October 10, 2018. https://www.gazettenet.com/which-to-choose-forests-or-solar-20732082; Ron Heiniger, “Solar Farming: not a good use of agricultural land”, Coastal Agribusiness, December 11, 2015. https://coastalagro.com/solar-farming-not-a-good-use-of-agricultural-land/  

[4] “Environmental Impacts and Siting of Wind Projects,", US Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. https://www.energy.gov/eere/wind/environmental-impacts-and-siting-wind-projects

[5] Don Fitz, “Dammed Good Questions about the Green New Deal”, Local Futures Blog, November 27, 2019. https://www.localfutures.org/dammed-good-questions-about-the-green-new-deal/