How Does Renewable Energy Reduce Climate Change?

There are many contributors to the dawning epidemic of climate change. But studies show that our use of non-renewable energy sources is the major culprit5. So how does renewable energy reduce climate change? First, we take a look at the climate impact of non-renewable energy. 

Non-Renewable Energy and Climate Impact 

Non-renewable energy is derived from what we know as fossil fuels10. Fossil fuels are natural energy sources which include coal, natural gas, petroleum, bitumen, and shale oil. Drilling contractors retrieve these energy sources from below ground level. Following extraction energy companies refine the raw materials into fuel. From the moment we extract fossil fuels to the final consumption stage, these energy sources pose a number of climate risks.  Here are some of these risks. 

Oil spills and drilling accidents 

The technology for oil drilling has improved, but spills and accidents are still frequent. Drilling contractors extract crude oil from the ground. Crude is only found in underground reservoirs (usually in water bodies). Energy companies then use this oil to make fuel and petroleum products. 

The problem starts with exploration2. To determine how much oil is in a place, surveyors use explosives. These explosives have an impact on the animals living within that area, both on land and water. The explosions can kill marine life. They can ruin their hearing, and affect the migration pattern of fish. 

Once the extraction begins through drilling, another set of problems come to light. Experts consider drilling the most harmful stage. Continuous drilling results in more accidents3. And thus we experience increased likelihood of negative impacts. When accidents or spills occur pollution leaks into our environment. 

The two major substances are hydrocarbons (which cause water toxicity) and drilling fluids (which contain metals). Even small leaks result in these materials collecting on the seafloor. They smother organisms and cause malformation in their structures. Pollution kills embryos, and can even kill fully developed fish. 

Spilt waste doesn’t only impact aquatic animals. Water in such regions may become too toxic for people to use safely for leisure activities. Fishing industries may lose their sources of income. In less developed countries where people live on the water, they may also lose their homes.  

High waste generation

Oil rigs generate toxic waste at an alarming speed4. Their drilling fluids (or muds) can contain arsenic, zinc, benzene, iron, mercury, barium, chromium, and other metal substances. 

They also generate a lot of other waste which they move to land. As a result, oil rigs also contribute to land pollution. Some of these waste products include crushed rocks and discarded mechanical parts from machinery. 

In cases of land mining, such as coal mining, a lot of similar problems are also present. First of all, coal mining destroys the surrounding habitat for animals, plants, and other organisms. Similarly, it also produces a lot of waste, with disposal options being land or water bodies. This pollution interferes with animal lives and the quality of the environment11

Greenhouse emissions and air pollution 

We release greenhouse emissions whenever we use fossil fuel products. Greenhouse gases are good, in the right amount. They are also responsible for keeping the earth habitable. They keep our atmosphere at the right level to regulate heat and protect us from UV radiation6. Some of these greenhouse gases are CO2, methane, water vapour, nitrous oxide and more. 

However, the process of refining and consuming fossil fuel also produces greenhouse gases. And too much greenhouse gases in our atmosphere is not a good thing. These gases trap more heat than necessary, warming the surface of the earth beyond its regular temperatures. This effect is what we know as global warming. 

Whenever we use non-renewable sources for our electricity and transportation, we contribute additional greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Albeit in a relatively small way with each commute or spin of the tumble dryer, it all adds up. As such the widely-spread form of non-renewable energy pollution is greenhouse gas emission. Furthermore, researches have found concentrated pollution levels in places close to mining or drilling sites. 

The amount of human-generated gas in our atmosphere is increasing at an alarming rate. However, this isn’t an issue that can be fixed easily. Data shows that greenhouse emissions are steadily climbing1, with no hope of reduction soon. These gases will remain in our atmosphere for a long time. For example, 20% of our CO2 will remain for tens of thousands of years8. As such, the only solution is to reduce the amount of these greenhouse gases and move as fast as we can to emission-less energy production.

Renewable Energy to Reduce Climate Change

Electric Car Renewable Energy Reducing Climate Change
Image Credit: Mike Bird from Pexels

All over the world, renewable sources are being explored for energy. Today, we currently see them as alternative options. However, the future goal is to shift completely to clean energy sources in order to realise the many advantages of renewable energy. Current progress and projections already show that by 2050, 50% of the world’s energy will come from renewable energy.  

But why is the shift to renewable energy so important? And how does renewable energy reduce climate change?

Renewable energy sources are important because they are clean. They avoid burning polluting dirty fossil fuels. This is energy derived from natural resources which cannot be depleted over time and can be replenished within a short period9. Some of the widely used renewable energy sources include solar power, wind energy, hydropower, biomass, geothermal, and waste conversion. Different Types of Renewable Energy gives an in-depth explanation of how energy can be harvested from these sources. 

Switching away from fossil fuels

To reduce the progress of climate change, we should all work towards switching from non-renewable sources to renewable power sources. This is because the harmful processes and emissions that come with the former, have little to no presence with the latter. 

Let’s take a look at some of the renewable sources available and their potential impact on the climate. 

