It’s more complicated than the single word can portray. After all, anything and everything that we do requires energy. The transformation is often not visible but definitely requires attention.
If you look at the total energy consumption of the world, it has increased 25 times in the last 200 years, and only 10% of this comes from renewable energy. Not to mention, according to statistics, one billion people still have no access to electricity. I wanted to illustrate the whole scenario using graphs, but then I found Our World in Data has actually done some great visualizations with the data.
This massive energy consumption did not go unnoticed, not by us, nor by nature. Climate change’s impact is felt from the flood plains of Bangladesh to the Northern regions of Canada. Scientific evidence not only shows the adverse relation between climate change and energy consumption but also how they are connected. Changing climate requires you to adopt quickly or opt for an environment that does not vary like the weather, e.g. your home cooling and heating system, which requires a constant supply of energy.
COP21 was a milestone for the people involved in the process, helping countries to come to an agreement on an issue affecting every human being on the planet. But it also, unfortunately, lacked specificity. “Fossil fuel,” “agriculture,” and “transportation” did not receive any mention in the outcome report, whereas renewable energy was mentioned only once. If you look at total global emission, agriculture accounts for 24% and the transportation sector accounts for 14% (IPCC, 2014). Around 30% of emission comes from electricity generation and household emissions. All of them heavily depend on fossil fuel.
As these are sectors that involve people, people with a dependency on specific ways of life. Dependency takes time and adaptation. It also creates bias and perception within a being that is often beyond facts and logic. During interventions that promote renewable energy, it is not uncommon to hear from beneficiaries, “Is this the same electricity that goes to President’s house?”, or “Are we getting solar panels just because we are poor?” Such are the ground reality for many who have the technical and financial ability to implement a project but often are obstructed by the community itself. This is not only the case in the energy sector. WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) faces the biggest challenge when it comes to perception, stigmas, and taboos.
In the climate change realm, It will take time to change the behaviour of the people. Steg et al 2015 rightly mentioned that knowledge, motivations, and contextual factors are key elements in energy decisions. But somehow a sustainable energy behavior is completely missing in international- and national-level dialogues. We focus on industry and finance, but the very core of the problem is people’s choices and biases. Of course, changing the way an industry conducts business and generates consumptive energy will have a significant impact, but sensitizing people can bring an even stronger and long-lasting change.
There have been instances when sensitization brought in much greater impact. Take the global hand-washing movement, for example. The focus of the movement has been on hand-washing and the habit, while the talk about disease control came in later. The narrative that climate change requires more focus on renewable energy can be tweaked a bit in this sense. We do not only want the people who believe in climate change to adapt to renewable energy but also those who do not. The picture is not that delightful when you look at numbers of climate change deniers. We can either try to sensitize them, or we can connect our goals with their interests.
What energy behaviors need to be changed, how can we achieve them, and how long it might take are questions that need research. This will probably vary by factors like age, location, and education level. In developed countries, there are some forms of incentives already present, but most of the world’s population are based in developing countries and by 2040, 65% of the total energy consumption will be in these developing countries (EIA, 2013). It is inevitable that the process will take time, but it is also impossible to attain the 1.5/2 degree target without focusing on behavior change or sensitization in the energy sector.