When I think about energy, the most prominent example in my mind is a lightbulb.
Of course, light is energy, but that lightbulb also stands as a representation of the beloved electricity. Living in a wealthy first-world country, it’s difficult to imagine going about my daily routine without electricity. In fact, every time there happens to be a blackout, or rolling blackouts due to overconsumption, it’s a news-worthy event. I rely on electricity to power my alarm clock, to brew coffee, to charge my phone, to work past sunset, to charge the very laptop I’m currently writing this on... so so many things. It’s important to recognize, however, that too many people don’t have easy access to this comercialized flow of electrons.
According to The World Bank and the Sustainable Energy for all (SE4ALL) database, as of 2018, roughly 10 percent of the world’s population lives without access to electricity. 760 million people. That is about double the population of the United States. Access to electricity is vital for not only economic and social justice, but global standards of living as a whole. (Think: lower poverty levels, elevated standard of living, greater focus on standards of equality.) The good news is that the SE4ALL initiative has seen consistent positive growth in the percentage of people with access to electricity. Positive growth enough to set a goal for 100 percent population electrification by 2030.
But where will this electricity come from?
Climate change is the greatest existential threat of our age, and the way that we produce electricity has an enormous impact on our capability to justly transition to a sustainable society. How can we expect to develop sustainable technologies if the way we power those technologies are unsustainable? It’s like buying a 100 percent electric Tesla, but charging it using electricity from fossil fuels and natural gases: unsustainable.
Fossil fuel combustion for energy consumption alone is what contributed nearly 75 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions in 2018. Not only is energy consumption trapping heat in our atmosphere, but it’s disproportionately chocking the already vulnerable frontline communities often located near these power plants with increased rates of poverty, disease, and food insecurity. With the combination of harmful emissions and the need to increase global energy access, it is logical that a majority of the most crucial actions we can take in justly combating climate change center around renewable energy. We must find ways to build sustainable infrastructure to replace that of natural gas, coal, and oil. We have to support research and innovation on renewable energy systems and storage. We need to focus on climate and energy education at all levels. This is the only way to ensure that we can combat the most devastating impacts of climate change while simultaneously continuing to elevate standards of living globally.
If you are interested in learning more about the sustainable energy movement, collaborating with like-minded students, and working towards a tangible real-world impact, join the Yale Student Energy Association. Join students, like myself, in community outreach, industry connection building, and educational events that help build a brighter, sustainable outlook for the future of energy at Yale and beyond.
Energy is the backbone of the society we know today. Let’s make it sustainable.