Renewable Energy: a mess or a hope?

Joining us on the blog today is our colleague Eva Medianti, who writes informatively on the current state of renewable energy, the importance of switching from fossil fuels, and what is required in order for this change to occur.

Facts of energy usage

The world’s energy consumption has increased significantly, aligning with the growth in human population and development. 5 billion people on our planet enjoy energy to support their activities, but more than 1 billion people still lack this access. The biggest contributors to energy consumption are heating, cooling, transportation, and power. Energy use for heating and cooling accounted for more than 50% of world energy consumption in 2016. This heating includes water heating, space heating, and cooking. Oil use accounted for 32.9% of global energy consumption, which mostly related to transportation sectors. High dependency on private transportation significantly boosts demand for oil. Power demand, though not as significant as the other two, is also a large source of demand for energy.

Unfortunately, in 2015 the source of the world’s energy generation was dominated by fossil fuels energy (80.7 %), while renewable energy only provided 19.3 % of supply. The majority of this fossil fuel use concerned coal and oil. High dependency on non-renewable energy has numerous disadvantages. It produces carbon emissions, which increase global warming and trigger climate change. Climate change causes detrimental effects such as increased variability of climate, which increases the intensity and frequency of extreme -weather events; rising sea levels, leading to island erosion, which can result in climate refugees; and coral bleaching that threatens the marine life ecosystem and the fisheries industry. In addition to its severe impacts on the environment, fossil fuels such as oil are declining significantly. Therefore, the natural resources created over billions of years has been extracted and will soon vanish, all because of human activities in the past few centuries since the industrial revolution begun. Like it or not, the world must transform its energy supply to renewable energy. Otherwise, we will be unable to continue to enjoy modern development as we understand it.

The current progress of energy generation in the world

Renewable energy offers safe, environmentally-friendly energy, and is self-sustaining. Global renewable energy in 2016 was 19.3%, and within the last decade, it only increased by 2.8 percent on average, mostly by hydropower, solar power, and wind energy. However, its growth is only slightly above demand growth in energy demand due to the high increase in global population. The question is how to supply the energy demands of 6 billion people with renewable energy. Technology, funds, and politics will underpin the change required, not to mention the switch of mindset in energy preferences. It is a battle between the rising new industries and the enormous fossil fuel industry.

Where is Australia?

Australia is one of the highest per capita users of carbon emissions in the world (McCarthy, Eagle, & Lesbirel, 2017). It also depends highly on coal, both as its main electricity generator, contributing 63% of its electricity, and as a national income generator, with 90% of black coal production being exported. In addition, in 2016 38% of energy consumption came from oil. These numbers show the significant role of fossil fuels in the Australian energy portfolio. This highlights the importance of funds, stakeholders, and policy in the industry.

On the other hand, Australia has the natural resources for renewable energy supplies. Its abundance of sunshine and wind are two of its most valuable potential resources. However, it has not optimised these resources to its full capacity. Australia’s renewable energy generation only contributes to 17.3 percent of total energy generation. Its main resources for renewable generation come from hydropower, wind, and solar, which contribute 42.3%, 30.8%, and 18.3 % respectively. In relation to the rest of the world, Australia is ranked fifth together with Greece for solar PV capacity per capita category. Renewable energy sectors in Australia in 2016 provided employment for 11,150 people, with the biggest contribution coming from solar and hydro energy. However, country-level reports do not identify the progress of renewable energy by state. South Australia, ACT, and Tasmania lead the rest of the country in their energy policies and implementation, while Western Australia and Northern Territory’s programs are still in their infancy. Speeding up the renewable energy growth in all states is a major challenge. Increasing the rate of change is necessary to boost renewable energy performance in competing with the fossil fuels business.

In conclusion, shifting from fossil fuel energy to renewable energy requires considerable effort and well-planned strategies. It also demands that all levels of society make an energy preference decision, not just major actors with access to power, large funds, and technology. In other words, this change should happen on both a global and household level. Australia is an example of the struggle for change in energy preference decisions in the world. There is a long way to go, but it is not impossible. Energy generation strategy development should include social, economic, and environmental dimensions to create sustainability in human development. This is necessary in order for the luxury of energy to be able to be enjoyed by future generations.