These sources don’t have the impact that non-renewable sources have on the environment. Gas emissions (such as CO2 and methane) are low, or non-existent in some cases. The structure of the earth does not have to be compromised through drilling or blasting. Generating energy from these renewable energy sources doesn’t require a constant release of metal and toxins into our water bodies. 

How Renewable Energy Reduces Climate Change

Here are some of the potential climate impacts and benefits of renewable energy we expect as more communities switch to large scale renewable energy production and consumption. 

Wind Turbines Renewable Energy

Cleaner atmosphere

The burning of fossil fuels is responsible for the increased greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. As explained earlier, these gases contribute (largely) to what we know as global warming. As energy production shifts to renewable sources, we expect that there will be a reduction in such gas emissions. Fewer emissions mean less pollution in our atmosphere.  

Better air quality

Refineries expose plants, animals, people, and organisms living within close proximity to poor air quality. As a result they receive a concentration of harmful gases which could affect their health and development. 

Air pollution affects urban dwellers significantly too. The daily commutes with thousands of cars on the same roads at the same time can be threatening. This is because most vehicles are burning non-renewable fuels, and these fuels release gases which pollute the air that we inhale.

Many non-renewable sources also require the felling of trees. For example, if coal is found in an area, miners will cut down all the trees within proximity to access the resources underground. Unfortunately, with the removal of each tree, we reduce the absorption of CO2 that they provide. Of course, trees also help to provide oxygen which humans and animals need to live. 

With renewable energy, we no longer have to cut trees down to access fossil resources. We can plant new trees in deforested areas. As a result air quality in any area with more trees improves.

Improved public health

Many communities where solid fuels (such as coal or crude oil) are found usually become at risk of poor public health13. This is because the harvesting and burning processes pose occupational hazards, waterbody contamination, and air pollution. 

The production of non-renewable energy does not pose the same risks.

Some of these sources do in fact produce some amount of waste. However, having better controls in place limit the impacts. For example, the amount of CO2 released while burning a tree for biomass is around the same amount which that tree captured in its lifetime. This can make biomass carbon-neutral (zero impact). 

Protection of natural habitats

Fuel extraction processes have an impact on natural habitats. Human activity drives out animals and can disturb the migration patterns of fish.

This contributes to the extinction rates of animals that can only survive in their natural habitats. 

Renewable energy production is a lot more responsible. As a result, contractors pay better attention to their energy plant locations. They also consider the potential impact on the animals who live there7. In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency carefully assesses land use for renewable energy development potential12

In the U.K., with offshore wind, approval from the government must be received. The government will verify that the intended area is not an exclusion zone: nature reserve, shipping lane, lighthouse cone, exploration area, or possible site for finding archaeological remains. Several of such policies are active in various regions of the world. 

Conclusion

Of course, the switch to renewable energy is just one contributing element towards a solution for climate change. But it’s a big one. Further, the adverse impacts of climate change are not linear. They affect plants, animals, humans, and other organisms alike. To make a change, we can start by redirecting our energy needs to more sustainable sources. Read Renewable Energy Tips to Help Transition to Cleaner Energy to get started.

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Sources & References:

#Description
1WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin (GHG Bulletin) - No. 14: The State of Greenhouse Gases in the Atmosphere Based on Global Observations through 2017
2Seddiki, Safia. (2018). The Environmental impacts of offshore oil drilling : the case of BP oil spill 212.
3Seddiki, Safia. (2018). The Environmental impacts of offshore oil drilling : the case of BP oil spill 212.
4Seddiki, Safia. (2018). The Environmental impacts of offshore oil drilling : the case of BP oil spill 212.
5Sivaramanan, Sivakumaran. (2015). Global Warming and Climate change, causes, impacts and mitigation. 10.13140/RG.2.1.4889.7128.
6Darkwah, Williams Kweku & Odum, Bismark & Addae, Maxwell & Koomson, Desmond & Kwakye Danso, Benjamin & Oti-Mensah, Ewurabena & Asenso, Theophilus & Adormaa, Buanya. (2018). Greenhouse Effect: Greenhouse Gases and Their Impact on Global Warming. Journal of Scientific Research and Reports. 17. 1-9. 10.9734/JSRR/2017/39630.
7Defenders of Wildlife: Making renewable energy wildlife friendly
8Yale Climate Connections (2010): Common Climate Misconceptions: Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide
9Gorjian, Shiva. (2017). An Introduction to the Renewable Energy Resources. 10.13140/RG.2.2.27055.53928.
10Chmielewski, A.G.. (2005). Environmental Effects of Fossil Fuel Consumption.
11Goswami, Sribas. (2015). Impact of Coal Mining on Environment. European Researcher. 92. 185-196. 10.13187/er.2015.92.185.
12Giebel, Gregor & Hasager, C. (2016). An Overview of Offshore Wind Farm Design. 10.1007/978-3-319-39095-6_19.
13Energy and Human Health. Annual Review of Public Health. Vol. 34:159-188 (Volume publication date March 2013) First published online as a Review in Advance on January 16, 2013 https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-publhealth-031912-114404

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  1. individual contribution on climate change can include personal choices in many areas such as diet, means of long and short distance travel, house hold energy use etc.

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