Renewable Energy in Russia
Russia is the world’s second-largest producer of natural gas and the third-largest producer of oil. These are powerful sources of energy that are not renewable. However, there is great potential to convert to renewable energy in Russia. Further, if Russia follows the trends in the United States, there is also potential for Russia’s poverty rates to decline by expanding renewable energy industries and the jobs they could bring.

Russian Oil and Natural Gas Industries

The oil and natural gas industries accounted for about 36% of Russia’s federal budget revenues in 2016. In 2020, Russia produced an average of 10.7 million barrels of oil a day.  With this sort of abundance, Europe depends on Russia’s oil production as a chief energy source. In fact, in 2016, Russia provided more than one-third of the oil that European countries imported. As for natural gas, in 2020, the Russian company Gazprom produced more than 431 billion cubic meters of natural gas.

Though as an energy source, oil and natural gas can damage the environment, there is a major benefit to maintaining these industries: they provide so much revenue and so many jobs. Russia’s unemployment rate is low at about 4.5% in 2021. It seems to follow then that without the oil and natural gas industry, the Russian economy could crash. More broadly, arguments have stated that countries that depend on their nonrenewable energy sources could risk increased poverty if they convert to renewables.

Russian Wind and Hydropower Potential

Though they are much less prevalent than their nonrenewable counterparts, there are sources of renewable energy in Russia. Scientists say that renewable resources have even distribution throughout Russia’s large territory. Also, because Russia is so large and has a variety of climates and terrains, it is ripe for the development of renewable energy sources (RES).

Scientists believe that the two RES with the most potential in Russia are wind and hydropower. The electricity that these sources produce would not only provide enough power for Russia but also allow Russia to be able to export to European countries. Unoccupied land in Russia is ideal for new wind and hydropower plants.

This fall Russia began a two-stage solicitation for clean energy projects. It aims to build capacity for up to 6.7 gigawatts (GW) in solar, wind and hydropower. In particular, with 4.7 GW for wind power, this would increase Russia’s wind capacity severalfold from its current 1.4 GW.

Renewable Energy Job Potential

One of the most promising effects of Russia’s transition to renewable energy is the jobs it could bring. To understand that potential, it makes sense to look at what’s happened in the United States. A recent Clean Jobs America report noted that there were more than 3.3 million workers in clean energy in the U.S. which is more than three times that of the number of workers in the fossil fuel industries. Further, the United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects that through 2026, the two fastest-growing occupations will be solar installer and wind technician.

The oil and gas industries currently dominate the Russian economy and job market. However, the recent push for renewable energy in Russia could be very beneficial in terms of environmental improvements and also through job creation.

– Andra Fofuca
Photo: Flickr

How Rising Fuel Prices in Zimbabwe
A 150 percent rise in fuel prices in Zimbabwe has had dramatic consequences on the lives of the country’s citizens. The rise in Zimbabwe’s cost of living initially started because of confusion behind its currency, but it has leaked into every aspect of living. For example, after the price increase, the price of bread almost doubled within a week. Organizations like USAID and the World Food Program are trying to help alleviete the true cost of the rise in fuel prices in Zimbabwe.

The Currency Crisis and Fuel Prices

After rampant inflation, Zimbabwe got rid of its own currency and adopted others, such as sterling or the South African Rand. Now, however, there is not enough hard currency to back up $10 million in digital funds. This shortage of imports is affecting local stores and supermarkets by making it more difficult to stock their shelves. Thus, the supermarkets that do have stock have been raising their prices. Fuel has also become a big problem.

Zimbabwe now has the highest priced petrol in the world at more than $3 a liter. The second highest prices are in China at around $2 a liter. The government has stated that the significant rise in fuel prices was put in place to prevent fuel shortages and counteract illegal fuel trading. The country mostly imports its fuel, but without hard currency, imported products are difficult to obtain. In addition to this, the government has been accusing people of hoarding fuel and selling it on the black market, which is said to be much cheaper than buying it up front because of the country’s currency crisis.

