Key Challenge 1 - The Clean Energy Problem and Carbon Offset Conundrum
Progress is measured in the consumption of resources – this statement is and has always been a reality that has defined the human species. Industrial growth, most importantly, is directly proportionate to the increments in energy consumption, and to pose a potential solution in “simply reducing this consumption” would be akin to suggesting putting a halt to our industrial output and technological advancements.
Because of this, the energy sector has traditionally been allowed to get away with the use of polluting energy sources – petrochemicals – for so long (too long), as alternatives were few in number, inefficient, or represented an economic constraint for production facilities. Fortunately, this reality has changed in recent decades, as we find ourselves forced to put the climate problem on the other side of the scale and measure industrial success not only by output but also by how much environmental damage we can avoid causing when producing a given product.
The shift is also taking place among the public – younger generations are now more environmentally conscious and prepared to question the processes and philosophies that govern large companies and corporations, as well as demanding more from them in terms of climate-positive actions, either active or passive. Collective action in speaking out about environmental concern shakes the cornerstone of every conglomerate, allowing room for corporates to reconsider their objectives and societal impact.
All of these factors have allowed the world to reach important milestones in terms of forwarding the adoption of clean energy technology, with an emphasis on processes that emit minimal amounts of carbon, while also making use of “carbon offsets” to, theoretically, take these emission numbers to zero – or even negative digits.
In terms of definition, carbon offsets are a method of cutting down greenhouse gas emissions as a consequence of human activities. Typical examples of carbon offsets include tree planting, conservation, and renewable energy projects.
Carbon offsets have been thought of as a game-changer in managing individual and corporate-wide carbon footprints. A carbon offset initiative, in essence, is a trading system wherein the actor, say an individual, receives an incentive for doing a good deed in “reducing” their carbon footprint.
The hype in buying tote bags, reusable straws, and other typically labeled “eco-friendly” alternatives have accounted for the carbon offset marketplace prices, ranging between US$40 billion and US$120 billion globally. With that said, rather than corporations taking full or major accountability for their waste and gas emissions, the burden to offset their carbon footprint was mostly placed on the consumers.
Carbon offsets indeed can lack the efficiency and consistency required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change in the long run, many times plainly representing an eco-friendly “pat on the back” by companies; other times acting as “greenwashing”. These initiatives are simply hard to sustain in the long run.
Not to mention, more products on grocery shelves are now marketed as green and clean alternatives to their original counterparts, even when there is little difference between them. The blatant truth, however, is that eco-friendly product lines have little to no effect on mitigating climate change or encouraging assertiveness for sustainability. As long as corporations stall in providing sustainable solutions, the consumer public will bear the burden of climate change and the struggle for sustainable living.
A number of “carbon offset projects” have spawned in blockchain. With the volatility of token prices and how cryptocurrency can represent such an unpredictable market, it is still to be seen if these projects have a long-term future, or if they will end up being – pardon the pun – “token” gestures in a battle that needs to be taken seriously.
On the other hand, unlike strictly offering carbon offsets or taxing companies for emissions, clean energy is more than a fictional or experimental concept; it is entirely possible to farm clean energy and establish infrastructure based on it. Windmills and solar panels prove that carbon-neutral energy sources are available to power homes, offices, schools, and more.
At a large-scale, however, energy distribution may experience fluctuations. Firstly, due to the unpredictable weather conditions; an adequate amount of wind and solar power is required to generate enough electricity. Otherwise, these green energy plants will be forced to use batteries, presenting new problems (such as increased plant design costs and spacing issues).
The scalability of clean energy initiatives is another hindrance for society to fully adopt carbon-negative energy generation. The IEA notes that governments must perform their part in advocating the pursuit for clean energy. Large-scale green energy distribution shall cease to become a concern when the global governments implement nationwide adoption of innovations to wean society off carbon-based fuels.