Eva
Sustainability Officer (2017)

On the Record: On Ethical Fashion

For our fifth segment of On the Record, our Sustainability Officer, Ida Marie Sandvik, talks about ethical consumption and the fashion industry. She also invites us to reflect on our roles as consumers and what we can do as individuals to achieve a more ethical fashion industry.

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Q. Why did you pick this picture in particular?
A. I picked this picture because I did two events this week for Fashion Revolution Week and these are some of the materials we used, and a bit of a summary of what has happened this week.

Q. Could you tell me a bit more about those events?
A. I had one presentation for two organisations in Monash, and they asked me to talk about ethical consumption, and then today I had a participatory workshop because I am the student ambassador for Fashion Revolution. So to support their movement and in the spirit of Fashion Revolution week we had this workshop for people to discuss the power dynamics in the fashion supply chain.

Q. What got you interested in fashion and, particularly, in the ethics of the fashion industry?
A. It is actually quite a long story but I studied anthropology and I have always been interested in understanding behavioural economy and read a lot of books about the psychology behind choices when we buy or consume products. I then decided to come to Australia to study International Development and specialise in Sustainable Resource Management, and then I saw the connection between the fashion industry and behavioural economy. I have also worked for a fast-fashion company, where I got an understanding of these new trends constantly coming in encouraging us to consume.

Q. Do you see any improvements in the fashion industry?
A. I am doing my thesis on sustainable fashion at the moment, and I have definitely found both in the academic field and also looking at media outlets and at industry reports that there is a movement now towards more responsibility and higher sustainability in production. Companies are now considering where they buy their clothes from and what materials they are using. I definitely see that there is an ongoing movement that is gaining more momentum.

Q. Do you have any advice for us as consumers as to how we can help?
A. My advice is to really consider how you vote with your money. Every time that you buy a product it is actually a vote for the world you want or the products that you want. Really consider the bigger picture of your consumption; both in terms of the materials you buy into but also how much you buy, and what brands you support.

 

 

If you would be interested in participating on our next On the Record segment, please do not hesitate to contact our Content Editor at editor.midpassociation@gmail.com

Teach Series: Sustainable Fashion

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Thank you to everyone who came along and participated in our first ever Teach Series event this Wednesday. Our inaugural student speaker was the Association’s own Lead Writer and Website Designer, Ida, discussing how the fashion industry relates to international development.

We were delighted with the turn out but for those unlucky enough to miss it,  Ida has summarised her presentation and captured highlights from the fantastic discussion that came from it. We have even included some relevant links for further exploration of the topic.

And as always, we invite you to continue the discussion in the comments section below.

Fashion and Society

Consumers have been led to expect more variety at a lower price, putting pressure on companies to produce higher volumes at lower costs. This economic and profit-margin squeeze ultimately lands on the factories, who compromise human rights, wages, safety and working conditions.

The reason companies are interested in production locations such as Bangladesh, is the overall low costs but also that there are low regulations and not many limiting laws, allowing companies to put unreasonable pressure on the factory managers.

Corruption is a huge problem in the fashion industry. One student highlighted that a common practice in Cambodia is to pay up to two months wages to the ‘insider’ who got you the job. A debilitating societal tradition if you are already living on the poverty line.

We also heard of garment workers beginning to mobilise and demand their rights, putting overdue pressure on governments.

 

Fashion and the Environment

The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry globally. The value-chain is filled with problems of water, chemicals, trash and so on.

Cotton is highly water-consuming, it takes up land that could have been used for agriculture and heavily relies upon fertilisers that seep into groundwater and pollute local water sources. Certain fertilisers have been linked to waves of farmer suicides in India.

There is also a huge energy cost to clothing: in production, transport, when we wash our clothes, iron them, dry clean them, drive them to the second-hand shop, ship them overseas for charitable causes and so on.

All this energy is wasted when we do not keep our clothes for a long time. The lifecycle of clothes is short, we put our clothes in landfills, which produce methane. Or we give it to charity, to a friend or companies that will recycle it, depending on its quality of course.

 

Fashion and the Pressure of Consumerism

We use clothing as a key personal identifier: clothes are our chosen skin. A responsible sustainable approach to clothing could focus on letting only a few pieces of clothing identify us, rather than a continuous change of outfit or refreshing our ‘look’ define us.

