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Why policy is the biggest stumbling block of all for renewable energy

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Energy consumed by the United States in one year equals the energy made by the Sun in one millionth of a second”, tweeted astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson at the weekend. With that in mind, Joseph Iddison looks at the impact of human culture, behaviour and policy on the uptake of clean, limitless energy.

Solar power is one of the most crucial streams of energy for life on Earth. Yet, at the moment at least, mankind’s ability to capture and harness it to meet the global energy demand is a few years behind from where it needs to be.

If the world could convert 0.03% of the sunlight that falls on Earth into energy, we could meet all of our projected needs for 2030”, says inventor Ray Kuzweil in a TED talk from 2005.

We can’t do that today because solar panels are heavy, expensive and very inefficient. But there are designs that show the potential for these panels to be very lightweight, very inexpensive and very efficient.”

In one hour, the sun beams onto Earth enough energy to satisfy our global energy needs for an entire year. Solar power is the technology we use to harness the sun’s energy to power our homes, buildings and vehicles. But the technology currently only accounts for just over 0.2% of global energy demand.

One of the reasons for this is our dependence on fossil fuels, both economically and politically. Yet with supply running low, demand increasing and oil companies dictating prices, it seems bizarre that we would continue to allow such reliance to happen, especially when renewable alternatives are in abundance.

Burning fossil fuels is essentially burning captured sunlight from millennia ago. It is worth noting that back in 2007; oil giant ExxonMobil was worth more than all the car manufacturing companies put together.

People wonder why politicians aren’t responding to the global climate crisis. It’s because they are responsive to a higher power – that higher power is the fossil fuel industry”, says Michel Gelobter, president of Redefining Progress.

The political system has failed us. It’s this chasm between public opinion – of wanting efficient and sustainable cars – to public policy, to government. That’s where the failure has been.”

Meanwhile, Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, notes some of the solutions that the human race has at its disposal right now, and what financial cost there would be to restoring the Earth.

The total budget would be around $160 billion per year to undo what has happened”, he says.

This includes reforestation, soil conservation, and a whole series of things designed to stabilise the Earth’s ecosystem. It also includes stabilising poverty and even eradicating poverty. Now $160 billion of extra expenditure is a lot, but it’s only a third of the US military budget.”

The late, great Ray Anderson, founder of Interface in the US, highlighted the importance of making the most of what is already in abundance – even our waste from food and packaging.

We’ve already tapped into the landfill to capture the methane being produced by the garbage. We then pipe that to our factory and substitute it for natural gas, representing 20% of our energy”, he explains.

As well as demonstrating good business for his company – as methane is cheaper than natural gas – Anderson believed everyone benefits from landfill methane extraction: most importantly the Earth.

When you burn methane to capture its energy content and reduce it to carbon dioxide, you’re reducing its global warming effect 23 to one. The city gets money from us for purchasing the methane, but this also means that we are postponing the day for a new landfill because, as you draw off the methane, the landfill level comes down, extending its useful lifetime.

Anderson feels that such a form of energy, which is already there and essentially free to use, is not being capitalised on. “There are about 10,000 landfills in America, and only 300 businesses or institutions capturing the methane produced from them.”

Not all waste can be converted into something beneficial, however, Anderson noted.

The entire industrial system has to be reinvented. For every truckload of product there are 32 truckloads of waste. So we have a system that is a waste making system. We cannot continue to dig up the Earth and turn it into waste. In nature, there is no waste – one organism’s waste is another’s food. That is the model for the industrial system – a waste free system.”

To see Ray Anderson in action, watch his TED talk here.

However, people have begun to adopt more environmentally-friendly strategies to their ways of life; most importantly, perhaps, their source and consumption of energy. Steven Strong, an environmental author, acknowledges this change, placing emphasis on the problems of mass energy output as well as the positives of independent energy generation.

We’ve all seen the vulnerability of our systems, with power failures and blackouts”, he describes.

There is a fundamental shift underway in the way that we generate and distribute energy – from a highly centralised infrastructure of large central power plants and vast transmission and distribution network, to a more decentralised infrastructure where you have customer-sited generation of many forms. This provides a much higher level of autonomy and independence, but moreover, a much higher level of resiliency, and therefore reliability.

Energy needs to come from the sun. Life runs on sunlight. We, at the moment, run on ancient photosynthesis and fossil fuels.

Maximising the effect and benefit of existing technologies is important to how we progress forward in the future. According to statistics, with all of the technologies we have today, as well as technologies very close to being developed in the future, we could reduce our carbon footprint by 90%. Whether enough people can change their habits is difficult to predict. What is clear, however, is that policy can have the largest impact of all.

Joseph Iddison is a student in his final year of an English degree at the University of Leicester. He intends to do a master’s in geographical information science and human geography.

Further reading:

Renewables receive ‘unequivocal vote of confidence’ in poll

US poll displays overwhelming support for renewables

Drill, baby, drill: North Sea energy, 1970s style

The Guide to Limitless Clean Energy

Joseph Iddison is a master’s student at the University of Leicester. Having graduated from the same institution in July 2013 in English, Joseph will start the global environmental change course in September.

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Ways Green Preppers Are Trying to Protect their Privacy

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Environmental activists are not given the admiration that they deserve. A recent poll by Gallup found that a whopping 32% of Americans still doubt the existence of global warming. The government’s attitude is even worse.