Food Insecurity

Without fuel, many farmers cannot operate the basic machines that they need to cultivate and harvest crops. Many rural households rely on agriculture as a main source of food, and the prediction of bad harvests by USAID only makes the situation seem worse. In addition, the current drought has left farms without rainfall to water crops, and without fuel, farms cannot power their irrigation systems to counteract poor rainfall.

The Food and Agriculture Organization has stated that “2.4 million people in rural Zimbabwe will be food insecure by March 2019.” This is in part due to the droughts and in part due to the overwhelming increase in fuel prices.  With crop failure and the cost of imports being so high, the government is finding it difficult to import basic necessities such as food and medication.

Plans for Aid

Some citizens believe that effective aid should not come from the local government due to previous allegations that the dominant party prioritizes aid to its own supporters. Organizations like USAID and WFP are partnering to provide emergency food assistance to 665,000 hungry people in Zimbabwe. USAID also supports developmental programs in Zimbabwe such as Amalima.

The Amalima program has families come together to learn productive tasks such as raising livestock and cultivating farmland. The program aims to use these learning tasks to be able to improve child nutrition and help the people in rural communities to better prepare for a food crisis.

The country is certainly in a crisis stage when it comes to food security. Due in part to both the rise of fuel prices in Zimbabwe, the economic crisis and poor harvests due to drought. As aid ramps up to keep up with the needs of the region, many can be saved from starvation and malnutrition. Emergency aid and ongoing developmental programs are doing their part to make sure the people of Zimbabwe lead healthy and fruitful lives.

Olivia Halliburton
Photo: Pixabay

47. Environmental Sustainability in China
In recent years, China has received widespread praise for its efforts to curb carbon emissions and invest in alternative energy. For the first time, in 2014, the country’s emission levels did not rise, although its total economic output grew by more than seven percent. This data shows that environmental sustainability in China has improved in recent years.

The following year, the Chinese government invested $103 billion in the alternative energy sector—nearly twice the amount invested by the U.S.—and pledged to reach 20 percent alternative energy dependency by 2030.

Despite these monumental steps forward for environmental sustainability in China, a number of roadblocks remain in the way of further improvement.

At the same time as the country has become a global leader in the manufacturing of solar panels and wind turbines, it remains the world’s largest consumer of fossil fuels, exploiting coal for more than 60 percent of its energy needs—nearly double what the U.S. uses.

While coal consumption in China has reportedly declined by about one percent each year since 2014, in 2015 the government admitted to underreporting coal use by 17 percent. Even if coal consumption has decreased by about one percent in recent years, however, the six percent annual increase in GDP and energy consumption in China render the real decrease in coal consumption negligible.

Also in 2015—the same year in which the Chinese National Energy Administration announced it would invest $360 billion in the alternative energy sector over the next five years—the government approved permits for 155 new coal-fired plants.

Even worse, there have been signs in 2017 that China’s traditional heavy industries like steel, cement and coal have received increased credit lines.

None of this is to say that environmental sustainability in China is out of reach. Indeed, for the nation that grew from five percent of the global economy to 17 percent in the span of two decades, not much can be said to be.

Still, if the People’s Republic is to make good on its commitments to sustainability, it will have to roll back fossil fuel consumption at the same time as it grows its alternative energy sectors.

Regardless of whether or not China attains 20 percent alternative energy use by 2030, at its current rate of growth, the country will need approximately twice as much energy to function.

Nathaniel Sher

Photo: Flickr

Fossil Free Sweden
History was made in December 2015 when almost 200 nations from around the world signed the Paris Agreement. This mission of the Agreement is to actively decrease global emissions of greenhouse gas in an effort to reverse the effects of global warming. Sweden, however, made a bold promise to end dependence on fossil fuel before the Paris Agreement had even been drafted.