Gender plays a role in consumerism, women are expected to look a certain way when they go to work e.g. wear high-heeled shoes. The men in the room also contested that there are plenty of pressures on them! Media reinforces expectations of how everyone is supposed to look.

It is very important that we do not only consider how the ‘West’ consumes and exploits the ‘South’. A participant pointed out there is a growing middle class in many countries such as India, China and Brazil, that partake in high consumption as well.

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Fast Fashion and the Recycling Norm

When we give our clothes to charity we think we are doing good. However, one study found that there are so many clothes given to charity that even if it was given away for free, there would be too much to go around. Another study found that only 20% of the clothes are used or resold.

The question is what happens to everything else? Much of it is shipped to places like Haiti, disaster areas. The problem with this is that the local markets cannot compete with the low prices of these clothes, ruining their chances of starting up their own locally produced clothing stores.

 

Who is Responsible for the Fashion Industry’s Habits?

The question was posed: who is responsible for the social and environmental issues linked with the fashion industry?

We as consumers have a choice to only buy from places that support our own values in terms of production. To ignore societal pressures to look good in a fast-consuming world.

However looking at the production side this could lead to economic problems for garment workers. If the consumer demand falls for cheap clothing or if we buy less they potentially lose their only source of revenue.

This is a central and essential question linking capitalist consumerism and neoliberal development. Who is responsible to action change in the industry? Would this change be beneficial for all or just a clearing of consciousness for the consumer? Leaving local ecosystems destroyed elsewhere…where do you see the responsibility falling?

 

Further Exploration of the Subject

These are a few apps designed to help you buy more ethically: ‘The Good On You’ and ‘Shop Ethical’.

Here’s an Ethical Fashion Guide:

http://www.baptistworldaid.org.au/assets/Be-Fair-Section/Ethical-Fashion-Guide16.pdf

Further information can be found at these two websites:

http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/detox/

http://fashionrevolution.org

 

And as always, there are some fantastic TED talks on related topics:

https://tedxsydney.com/talk/fashion-as-a-catalyst-for-social-change/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v= d4VTPLpfGq0

 

Final Remarks

The Association have discovered that Monash University does not have an ethical policy surrounding its supply chain, for example where it sources Monash uniforms or your Monash hoodies. If you are interested in becoming an agent for change on this matter, please contact Ida.

Thank you again for your excellent participation! Please do share below if you know of any other apps, websites, articles or brands that can help everyone be inspired to consume more ethically.

You can find the presentation here.

 

Freedom and consumption: always wanting more

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I am reading a book called The Freedom Paradox by Clive Hamilton (2008). Throughout the book Hamilton questions how we as humans can be free when we spend so much time chasing the perfect body, the perfect home and in general when we devote our lives to consumerism. We consume in order to reach the material state that advertising makes us believe is a happy life.

Consumption is a paradox; on one hand it supports our basic needs and creates economic growth, choices, a feeling of freedom; but on the other hand consumption is one of the core problems in several social and environmental issues, and forces us to continuously earn money. High demands, fast obsolescence and never-ending wants puts pressure on our common natural resources, and for what? Why is it so necessary for us to consume continuously? Why has materialism become a measure of a good life? And why has neoliberalism become an accepted way to freedom?

 

Individualism

Economist and philosopher Friedrich von Hayek (1960) has influenced western society with his thoughts on liberalism and we are now living in a ‘individualisation’ era. There is more and more focus on the individual, making our own way in the world, self-promotion and so on, which is often driven through consumption. Clothes, technology, cars, houses, have become a way to define ourselves and we promote this through social media.

While it can be argued that this is a personal choice – what and how much to consume – it can also be argued that this kind of consumption is artificial and forced by societal norms. Furthermore it can be argued that consumption sets a standard of who can take part in society. We also need to work to be able to consume. Hamilton argues that ‘freedom often comes with obligations or expectations’.

 

Obsoletism

Several industries benefit from increasing need for novelty. New iPhones each year, ever-changing fashion, improvements in cars and other high tech gadgets: planned obsolescence is part of many product life-cycles. Advertising makes us want the newest and fastest, creating a need for constant change.

As consumers we have to realise that we are part of the big corporations’ money game. We think we are rich because we can afford to buy a lot but in reality we get poorer and end up owning much that we do not need. Earnest Elmo Calkins, an influential advertising man in the 1920’s introduced ‘obsoletism’ as a strategy for companies and stated:

“We no longer wait for things to wear out. We displace them with others that are not more effective but more attractive.”

