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Renewable Energy in IcelandAs the world continues to modernize, there are still several regions with no access to energy and no chance for development. Finding solutions for the inadequate and unequal distribution of energy is more urgent than ever. Amid a global pandemic, 25% of hospitals in “Cambodia, Myanmar, Nepal, Kenya, Ethiopia and Niger” have no electricity. Electricity is essential in fighting this crisis (or any other). Taking a closer look at the struggles of energy poverty, renewable energy in Iceland provides an example of a nation that overcame these issues.

The Importance of Energy

The United Nations recognizes the importance of energy for development with SDG 7: “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.” Reliable energy systems benefit all sectors, including businesses, medicine, education and agriculture. Inadequate electricity creates obstacles in situations that citizens of developed countries take for granted. For example, without electricity, clinics cannot store vaccines and students cannot do homework at night. SDG 7 states that affordable and clean energy is necessary to raise any developing nation out of poverty.

Energy Poverty and Off-Grid Energy Systems

The World Economic Forum defines energy poverty as conditions that “lack of adequate, affordable, reliable, quality, safe and environmentally sound energy services to support development.” Currently, 13% of the world’s population (one billion people) lack access to electricity. The vast majority live in Africa and South Asia while 57% of the sub-Saharan African population (600 million people) live without electricity. Any form of sustainable development requires access to energy. Nations suffering from energy poverty cannot afford the energy that could propel them out of poverty. This locks them in the cycle of poverty.

Geography stands as one of SDG 7’s biggest obstacles. The countries in the most need typically cannot access grid electricity. In developing countries, expanding the electricity grid is neither financially nor logistically realistic. These rural areas need off-grid or stand-alone solutions to their energy problems. Renewable energy can provide off-grid energy and “give developing countries the opportunity to erase the electricity gap without passing through a phase of fossil fuels, that would be hard to sustain in terms of cost, natural resources and global environment.”

The Success Story of Iceland

At the beginning of the 20th century, Iceland was ranked as a developing country. In 1970, the largest share of Iceland’s energy consumption was derived from imported fossil fuels and the United Nations Development Program labeled the nation as a developing country. As of 2018, Iceland was the fifth most prosperous nation in Europe, acquires nearly 100% of consumed electricity from renewable energy.

Iceland has always been very spread out, making an interconnected energy grid too costly. This combined with fluctuating and unsustainable oil prices drove the Icelandic government to seek alternative energy systems. Through government funding and incentive programs, geothermal and hydropower energy systems took over the Icelandic economy.

The link between energy and poverty reduction is evident and undeniable. Renewable energy in Iceland transformed an impoverished, developing nation, dependent on imported coal and local peat into a prosperous, green energy leader. Many people believe the green energy movement is exclusive to wealthy nations, businesses and individuals. This is understandable considering the price of electric cars and solar panels. However, Iceland proves this idea wrong. Iceland completely transformed into a green economy as a small, developing nation.

One might argue that Iceland is a unique and unrepeatable example because of its proximity to renewable resources; however, this is far from the truth. Iceland overcame the two biggest obstacles that every energy-poor nation faces: poor funding and excessive off-grid populations. Iceland’s success does not provide a one-size-fits-all solution for every nation facing an energy crisis; however, developing countries around the world should gain hope and inspiration from renewable energy in Iceland.

Ella LeRoy
Photo: Flickr

insulated WonderbagIn Africa, nearly 90% of women use open fire cooking methods. The same is common for women in developing countries throughout the world. This system can often take hours to cook a full meal. The insulated Wonderbag, a heat retention cooking device, aims to change lives and create a sustainable life for those living in poverty, especially women.

The Insulated Wonderbag

In developing countries, gendered roles like cooking and tending to the household take up a lot of time.  The amount of time spent cooking could be better used on activities that result in the progression of women, such as education and development. Often, women are disproportionately responsible for cooking meals and the labor that goes into the open fires that are required for such cooking. A South African entrepreneur decided to design an invention to help address these difficulties. The insulated Wonderbag is an eco-technology innovation that saves girls and women hours of time and labor and improves indoor air quality and overall health, among other benefits.