While this may seem like a difficult feat, Sweden is confident — investing an extra $546 million in renewable energy as a first step towards achieving their goal. Renewable energy technologies such as solar, wind and energy storage have existed in Sweden and many other countries long before the Fossil Free Sweden initiative began.

Now, with increased funding and a more concrete goal, these technologies have the opportunity to deter the use of not only fossil fuel but nuclear power as well. Multiple power plants generating nuclear power in the country have already been scheduled for closure with no replacements planned.

The Swedish people, seeing the numerous benefits in becoming a fossil-free Sweden, have all come together in support of the movement. On Feb. 8, 2016, over 150 groups, businesses and municipalities gathered at a workshop held by the Ministry of Environment and Energy in support of the Fossil Free Sweden Initiative.

In addition to creating a more sustainable country for future generations, Swedish businesses also hope to create both new economic and employment opportunities. Technology and research-related job positions become more crucial as will careers in the transportation industry, which needs reform in order to eliminate fossil fuel.

As greenhouse emissions have decreased by 22 percent since the 1990s, the Swedish GDP has grown 58 percent. The OECD sees continued growth in 2016 as well as a continued shrinking of the unemployment rate. Recent wage settlements are predicting that aid will increase the nation’s overall household income.

A bright future not only seems possible for Sweden but inevitable as the fossil-free initiative continues to progress. Goals such as making the country’s capital of Stockholm fossil fuel-free by 2050 are moving towards becoming a reality. The people of the country are coming together on a national and local level to plan and implement changes in how to power their country.

The rest of the world is following Sweden’s example now that the Paris Agreement has been adopted by so many nations. The world is choosing progress because of what it means for the planet and the higher quality of life it brings to the people living here.

Aaron Walsh
Photo: Flickr

the_wonderbagThe Wonderbag is a revolutionary non-electric cooker with the capacity to change the way people cook around the world. The Wonderbag website describes the product as “a simple but revolutionary non-electric heat-retention cooker. It continues to cook food that has been brought to the boil by conventional methods for up to 12 hours without the use of additional fuel.”

The Wonderbag works by allowing the person cooking to heat any pot of food and then place the boiling pot into the bag and seal it. The initial heating can be done in any way whatsoever: on a stove in a modern kitchen, over a campfire or on a charcoal fire in a developing country’s village. The heat from the initial boiling keeps the food cooking inside the Wonderbag for eight to 12 hours.

The Wonderbag is portable and can be used anywhere. In addition to heating food, it can also be used as a cooler. All you have to do is freeze it and it will keep food cold for hours.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, inventor Sarah Collins said “The biggest killer in the world is indoor air pollution related diseases; over 4 million people die annually from cooking related fire diseases,” half of whom are under five years of age. Also, the burning of fuels causes hundreds of thousands of burns every year, according to the Wonderbag website.

Deforestation is a major problem around the world and is happening especially quickly in the developing world where they still use wood and charcoal as fuel and for the purposes of cooking. And by 2025, water shortages may affect up to two-thirds of the world’s population. In an interview with Climate Action, inventor Sarah Collins stated that: “The bag can reduce the amount of fossil fuels that people use for cooking by 90 percent.”

According to the Wonderbag website, the preparation of food can have a particularly damaging effect on the progress of women in developing countries. Preparing food can take hours, including the time spent gathering fuel. The use of the Wonderbag can free up several hours a day, allowing girls time to go to school and women time to do other work.

According to Climate Action, Collins says that through humanitarian work, she aims to get her product to “the people who live on a dollar a day in the developing world.” In the developing world, the bag can be used similarly to a slow cooker in a modern kitchen.

Finally, for each Wonderbag purchased by someone in the developed world, one will be donated to a family in the developing world, linking people all around the world to each other.

Rhonda Marrone

Sources: Wonderbag, Facebook, Huffington Post, Climat Action Programme
Photo: Flickr

bio lite
In the developed world of today, it is difficult to imagine cooking food over a hazy smoke of open fire for everyday consumption. Unfortunately, this is the reality of life for an estimated 3 billion people worldwide.