Many global warming activists and green preppers have raised the alarm bell on climate change over the past few years. Government officials have taken notice and begun tracking their activity online. Even former National Guard officers have admitted that green preppers and climate activists are being targeted for terrorist watchlists.

Of course, the extent of their surveillance depends on the context of activism. People that make benign claims about climate change are unlikely to end up on a watchlist, although it is possible if they make allusions to their disdain of the government. However, even the most pacifistic and well intentioned environmental activists may unwittingly trigger some algorithm and be on the wrong side of a criminal investigation.

How could something like this happen? Here are some possibilities:

  • They could share a post on social media from a climate extremist group or another individual on the climate watchlist.
  • They could overly politicize their social media content, such as being highly critical of the president.
  • They could use figures of speech that may be misinterpreted as threats.
  • They might praise the goals of a climate change extremist organization that as previously resorted to violence, even if they don’t condone the actual means.

Preppers and environmental activists must do everything in their power to protect their privacy. Failing to do so could cost them their reputation, future career opportunities or even their freedom. Here are some ways that they are contacting themselves.

Living Off the Grid and Only Venturing to Civilization for Online Use

The more digital footprints you leave behind, the greater attention you draw. People that hold controversial views on environmentalism or doomsday prepping must minimize their digital paper trail.

Living off the grid is probably the best way to protect your privacy. You can make occasional trips to town to use the Wi-Fi and stock up on supplies.

Know the Surveillance Policies of Public Wi-Fi Providers

Using Wi-Fi away from your home can be a good way to protect your privacy.However, choosing the right public Wi-Fi providers is going to be very important.

Keep in mind that some corporate coffee shops such a Starbucks can store tapes for up to 60 days. Mom and pop businesses don’t have the technology nor the interest to store them that long. They generally store tips for only 24 hours and delete them afterwards. This gives you a good window of opportunity to post your thoughts on climate change without being detected.

Always use a VPN with a No Logging Policy

Using a VPN is one of the best ways to protect your online privacy. However, some of these providers do a much better job than others. What is a VPN and what should you look for when choosing one? Here are some things to look for when making a selection:

  • Make sure they are based in a country that has strict laws on protecting user privacy. VPNs that are based out of Switzerland, Panama for the British Virgin Islands are always good bets.
  • Look for VPN that has a strict no logging policy. Some VPNs will actually track the websites that you visit, which almost entirely defeats the purpose. Most obviously much better than this, but many also track Your connections and logging data. You want to use a VPN that doesn’t keep any logs at all.
  • Try to choose a VPN that has an Internet kill switch. This means that all content will stop serving if your VPN connection drops, which prevents your personal data from leaking out of the VPN tunnel.

You will be much safer if you use a high-quality VPN consistently, especially if you have controversial views on climate related issues or doomsday prepping.

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How Going Green Can Save Your Business Thousands

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Running a company isn’t easy. From reporting wages in an efficient way to meeting deadlines and targets, there’s always something to think about – with green business ideas giving entrepreneurs something extra to ponder. While environmental issues may not be at the forefront of your mind right now, it could save your business thousands, so let’s delve deeper into this issue.

Small waste adds up over time

A computer left on overnight might not seem like the end of the world, right? Sure, it’s a rather minor issue compared to losing a client or being refused a loan – but small waste adds up over time. Conserving energy is an effective money saver, so to hold onto that hard-earned cash, try to:

  • Turn all electrical gadgets off at the socket rather than leaving them on standby as the latter can crank up your energy bill without you even realizing.
  • Switch all lights off when you exit a room and try switching to halogen incandescent light bulbs, compact fluorescent lamps or light emitting diodes as these can use up to 80 per cent less energy than traditional incandescent and are therefore more efficient.
  • Replace outdated appliances with their greener counterparts. Energy Star appliances have labels which help you to understand their energy requirements over time.
  • Draught-proof your premises as sealing up leaks could slash your energy bills by 30 per cent.

Going electronic has significant benefits

If you don’t want to be buried under a mountain of paperwork, why not opt for digital documents instead of printing everything out? Not only will this save a lot of money on paper and ink but it will also conserve energy and help protect the planet. You may even be entitled to one of the many tax breaks and grants issued to organizations committed to achieving their environmental goals. This is particularly good news for start-ups with limited funds as the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) is keen to support companies opening up their company in a green manner.

Of course, if you’re used to handing out brochures and leaflets at every company meeting or printing out newsletters whenever you get the chance, going electronic may be a challenge – but here are some things you can try:

  • Using PowerPoint presentations not printouts
  • Communicating via instant messenger apps or email
  • Using financial software to manage your books
  • Downloading accounting software to keep track of figures
  • Arranging digital feedback and review forms
  • Making the most of Google Docs

Going green can help you to make money too

Going green and environmental stability is big news at the moment with many companies doing their bit for the environment. While implementing eco-friendly strategies will certainly save you money, reducing your carbon footprint could also make you a few bucks too. How? Well, consumers care about what brands are doing more than ever before, with many deliberately siding with those who are implementing green policies. Essentially, doing your bit for the environment is a PR dream as it allows you to talk about what everyone wants to hear.

Going green can certainly save your money but it should also improve your reputation too and give you a platform to promote your business.

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