 

Conspicuous Consumption

Economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen (1899) described the notion of fabricating wants: the idea is to add value to products to make people believe that by buying the product they will reach another level of happiness or success in their own life. Veblen argued that this is a way to create conspicuous consumption. Using desires and wants is also a way to control the public. The public becomes objects of the machine called society, that is controlled by the corporations. Materialism becomes a way to measure a decent life and compare success with your neighbors – also known as keeping up with the Joneses.

Markets were originally based on the idea of rational consumers making rational choices. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman (2013) has thus proved that consumers in many cases are irrational and make choices and buy based on emotions and are thereby easily manipulated. Noam Chomsky states in Requiem for the American Dream that:

“The point is to create uninformed consumers who make irrational choices, that’s what advertising is all about.”

 

Materialism

Consumption has a marginal diminishing return and only to a certain point will it improve the life of the consumer and make the consumer happier. Tim Kasser (2003) has found negative impact on psychological well-being with materialistic values and consumption. Karl Marx (1844) says,

“The devaluation of the world of men is in direct proportion to the increasing value of the world of things.”

 

The Good Life

The point is that most of consumption is based on artificial demands, created from advertising and society accepting that there is a formula for ‘the good life’. Most consumption is not necessary, we do not really need a new fashion trend every week or a new iPhone every year to live a good and happy life.

So does consumption actually make us happier? Is it an illusion? And how can consumption be responsible and sustainable? Would it take a fundamental change in values to make consumption responsible? Furthermore, there is a need for focus on these wants that big corporations create: most of our consumption is not to fulfil our basic needs, but to appease our wants in hope for a better life.

The more we consume, the less free and responsible we become.

Sense and Sustainability

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If you knew me growing up you’d probably say I was one of those ‘greenies’. Back in high school I was already active in organizations that aimed to help the environment, I went to summer camps on wildlife and marine conservation, headed reforestation activities, and spent most of my holidays and weekends climbing this mountain and that during my four years in university. It was almost second nature to me to try my best not only to nurture the environment, but also to ensure that my actions and consumption patterns weren’t going to have any negative externalities on earth.

It just made sense to me given my upbringing: ‘unplug appliances when not in use’, ‘take quick showers’, ‘dispose of trash properly’, ‘use less paper’, ‘opt for a reusable bag’ and let’s not forget the good old ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’.

Back then I thought that conserving the environment was important, now I know that it is a non-negotiable. This is not only for environmentalists, but also increasingly now for development practitioners. The onset of the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) has created the crucial link between the health of the planet and development and progress that the human species has always yearned for.

For me, responsible consumption is the closest and most accessible option that individual citizens have to making sustainability a reality instead of being just another development buzzword. It is important that as consumers, we realize that we have an option just not to blindly consume, but to really think about our purchases. Next time you buy something in the department store spare a few seconds and ask not only the usual ‘do I really need this’, but probe a little deeper and think ‘who made this, where did the raw materials come from, how much raw materials and energy was used, how far did this have to travel just to get to me, how long will this garment really last?’

Those questions not only reflect the cost on the environment but also considers the social and human costs, energy and fuel consumption, and maybe even the planned obsolescence behind certain cheap products that leaves us constantly repurchasing after one or two uses.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there’s anything inherently evil or selfish in consuming, we’ve been consuming resources in order to survive as a specie. What’s problematic though is the mindless consumerism that we’ve set our economies and ultimately our sense of development on. We buy, we discard, the economy grows, but do we even think about the life cycle of the products that we buy. Most people will rarely give a time of day to where their products come from or where they will go to once they’re in the bin. For me, certain ‘out of sight out of mind’ mentality has been bred and reinforced by this constant stream of validation on why we need to consume more and more.

The SGD on responsible consumption also highlights that point that the goals are merely guidelines and roadmaps, the solutions to social, economic, and environmental problems that we face can’t be found in them just by agreeing to them. The solutions must come from concrete actions from people, organizations, communities, and governments. However it must also be clarified that this goal for sustainable consumption is not only aimed for individual consumers. It also stands as a challenge to companies, manufacturers, and institutions like governments to help facilitate and make responsible consumption easier and more accessible for their markets.