How the Wonderbag Began

The idea behind this invention comes from Sarah Collins, a local South African innovator with extensive knowledge of social development and a love for the environment. Collins grew up watching the women before her use cooking tricks to keep food warm when the power went out. One of these tricks, used by her grandmother, was letting hot pans of food sit in cushioned pads to remain warm. A life-changing yet straightforward concept that Collins took and made her own.

The Simple Magic of the Wonderbag

First and foremost, the Wonderbag is a product meant to alleviate women and girls’ daily struggles as caregivers and enable them to pursue education and employment. The Wonderbag works without electricity or gas and is made of upcycled materials such as poly-cotton and chipped-foam. Essentially, it functions similarly to a crockpot or a slow cooker. The insulated Wonderbag allows food, once brought to the boil by traditional cooking methods, to continue cooking for up to 12 hours inside the Wonderbag.

The Benefits of the Wonderbag

  • Females regain four to six hours of their day
  • Boosts household incomes up to $2 a day
  • Saves more than 1300 hours for girls and women each year, enabling them to go to school, learn skills and find employment
  • Raises incomes of women living in poverty
  • Decreases the use of fossil fuels for cooking by 70% and thus also the associated negative health impact
  • Allows women to re-invest their earnings into providing healthier meals for their families

The Impacts of the Wonderbag

Since 2008, the revolutionary Wonderbag has been distributed around the world. Thus far, it has had an impressive impact. The introduction of the Wonderbag into communities allows women the chance to build their own businesses and create jobs for others. These businesses range from serving warm meals to sewing new bags. Moreover, every time a Wonderbag is bought, another is donated to women in need in Africa, continuing the cycle of prosperity.

More than 130 NGOs in Kwazulu Natal, South Africa, benefitted from reselling Wonderbags to generate an income, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Collectively, these NGOs generated almost two million South African rands to sustain their operations.

Overall, the global need for the insulated Wonderbag continues to grow. So far, there are more than one million Wonderbags worldwide. With every purchase, $1 goes toward subsidizing bags for people in vulnerable communities. The Wonderbag is an innovative solution to combat global poverty.

– Sallie Blackmon
Photo: Flickr

Divestment
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

Coal-Burning-More-or-Less
It’s black, it’s dirty, it’s smelly, and it’s often dangerous to obtain, yet it has the power to keep billions alive. Coal. An energy source for people on Earth for hundreds of years. Coal-burning can heat homes and provide power for massive electrical grids around the world. But the question being asked today is whether or not coal can cure poverty. Some believe it can while others maintain that other options must be explored.

First, the nonbelievers. On June 26, 2015, Huffington Post published an article, titled “No, Coal is NOT the Fix-All Solution to Energy Poverty,” that dove into analyzing how and why coal isn’t cutting it as a global fuel source. The article stemmed from Pope Francis’ encyclical “On the Care of Our Common Home,” a critique on the increasing global warming crisis as a direct result of human energy consumption. The pope’s message sent shockwaves throughout the world raising arguments for energy reform.

An excerpt from Huffington Post says, “Although fossil fuels and renewable energy are not mutually exclusive in aiding development efforts, the truth is that this claim is just another attempt by the industry to justify the continued use of fossil fuels.” The truth is, there are other more energy efficient ways out there to provide energy to the poor, but the powers that be don’t want the public to be aware.

One such energy source that is becoming more and more viable to the poor is solar panel technology. According to the Huffington Post article, solar panels are now less than half of what they cost in 2010. This technology is emerging as a legitimate rival for the coal industry, as well as developing into real hope for those in poverty across the globe. In addition to the growing industry of solar panels, global organizations such as the World Bank have stopped financing renewable resource projects worldwide with exceptions to rare situations.

As for the advocates of coal, the case is significantly weaker. An article by World Coal on June 24, 2015 makes the case for coal as the salvation to global poverty. An excerpt from this article reads, “On a global scale, coal fulfilled approximately half of the increase in energy consumption in the last decade. In the last century, the amount this source has produced is as much energy as nuclear, renewable, fuel oil and natural gas combined.” While this statistic appears impressive, it fails to acknowledge the crippling effects to our atmosphere. Coal is a good fuel source, but it comes at a great price. Billions of people on earth depend on coal to survive, but even more billions feel the effects of global warming because of it. So, do we need more or less to cure poverty?

– Diego Alejandro Catala

Sources: Huffington Post, World Coal.com
Photo: Total Health Care

Mckenzie_Funk
For some, climate change means irreversible damage to Earth’s ecosystems and food insecurity. For others, it heralds a new way to turn a profit.

