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Problem and theory of change

We, in the United States, live within and enable an energy system today based on non-renewable resources that, by definition, are out of balance with life on Earth.

The mostly privatized and large-scale energy system in the country makes a few rich, many sick, and everyone insecure.4 Fossil fuels—coal, oil, and natural gas—are America’s primary sources of energy. In 2017, fossil fuels (petroleum, gas, and coal) accounted for at least 80 percent of energy consumption in the United States, with an overall increase of gas by 24% from 2005 to 2017.[1]

The pollution and water contamination associated with fossil fuel production has been increasing, as evidenced by fracked gas and oil production.[2] The pollution and the hundreds of millions of tons of mine wastes and mill tailings from uranium production are still harming Indigenous communities and polluting the air and water.[3] Nuclear power-using countries, like the United States, France, Britain, and Japan, have left a vast trail of radioactive pollution in the uranium-producing countries across the world, much of it in countries like Niger and Namibia, which have no nuclear power plants.[4]

Meanwhile, big profit-driven utilities are controlled by utility shareholders. It is the legal obligation of corporations (under standard law) to maximize the benefit to these shareholders, leaving communities behind.

But the true costs of these dirty, limited energy sources are not included in consumer utility or gas bills, nor are they paid for by the companies that produce or sell the energy. These true costs are the societal and environmental costs of human illness and death (especially among the most vulnerable populations), environmental degradation, geopolitical instability, depleted fresh water and food supplies, and, in the case of fossil fuels, catastrophic climate change. Together, all of these costs amount to trillions of dollars just in the United States.[5] Moreover, nuclear power plants produce plutonium, which can be used to make nuclear bombs if separated from the radioactive waste. The U.S. nuclear reprocessing program would add to the worldwide stockpile of separated and vulnerable civil plutonium that sits in storage today, which totaled roughly 250 metric tons as of the end of 2009—enough for some 30,000 nuclear weapons.[6] There is more surplus separated bomb-usable plutonium in the civilian nuclear power sector globally than in all nuclear weapon states combined.

Converting our energy system is about more than replacing fossil fuels with clean energy sources. The transition to 100% begins by addressing the way our energy system is structured and requires that power and economic benefits shift hands from the few to the many.

Renewable energy can be a vehicle to democratize our energy infrastructure, improve grid reliability and resilience, and distribute the economic benefits of generating energy more equitably. Individual members of the public, local communities, public institutions, and small businesses can become more than just energy consumers. They can instead form part of new systems, share the benefits, and have a direct impact on their local communities. Innovative ownership models will be required as new and different stakeholders become directly involved in the transformation. Policies, laws, and regulations should actively support such an energy transformation.

References

  1. Petroleum, Natural Gas, and Coal Still Dominate U.S. Energy Consumption.” U.S. Energy Information Administration. 3 Jul. 2018. Accessed 18 Jul. 2019.
  2. The intensification of the water footprint of hydraulic fracturing.” Science Advances, 15 Aug. 2018. Accessed 18 Jul. 2019.
  3. Mining and Environmental Health Disparities in Native American Communities.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2017. Accessed 18 Jul. 2019.
  4. Anderson, Michael, “Uranium Mining in Africa.” Stanford University, 16 Jul. 2015. Accessed 18 Jul. 2019.
  5. Fossil Fuel Subsidies Cost $5 Trillion Annually and Worsen Pollution.” Scientific American, 19 May 2015. Accessed 18 Jul. 2019.
  6. Nuclear Reprocessing: Dangerous, Dirty, and Expensive.” Union of Concerned Scientists, 5 Apr. 2011. Accessed 18 Jul. 2019.
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