In addition to the hassle of such a method of energy consumption as open fires, there is an added danger of hazardous, toxic byproducts from the smoke accumulating in the houses where it is used. Over four million people die annually from indoor air pollution. Burning of wood or oil creates hazardous gases, including carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is not only a notorious greenhouse gas contributing to global warming and climate change, but is also exceedingly dangerous if it accumulates. As the carbon dioxide builds up in houses in absence of proper ventilation, the gas can turn into lethal carbon monoxide.

The usage of wood, oil and kerosene is expensive as well. These fuel resources are also not sustainable, environmentally or financially. As these resources become scarcer, the prices for these commodities also rise, which makes the usage of these fuels for cooking unfeasible.

BioLite, a company that makes energy-efficient stoves and lights, has a solution to these problems: biomass-fueled home stoves. The company initially manufactured camp stoves that utilized easily available biomass such as wood, dried leaves and the like, turning the biomass into heat for cooking as well as other purposes, such as charging a phone or an LED flashlight. The company has extended the same principle to the manufacture of BioLite HomeStoves. Their cookstoves have been distributed in many developing countries, including India and Uganda.

The stove uses the same energy sources as used in open fires, including wood. The difference lies in the efficiency of energy consumption. The device harvests and recycles much of the energy produced, therefore ensuring less smoke and harmful byproducts, and more value for the money spent. The heat not used for cooking is converted into electricity by the use of a thermoelectric generator: the electrical energy produced can be used to charge a cell phone. The rest of the energy powers a fan which ensures a continuous supply of oxygen to the fuel being burnt. This is an essential component of the stove, as it increases the combustion of the fuel, which improves fuel efficiency, and reduces the production of toxic byproducts.

The device dramatically reduces the amount of smoke – and consequently toxic gases – produced as a result of open fires. The manufacturer estimates a 91 percent reduction of carbon monoxide produced as a result of using BioLite HomeStove and 94 percent smoke reduction. The usage of this stove over traditional methods also saves poor families $200 annually, on average, by using almost half as much fuel per year. The two watts of energy produced can be used to charge a multitude of portable devices.

With all the advantages that the BioLite HomeStove has to offer, it still has a pricing issue. The stoves cost about $100, and although the device gives a return of almost twice its value within a year, the price might make it inaccessible for many people. Despite these initial problems, the success of the device is likely to spur further innovation that can overcome these difficulties as well.

Atifah Safi

Sources: BioLite Stove, Acumen
Photo: fm.cnbc

The spate of ethically driven decisions to pull money out of fossil fuel companies, known as divestment, has been widely publicized. From universities across the world to Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream and most recently, Norway’s massive Sovereign Wealth Fund which divested in May, an estimated $50 billion in investments has been withdrawn from fossil fuel companies. While the debate continues on the effectiveness this will have on fighting climate change, this $50 billion, already ethically tinged, could have a serious impact on helping the world’s poor.

There are some definite challenges in making divestment money work for the poor. First, all of this money belongs to thousands of different organizations and governments, and each has their own rules for what can be done with the money. Additionally, these funds are generally not liquid and need to be reinvested.

A second challenge is organizing all of the “divesters” to try and plot out a common course to ensure that these investments could have the most impact. Perhaps the divestment campaign should be followed up with a reinvestment campaign, in which business, civil society and governments openly discuss what to do with the money.

One obvious area is research and development for renewable technologies. Not only does this form of investment dovetail with the goals of the divestment campaign, it is much needed. Recently, Bill Gates voiced the need for “high risk investments in breakthrough technologies.”

This rationale is solid. When Japanese and American researchers were able to make gallium nitride to glow blue, they unlocked a world of possibilities for rural Africans. Their achievement made possible the most efficient LED lighting, allowing batteries and solar panels to be downsized and sold for less than $40. In turn, this increased access to cheap energy for many rural Africans, saving them substantial amounts of money on kerosene (which costs over 80 times the average cost of electricity in the U.S.) and affording them with a light to read at night or a cell phone charging station.

