In India, air pollution is the third highest cause of death, ranking just above smoking. In 2017 alone, almost 1.2 million Indians lost their lives to pollution and related complications, from long-term exposure to Particulate Matter(PM) 2.5. And globally, more people lose their lives to pollution than they do to malaria or road traffic injuries. Pollution is also reported to bring down life-expectancy by up to 20 months in healthy individuals. All this highlights the gravity of our situation. Hence, using clean energy becomes extremely critical!
Vaishali Nigam Sinha
Some crucial benefits—and importance—of using clean energy are
Clean energy or renewable energy is the best bet against climate change. It is more diverse, abundant, and has the potential for use anywhere. And it costs less than fossil fuels. This is hugely significant in a developing economy like India, where both accessibility and affordability are crucial.
Improved Public Health
Pollution affects everyone! India spends almost $150 billion or 5.4% of our GDP on pollution-related ailments. And most of these stem from air and water pollution, that clean-energy technologies don’t produce. Increased renewable energy supply would allow us to replace carbon-intensive energy sources, and, reduce Indian global warming emissions to a great extent.
An Inexhaustible Supply
Strong winds, sunny skies, aplenty plant matter, heat from the earth, and fast-moving water can each provide a vast and constantly replenished supply of energy. A relatively small fraction of Indian electricity currently comes from these sources, but that is rapidly changing.
Economic Gains and Jobs
Clean energy, compared to fossil-fuel technologies, is more labour-intensive. The sector currently employs over 4,80,000 people in India*, and an International Labour Organisation (ILO) study estimated that the solar and wind sector alone would create as many as 3,00,000 new jobs in India!
Wind and solar photovoltaic systems do not require water to generate electricity and can operate reliably in conditions that may otherwise require closing a fossil fuel-powered plant. They don’t damage the ecology.
Less Natural Calamities
For India, mitigating the impact of climate change means fewer floods, storms, and droughts, and reduced extreme-weather phenomena. It also means less pollution, and almost 9 out of every 10 people on planet breathing better! Clean energy future will also reduce energy bills, as the cost of harnessing power of wind and sun is constantly falling.
Stable Energy Prices
Renewable energy is providing affordable electricity across the country right now and can help stabilise energy prices in the future, too. Although these facilities require upfront investments to build, they can operate at very low costs. In contrast, fossil fuel prices can vary dramatically and are prone to substantial price swings.
The urgency for climate change solutions
When we speak of urgency, we only need to take a look at a series of dramatic, devastating events in our neighbourhood and across the planet. At the Paris Climate summit, world leaders agreed to keep the emissions level in check so that the temperature on earth doesn’t increase by 1.5 degrees. This can reduce the number of people frequently exposed to extreme heatwave by 420 million! If the temperature increases by 2 degrees then we may see the 2015 heatwave occur annually.
Some impacts will include:
Shorter, Chillier Winter Spells
India will see winter duration come down and the average temperature falls in winters by almost 4 degrees. Making night especially troublesome for those living on roads
Loss and Extinction of Species
1,05,000 species of insects, plants and vertebrates. At 1.5 degrees Celsius warming, 6 percent of the insects, 8 percent of the plants and 4 percent of the vertebrates will see their climatically determining geographic range reduced by more than half.
There will be fires, extreme weather, and invasive species. Entire ecosystems will transform, with about 13 percent of land areas projected to see their ecosystems shift from one type of biome to another at 2 degrees Celsius warming. Warming to 2 degrees celsius will also lead to a reduction of rainforest biomass and will increase deforestation and wildfires. The sea level will continue to rise, too, resulting in increased coastal flooding, beach erosion, salinization of water supplies and other impacts on humans and ecological systems.
Each one of us can be more sustainable—and reduce our carbon footprint—in our daily lives
Climate preservation is one battle in which everyone is required to pitch in. There is no escaping it. While both policy interventions and individual changes in behaviour are important, here’s what you can do:
Build Yourself A Sustainable Wardrobe
It’s never too late to buy less, repair more, and make better fashion choices. The fashion industry produces more Co2 than aviation and shipping combined! So, when you buy less, they produce less, and the vicious circle gets smaller.
Go eco-friendly and biodegradable—skip nylons and polyesters which require chemical in production, and dry cleaning for natural materials such as pure cotton, linen, silk, wool. Also, discarding clothes out after the smallest rip or damage is bad for the environment. Reuse them as much as you can, and if you must get rid of something, donate it to the needy.
And choose well. A well-thought-out wardrobe can last a lifetime. I am a big fan of buying locally and using handloom, natural fibre.
Our cars are one of the biggest sources of pollution in our environment. Carpooling and opting for public transport can be an effective way to shrink carbon footprint. Even a change in the driving style can serve the purpose. Aggressive driving—which means speeding, unnecessary acceleration, and frequently braking—wastes both gas and money, reduces mileage and increases carbon footprint.
The energy lighting our homes and offices is generated from thermal power plants that combust fossil fuels. Conserving energy and adopting energy-efficient bulbs and electrical devices can all help in reducing carbon emissions.
Eat Local, In-Season
India’s culinary diversity is unparalleled. However, what reaches our plates usually travels many a mile to reach there. Best way to circumnavigate this is to consume what is in-season and is ideally produced locally.
How we cook the food also matters a lot, but all this is redundant if we waste food. A Research from 2017 found that food waste accounted for eight per cent of greenhouse gas emissions (so if it were a country, it would be third in line as the biggest emitter on the planet, after China and the US). All over India, by not over-buying, not over-serving, and keeping our use by dates, we can reduce food waste and start having a significant impact on the footprint.
The future of energy
We are more connected today than we have ever been. And people are enjoying better opportunities and a higher standard of living, all of which can be co-related directly with access to electricity. If one has to define the future of energy in one word, it would be ‘electric’. It is evident that societies, worldwide, will move away from fossils to renewable energy. This transition will come at different paces though, so the costs may differ everywhere.
In India, it is happening in front of our eyes. Renewable energy is now competitive against coal. As the adoption increases and technology advances, the cost of solar or wind energy will fall further. However, the ultimate game-changer may be the pairing of renewable energy with battery storage.
And the challenges
Transmitting energy from one point (where it’s generated) to others (the user) is a huge challenge, and those costs have stayed the same. Globally, electricity grids are under pressure because they need electricity from multiple sources.
Having said that, renewable energy is well on its way to becoming the cheapest source of electricity all over the world. Where it already isn’t, it will be once the battery technology is integrated with it.
We are now in what is called the Climate Decade. The changes that we read in our textbooks while growing up are happening around us. Forest fires, floods, rising average temperatures are a reality that we can’t escape! A NASA report published in January this year confirmed that 2010 to 2019 was the hottest decade since we started keeping record almost 140 years ago.
As told to Humra Afroz