“There is no Planet B, so when can we talk about the true costs of renewable energy?”

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“This is an economic article, wrapped comfortably around the issue of renewable energy. I’m going to look at the trends in renewable energy and the fears for global markets if a reaction does not take place. This article draws parallels to the looming threat of automation (which I guess I will have to cover after this one).

The world is slowly moving away from the consumption of oil, coal and gas by replacing traditional power plants with renewable energy sources. Recent news articles show that solar power is becoming affordable and the burning of coal is declining sharply, as is the price of oil. Developed countries across the world are beginning to power themselves using renewable sources which are financially and environmentally sustainable. Theoretically we could move to 100% renewable energy sources and ditch powering things with fossil fuels completely.

From an environmental standpoint, this would reduce pollution and potentially slow down climate change. We haven’t seen exactly what happens to a planet when its air is pumped full of fine particles and CO2, but we can guess. We guess based on historic records and current events. We can look at the lengthening of hurricane seasons and temperature extremes in moderate climates as a strong indication that the world around us is changing. Mass bleaching of coral and infertile orcas also form part of the wider picture that our planet is changing. Would I say it’s dying? No. I don’t think it’s fair to say that earth is dying, it’s going through a period of unrest, we’re making it sick. Life is far more adaptable than we give it credit for, and nature will prevail well after the last coal power plant is torn down.

We may see a mass extinction event, but I don’t think earth will truly die for a long time. Just because life will likely go on, doesn’t mean we should continue down the road we currently walk. Changing things now can prevent mass extinction events or violent climate change. Life will get harder if the climate changes drastically. It won’t get harder just for the plants and animals, but also the humans who rely on those plants and animals.

Many out there deny climate change, they say it’s a conspiracy, that scientists don’t know anything and the world isn’t changing. I put climate change deniers into the same category as those who believe the earth is flat.

I know what you’re thinking

“good, the use of coal is going down, so what?”

You think that’s where this article should end. I’m going to point to Venezuela. Venezuela was a socialist state with borderline communist principles when it comes to property ownership. You may or may not be aware of the current crisis and unrest in Venezuela. Widespread malnutrition and the hyperinflation of the Venezuelan bolivar is being caused by the declining price of oil. Life has gone from bad to worse with no sign of stopping. Protests and riots punctuate daily life as healthcare and education systems begin to fail.

This happened because Venezuela used oil money to prop up its economy but the price of oil has declined. Venezuela has essentially been taking involuntary pay cuts, but they still have to pay the same bills as before. Venezuela’s inflation is said to be at 4,300%, to put that into context the UK currently has inflation of 2.9% and the US at around 2%.

The situation in Venezuela mirrors what happened in the north of England and parts of Wales during the late 20th century. Coal mines were closed en masse, stripping jobs from local populations by the thousands. “Jobs for life” disappeared in the blink of an eye with nothing to replace them. It wasn’t just the mines that closed but the businesses around them, cafés and shops had less custom and high streets vanished. Compacting the issue: those who worked in the coal industry only had skills for working in the coal industry. The UK government didn’t set up the training programs necessary to help people get back into employment. Many were miners and had poorer educations when compared to the regular desk-jockey, the areas they lived in weren’t inner city but were “mining towns” towns built around the mines that sustained them.

This lead to the north of England having a large employment gap. To add insult to injury, other production industries were seeing a decline at the same time, even the large sea ports were beginning to slowly close.

People couldn’t just “up sticks and move” they had families and financial restraints. The children they had to feed were still alive, their mortgage was still there. The echoes of the coal mines shutting down can be seen to this very day in the form of semi-abandoned high streets. Some areas have been gentrified. Abandoned warehouses and mills get turned into up market apartments, but this doesn’t aid the poorer population that was left behind. If the place isn’t neglected, the left behind populations are priced out of their local area through regeneration projects.

While right now oil is still profitable, it might not last forever as other energy sources become cheaper to produce. Countries and populations with economies that rely on fossil fuels need to begin to adapt and governments need to be prepared to retrain work forces. Without retraining, people will be left stranded and rely more and more on state funding. Companies which invest in energy need to look at what might happen should fossil fuels continue to go out of fashion.

Governments need to stop treating every person who claims state aid as a burden. If Jeff is claiming unemployment and wants to work, then the government should help him. Otherwise, how will Jeff begin to work if he cannot find employment? Training Jeff would be a high cost in the short term, but teaching him how to fully build and support a Microsoft desktop would probably be cheaper than paying for him until he dies.”

 

Laura Mizzi