“We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using Nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy — sun, wind and tide. I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.” ~Thomas Edison (1931)
No matter how quiet we get, there always seems to be a buzz surrounding us. We hear it in our homes, schools, offices, and even on quiet dimly-lit streets. It’s the hum of energy at work to create light, heat, and movement in our world. Almost every action you take – from the moment you wake up until you close your eyes at night, requires energy. The light from your computer screen that’s allowing you to read this challenge? That’s right. Energy.
The buzz is only getting louder. With the global population on the rise and so many newly industrialized economies, the demand for energy is skyrocketing. Yet, many sources say that our global oil supply has already peaked, meaning that it is highly unlikely that any new oil reserves, the basis for petroleum will be discovered.
Three fossil fuels – petroleum, natural gas, and coal – have dominated the energy sector for more than 100 years. None of these sources are renewable. What’s worse, they emit tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, polluting our air and threatening our health. Through destructive mining practices such as fracking, offshore drilling, and careless discarding of waste, the fossil fuel industry has damaged many ecosystems beyond repair with massive oil spills or leaked methane. It has driven climate change to full-blown catastrophe and harmed communities in the most underdeveloped corners of the earth.
How can we keep depleting non-renewable resources when the world is only becoming more energy-dependent? The answer is simple – We can’t. Even as the use of fossil fuels becomes more and more efficient (i.e. greater energy output per unit of fossil fuel input), it is impossible to fuel infinite economies on finite resources. Efficiency merely prolongs the negative consequences of extraction; it is not a long-term solution for humankind.
There is an alternative, of course. Fortunately for us, planet earth produces endless amounts of clean energy everyday, just waiting to be harnessed. Wind, waves, and the sun are all sources of renewable energy that can be utilized without many of the negative consequences of fossil fuels. And after the initial costs of equipment, these sources of energy are practically free! So while governments around the world continue to undermine the renewable energy sector with cozy fossil fuel relationships and unjust subsidies, natural market forces have been causing ever expanding investment into renewable energy technology.
But why has it taken so long for renewables to gain traction? And why are why still primarily reliant on fossil fuels? Well, the fossil fuel industry has long had control over politics due to strong lobbying efforts and deep-pocket campaign contributions. Luckily, there are plenty of companies committed to a clean energy future. Today’s partner, CLIF Bar, supports renewable energy and reduces their carbon footprint by thinking like a tree. In fact, because of their comprehensive climate action plan, CLIF Bar is actually carbon neutral and has already offset their historical carbon footprint back to their company’s start in 1992.
The United States government associates jobs with fossil fuels, making many Americans feel that if we lose fossil fuels we also lose jobs. However, solar energy actually employs more people than coal, oil, and gas combined! And while the Trump administration has slowed growth of renewable energy in the U.S., the rest of the world is still showing promise of a clean energy future. In addition to creating jobs, renewable energy creates a diverse energy supply, improves public health, and puts every country on the road to energy independence. How’s that for buzz?
Transitioning to a clean energy future starts with understanding your own consumption and then taking steps to reduce it. Sometimes we use energy without even realizing it! Phantom energy, or “vampire power,” refers to the energy that is used and wasted by electronics and appliances when they are plugged in, even if they are turned off.
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The race for green energy is on. Big tech companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon have all invested in clean energy to reduce their carbon footprint. After the US president pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg pledged to lead a group of mayors, governors and CEOs in cutting emissions according to the Paris Accord. Schools are taking action by divesting from fossil fuels, constructing Energy Star buildings, and bringing renewables to campuses. Technology has significantly advanced the ways in which we can harvest energy, and there are a wide variety of alternatives that many people aren’t even aware of. Did you know that we can now generate energy from waves and algae?
To get started watch “This country isn’t just carbon neutral – it’s carbon negative” TED Talk here, for some serious inspiration.
Next, imagine how amazing it would be if more countries, cities or even campuses aspired to be carbon negative. For this challenge, take some time to research campuses around the world that are making strides in sustainability.
Upload your responses in a PDF document. Please include your name (or team name), username, email address, and school.
Due on 10/12 at 6am PT. We will award up to 100 bonus points based on quality of work.
From feeding the student population to heating and cooling the residence halls, school campuses use A LOT of energy. With more and more people working to reduce the footprint of institutions, schools are a great opportunity to propel the movement to a 100% clean energy future.
It’s easy to dismiss the magnitude of your school’s footprint when students are so removed from the system. Today we want you to act as if you are a journalist for your school newspaper, reporting on the energy consumption of your campus.
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