Transition 2.0: why is there no clean energy?

Transition 2.0 does not show this world with finite resources, there are no material, environmental or social conditions to sustain a system in eternal growth. All types of energy have their impact. What impacts are we capable of accepting and, above all, in exchange for what, is what we have to decide.

In different public debates, the definition of “clean energy” appears recurrently as a synonym for renewable energy, and seeks to convey the image that there are ways to generate energy that do not produce impacts or conflicts. However, energy sources such as solar, wind or hydro are not necessarily clean, but are renewable, and are so called because they do not run out.

It is true that renewable energy projects use clean sources, but their transformation into electricity has impacts, even though they do not emit greenhouse gases like fossil fuels. This is because minerals such as lithium and cobalt are used for batteries, copper for electrical transmission, or molybdenum and so-called “rare earths” for generators, as well as fossil fuels during the construction of the parks.

These resources are not renewable: like fossil fuels, they have limits. Some of these minerals -such as copper- are at their peak production levels, while the competition for their exploration can result in serious social and environmental impacts in the territories where they are extracted.

change the logic

Both the size of some renewable energy projects and their management method, in many cases follow the same logic as the oil companies, pushing out human populations and traditional productive activities.

Something similar happens with the idea of ​​“green energy”. Why are they called green? It has to do with a discourse that seeks to associate the idea of ​​green in opposition to pollution, and is often used to clean up polluting companies (greenwashing). From then on, doing business becomes easier, as economic activities considered “green” receive more funding and better public opinion.

Still, we believe that renewable energies are the best alternative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the socio-environmental impacts caused by fossil fuels (gas, oil and coal). They are part of the solution, but the dynamics of the current economic system can turn them into a problem.

transition 2.0. Look beyond the fonts

The concept of “clean energy” seeks to focus only on the sources, that is, on the fact that the energy produced does not emit carbon. But to think of a new energy model, we have to think of the whole system, not just its sources, as it is impossible to maintain current levels of consumption simply by replacing fossil fuels with renewable energies.

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A central issue is precisely consumption. If all of humanity spent as much as the people of the United States, we would need to multiply by five the resources we produce today. This also occurs at the local level: in a country like Argentina, the sector that consumes the most energy is the movement of goods and people by means of motorized transport, a task that could be covered by rail networks.

fairer energies

There are also big differences between those who have great luxuries to live with and those who cannot meet their basic energy needs. Therefore, we need an energy system that manages to make energy better, safer and more efficient for those who have less and, at the same time, that reduces large consumption.

Another key element is how it is managed. The privatization of energy in Argentina and in much of Latin America has made us understand it as a commodity. This has also happened with new renewable energy projects, which are mostly being managed by private companies, whose aim is to maximize their profits. In this sense, public control of energy is necessary so that it is managed as a common good that helps meet people’s needs.

In a world with finite resources, there are no material, environmental or social conditions to sustain a system in constant growth. The decisions we have to make are the impacts we are able to accept and, above all, in exchange for what.

To get out of this labyrinth is to look at this whole problem. Energy is not only a technical issue, but also a political one. Let’s democratize the debate on energy and the environment, to live well in a context where the limits of capitalism appear. So we must face together an energy transition that will not have magic recipes like “clean energy”, but will have to be fair and popular.

We invite you to learn about the proposed pedagogical guide for working on Transition 2.0

View educational guide

The animation Transition 2.0 is a new production by OPSur and Coletivo Audiovisual Vacabonsai that aims to explain, from the roles of a video game, the complexity of an energy transition process. Far beyond the sources and different discourses that seek to involve us in a “green capitalism”. We seek that this work serves as an input in pedagogical spaces or for discussion about the current energy situation.

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