Alternatively, and certainly not exclusively, the money could be invested in Indian healthcare, a sector that has been recognized to be in dire need of both public and private investment. In India, startups with access to investment have been “driving down costs for eye care, dental care, preventive screenings” and other basic health necessities, which places them in reach of India’s many poor.

This type of investment is especially effective in reducing poverty. It pumps money into developing countries while fortifying their capacity for education and research, which works to close the knowledge gap, which accounts for much of the difference in per capita income between developed and developing countries.

Investment in these Indian healthcare startups is just one example of the many ways in which the divestment movement could be tooled to reduce poverty from two sides: working to mitigate climate change and investing in the ability of poor people to learn to help themselves.

– John Wachter

Sources: Arabella Advisors, EIA, Fossil Free, The Guardian, The Guardian, Impact Alpha, NPR, NPR, Social Story, Joseph Stiglitz
Photo: Flickr

On October 9, Glasgow University set a precedent for the UK, following suite with other parts of the world. The university announced that it will sell any of its shares invested in companies who produce fossil fuels. This translates to the withdrawal of £18 million of investments over the coming years.

David Newall, secretary of the university’s governing body, made a statement, “The university recognises the devastating impact that climate change may have on our planet, and the need for the world to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.

A heavily involved student campaign of over 1300 students championed for these efforts. The campaign included rallies and even fake oil spills. The campaign is taking other active steps in reducing harm to the environment. For example, their carbon consumption will be significantly reduced.

The universal campaign is gaining support not only from Glasgow, but from 13 American universities who have also pledged to divest any support from fossil fuel companies. Fossil Free’s website provides a comprehensive list of various religious organizations, cities, counties, and universities in the U.S. who have also pledged to divest any investment in the fossil fuel industry.

In fact, Seattle, Washington, home of The Borgen Project, was the first U.S. city to do so. Their commitment took place near the end of 2012. Other universities who have done so include Stanford University and the University of Dayton in Ohio.

According to a Sept. article by The Guardian, even heirs to the Rockefeller oil fortune have chosen to divest. Thus $50 billion will be redirected from fossil fuel investments, sending a tremendous example to the rest of the world.

With less of a reliance on fossil fuels, the world can change its focus to safer, more efficient and more economical energy sources. The more the world learns to rely on solar and wind energy to power our cars and our homes, the more energy can be a resource for more of the global population.

People living in more poverty-stricken areas of the world do not necessarily have the funds for oil, but with the purchase or donation of a solar panel that could last a lifetime, they will finally have electricity opportunities that could in turn lead to a furthered education, a more literate population, healthier people and longer life spans.

So far, despite this activism, little effect has been seen on the trillion dollar franchise of the oil industry, but with increased participants and awareness this is likely to change. It’s promising that a majority of this change is beginning with the voices of our young people. And with people like those members of the Rockefeller foundation on board, these young people now have a means to make their influence known.

Kathleen Lee

Sources: BBC, Fossil Free, The Guardian
Photo: Flickr

The Oil4Food Campaign is a collaborative and innovative mission to mobilize support and make small-scale agriculture one of Ghana’s top priorities for the investment of oil and gas revenues.

It all began in 2013, when Oxfam began working with local Ghanaian organizations to mobilize communities and lobby the government to invest in small-scale agriculture.

Ghana is a nation of small-scale farmers, who represent 60 percent of the country’s economically active population. Many of these farmers are impoverished and many are women, who labor on very small plots of land with little to no say in agricultural policy and decision-making. Small-scale farmers thus do not have access to improved fertilizers and seeds, processing and storage facilities, and proper irrigation.

This lack of investment in small-scale agriculture is a very real problem.

Oxfam noted this, as well as the fact that Ghana’s oil exports are expected to generate an average of $1 billion per year over the next twenty years. Why not channel this revenue into something poverty-reducing and sustainable?