In his new book, Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming, journalist Mckenzie Funk reveals a problematic, if not entirely unsurprising, result of global climate change. During an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air Jan. 28, Funk discussed how corporations and countries alike are plotting how to best take advantage of the melting ice.

Countries near the Arctic such as the United States, Greenland, Canada and Russia may benefit financially from the ice melts. Newly created shipping lanes in the Northwest Passage could encourage Canada, the country most likely to claim their ownership to exact payments from ships while Greenland could tap into the mineral deposits exposed by ice melts.

Above all else, Funk believes Arctic countries will most benefit from increased exposure to oil-rich Arctic locations.

“The main benefit right now is oil and gas,” said Funk. “Up to a quarter of the world’s remaining oil and gas is in the Arctic and there’s been a major push to go get it.”

The same climate change that provides a longer drilling season for oil prospectors in the Arctic also destabilizes urban infrastructure. In places like Russia, which has particularly muddy soil, the Earth’s melting permafrost could potentially buckle roads break pipes, and weaken building structures.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an internationally staffed organization charged with assessing the risk of human-induced climate change, predicts severe changes to the Earth’s continents.

In Latin America, the IPCC expects a gradual replacement of tropical forest by savanna in eastern Amazonia and a significant change in water availability for human consumption, agriculture and energy generation.

They also project that by 2020, between 75 and 250 million people in Africa will be exposed to increased water stress, and the yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50% in some regions.

Overall, they warn that food security, including its accessibility and production, “may be severely compromised.”

Profiteering from climate change may decrease efforts to reduce it. Even worse, such profiteering may encourage beneficiaries to exacerbate the problem to reap any additional benefits. In the meantime, the world’s most disenfranchised wait, powerless to do anything else.

– Emily Bajet

Sources: NASA, IPPC, NPR
Photo: TED Oxbridge

Where Greenhouse Gases Come From
Greenhouse gases (GHGs) are human induced air pollutants that are beginning to become a concern for people on an international scale. As adopted by scientific consensus GHGs trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere, which plays a significant role in the climate change events that are evident today. To understand where they are coming from, here are a few top emitters from various sources:

1. Energy Supply

The burning of fossil fuels for electricity and heat is the single largest contributor to greenhouse gases. However, with the problems fossil fuels present, the industries of renewable energy have become available in providing energy with zero greenhouse gas emissions.

2. Transportation

Also closely associated with the burning of fossil fuels, “almost all of the world’s transportation energy comes from petroleum-based fuels, largely gasoline and diesel.” However, hybrid cars with no emissions are becoming more widely available and expect to continue to do so down the road.

3. Industry

Greenhouse gas emissions via industry stem primarily from the on-site burning of fossil fuels for energy. For instance, this includes many industrial manufacturing entities. However, energy efficiency optimization allows for GHGs from the industrial source to decrease while also becoming economically viable as it decreases energy costs.

4. Forrestry

The forestry sector emits greenhouse gases mostly from the process of deforestation and land clearing. However, fires and the decay of peat soils may also play a part in GHG emissions from forestry. Regardless, the application of sustainability to the deforestation process allows for it to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

5. Agriculture

The management of agricultural facilities account for the majority of greenhouse gases from the agriculture sector. Areas spanning “soil quality, livestock, rice production and biomass burning” may, for example, influence the emissions of GHGs from agriculture. Therefore, similarly to the forestry sector, agricultural methods that enforce sustainability and zero emissions are consistently introduced to the agricultural realm.

As it stands, the burning of fossil fuels account for the vast majority of GHG emissions. It is an industry that dates back to the industrial revolution of the 19thcentury and is somewhat recently facing challenges due to the discoveries of environmental harm and climate change. However, the renewable energy industry is able to offset some of the greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels with its development potential. The use and application of energy efficiency optimization and sustainability practices may also play a large part in establishing a clean energy future.

Although the shift has not yet happened on a complete scale, it is beginning to make achievements with the successes of the environmental movement. Climate change is a global issue that is not only categorized by nation, but by source as well. By addressing climate change at the source, each nation is able to do its part in resolving the global issue.

Jugal Patel

Sources: US EPA, REDD, US EPA
Photo: Allan Crain