Thus came the Oil4Food Campaign, which called upon the Ghanaian government to increase agricultural spending from 8.5 percent to 14.1 percent of the total GDP, as well as focus this spending on impoverished small-scale farmers.

Word of the Oil4Food Campaign spread rapidly and gained a huge level of public support among villages across the country. A mobile phone petition proved highly successful, and was promoted in newspapers, TV, radio and public events. Urban youth in Ghana became an active constituency on the issue, spreading the message through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Oxfam also engaged the public by visiting over 200 rural communities, explaining the campaign and urging farmers to speak up. Paper ‘thumbprint’ petitions were even available to be signed by those not able to read or write.

Using these traditional and media platforms, the petition ended up collecting more than 20,000 signatures. One hundred farmers marched to Parliament to present it to the government.

The months spent campaigning paid off well for small-scale farmers when the 2014 Budget was presented on November 19, 2013. The following conditions were included:

  • Maintained agriculture as one of the four priority sectors to invest oil revenue in the next 3 years.
  • Allocated 15 percent of government-expected oil revenue in 2014 to agriculture under the Annual Budget Funding Allocation. This in addition to the mainstream budget allocation to the agricultural sector represents a 23 percent increase in agricultural budget allocation from 2013, with the vast majority of this money (94.5 percent) allocated on ‘poverty focused agriculture.’
  • Proposed to scale up the commercial agricultural insurance system established in 2011 on a pilot basis to cover multiple crops, weather and more regions.

The success of the campaign was celebrated across the nation on National Farmers Day in December.

The work of Oxfam and its Ghanaian partners, as well as the work of the Ghanaian people in mobilizing their fellow community members, shows how the collaboration of many in fighting for their rights can be a real cause to celebrate.

— Mollie O’Brien

Sources: OXFAM, OXFAM(2), Joy Online

The United Nations warned on March 22 that increases in energy production through tar sands and fracking for natural gas may serve as a considerable threat to freshwater supplies.

Intensive consumption of freshwater supplies has already caused a concern for water scarcity. Moreover, the global population is expected to rise to eight billion people by the spring of 2024. In the 20th century alone, the world’s population increased from 1.64 billion to 6 billion. To make matters worse, the environmental concerns of a changing climate also make freshwater access more volatile.

The 2014 World Water Development Report on Water and Energy also reported that serious tension between power generation from the fossil fuel industry and environmental considerations will only get worse as time progresses. By 2050, water demand is expected to increase by 55%; however, water use for energy production (through fossil fuel exploitation) is set to increase 20% by 2035.

The report stated that, “Water is used, in varying quantities and ways, in every step of fossil-fuel extraction and processing.” Considering the changes in society coming into the 21st century, the fossil fuel industry has become outdated. Apart from being economically viable in some regards, the pressure that the industry places on the environment goes on to extend to other areas of society, which has sparked considerable public opposition.

For these reasons, the United Nations and most environmental groups assert that a decline in the fossil fuel industry and growth of the renewable energy industry will be necessary for the human race to sustain itself.

Sustainability is becoming more and more necessary over time, and with the expansion of environmentally damaging entities, such as the fossil fuel industry, the problem of climate change might be exacerbated and water resources could become more scarce. Only 3% of all of the water on Earth is from freshwater sources and currently, nearly 1.2 billion people live in areas faced with freshwater scarcity. This number will continue to grow with continued use of large amounts of freshwater within industrial processes.

According to the World Water Development Report, “40[%] of the global population is projected to be living in areas of severe water stress through 2050.”

The issue raises substantial concern for our energy needs. Although our need for energy supply is growing, environmental risks produced by the fossil fuel industry place humanity in a tough position. Though the fossil fuel industry has become considerably active in the political process to be able to sustain itself, the world insists on sustaining the environment moving into the 21st century.

– Jugal Patel

Sources: Common Dreams, Pacific Institute, United Nations, World Odometers
Photo: Money and Markets