TO SPREAD THE BENEFITS OF DIGITALIZATION WE HAVE TO SOLVE THE ENERGY DILEMMA

ENERGY, CLIMATE CHANGE AND GLOBAL POVERTY

Human history is driven by technological innovations. Such innovations allowed humankind to turn energy into food, heat, and motion. During the 19th and 20th centuries, energy-related innovations improved the quality of life and boosted economic growth globally.

On the one hand, energy consumption is strongly correlated to economic growth and poverty alleviation (Mirko, 2020). That is because there is a huge potential for energy to improve living standards, whether through increasing productivity; improving healthcare and education services; allowing digital connections to local, regional and global networks; or fueling the industrial and digital revolutions. Therefore, it is imperative to guarantee access to energy in order to achieve global development and alleviate poverty (Yang, 2012).

Nevertheless, the incredible amount of energy that we consume –which has been exponentially increasing since the 18th century, as we can see in Graph 1– is causing, on the other hand, deep environmental degradation.

Graph 1. Global energy consumption in absolute terms

Source: Ritchie, 2020

To a large extent, the explanation for the current environmental damage lies in the fact that more than 90% of global energy consumption comes from fossil fuels, as we can see in Graph 2. This type of energy source, when burned, produces huge amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2), which has a devastating impact on the environment (Ritchie & Roser, 2020).

Graph 2. Global energy consumption in relative terms

Source: Ritchie, 2020

Therefore, the solution lies in decarbonization: reducing the portion of fossil fuels in global energy consumption, which in fact implies transforming the whole economic system. In these regards, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) set the goal of reducing all human-caused CO2 emissions –SDG Indicator 13.2.2: Total greenhouse gas emissions per year– “by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050” (IPCC, 2018). From the 1950s onwards, there has been a progressive but insufficient progress on decarbonization (Ritchie, 2020) . However, we are still far from meeting the IPCC objectives, so the global threat that climate change represents needs to be urgently addressed.

Moreover, it may well be acknowledged that climate change, despite seriously affecting the whole world, entails a greater concern for the poorest countries of the planet.

On top of that, third-world countries have less access to energy and, as a result, fewer chances to lift themselves out of poverty since it is clear that energy constitutes the motor of industrialized societies. Therefore, they are minor contributors to global warming but still suffering the worst consequences ( D S Ward, 2014 )

Here it comes the complicated dilemma:

Considering this, an option for underdeveloped countries to industrialize and for developing countries to improve their productive framework could be to lower the price of the currently used energy sources (fossil fuels). However, this price reduction would result in a consumption increase, which is inevitably linked to the afore-mentioned constraint: the rise of CO2 emissions.
Along these lines, economic factors ought to be considered as well to ensure that decarbonization can happen in the proper time frame and with the price of energy remaining low. We can now understand the interconnection between energy, climate change and poverty.

So what alternatives do we have?

Innovative technology to rethink energy production is needed to meet decarbonization requirements. Although the main progress and innovation come from the private sector, decentralized finance (DEFI) could take the problem to the global sphere: democratizing discovery data and providing liquidity. Using blockchain technology to finance, iterate and develop technology is a path worth exploring ( I will probably talk about it in my presentation )


Adding up to this, and returning to the initial formula [CO2 emissions= P S E C], it has been demonstrated that nuclear energy can be both efficient (E) and remain low in carbon emissions (C) as data appoints. Thus, moving towards nuclear power is a suitable alternative to the current model, and it is potentially a solution to reach SDG13 ( Sustainable Development Goal ). The large-scale deployment of modern nuclear energy could be the engine of industrialization and digitalization for underdeveloped and developing countries. Providing clean energy for sustained economic and human development without compromising the environment.

20 comments

  1. This was a fantastic overview of our current climate change situation, and the point of developing countries industrializing is a key point. Earlier today I was attending the Climate Week conference. Climate Week focuses on fulfilling and increasing commitments made by businesses, governments, and organizations. It is the time and place where the world gathers to showcase leading climate action and discuss how to do more, fast. One of the sessions I attended featured Bill Gates talking about the very issue of industrializing the modern world. The big hope is that “green hydrogen” will be a solution to this problem in the future. “Green Hydrogen” is still a ways away from being a practical solution (as it needs to be developed much more) but we will see what the future holds.

    1. Wow! Firstly, I want to talk with you about Bill Gate’s conference. Secondly, I completely agree. Energy production based on hydrogen is still not a feasible solution. There are several projects going on but none of them capable of generating more energy that it consumes ( to store hydrogen in plasma state they use electromagnetic fields that eventually need a LOT of energy )

  2. Amazing article. You brought an excellent point regarding nuclear energy as a way of saving the environment. Now that is something I that never thought as a solution, but now I see it as an option. First, I think we need to change the general public’s perception regarding nuclear energy.

    1. Exactly! That’s the challenge, I wish public perception was based on facts and data but it is rather emotional drivers

  3. I really like how you incorporated other countries, especially developing nations, into your analysis. I feel like too often we are fixated on the United States and Five I countries only yet developing nations are going to see a huge change to their operating environments in the coming years. Unfortunately, a lot of deforestation has already occurred due to developing nations selling their natural resources for money. I would really like to see an increase in both production and green growth within the United States in the coming decade; I think that would help solve some of our climate and supply chain issues.

    I think it’s great that we have leaders thinking about climate and our earth as our generation takes on the next wave of leadership within companies. Not to dig on the boomers, but their idea of innovation was Styrofoam.

    Really well-thought-out blog; thank you for sharing this perspective!

    1. Thank you so much for your comment, I really appreciate this feedback!
      I think that, after all, countries are imagined communities. The only real community is humankind and we all share the same conditions, we all live in this piece of land we call Earth, we all die and when it rains we all get wet by the same water.
      So we have to face this huge problem together.

  4. I was happy to see energy be added to this course’s topical stew. I think de-stigmatizing nuclear energy and how digital age innovations support this effort would be a great follow up topic. I know that fossil fuel power plants use exhaust scrubbers and other technology to completely eliminate CO2 emissions. So, I think a follow up blog on this as it relates to digital transformation would be worth while too.

    1. I have never heard about “exhaust scrubbers”, I find really interesting if it actually works. I will do some research on it ;)
      Thank you so much for commenting.

  5. I agree with your suggestion that nuclear is a viable alternative to traditional fossil fuels and could present a path forward to this challenge in conjunction with alternative fuels. As for its impact on poorer, less educated regions I find that more of a challenge considering the level of sophistication and top engineering required to run the plants.

    P.s. Don’t show people the Chernobyl HBO series if you want to convince them of the power of clean-nuclear

    1. hahaha, I have also seen the Chernobyl series, not helping improve public perspective on nuclear.
      Nevertheless, IV generation nuclear reactors run with autonomy. In the sense, they are runner by AI and I trust computers better than humans when it comes to monitoring and regulating a nuclear reactor unless we found ourselves in a dystopian futurist world.

  6. This is a great summary of the global challenges we face to address climate change. I think hegemonic countries like the United States and the EU can play a huge role in reducing Co2 emissions while simultaneously investing in renewable energy initiatives. Unfortunately, there are numerous hurdles for developing/poorer countries to adopt new technology to combat climate change due to geopolitics and corruption. This phenomenon, including other issues mentioned in the comments will present a problem to end poverty in developing nations.

    1. It is a really complicated problem. A clean energy source deployed in a large scale and at a cheap price still seems unfeasible. First thing is to start thinking on it I guess.

  7. This was really interesting to read, and really inspired me to do my own research. I agree and follow all of your points, but I disagree with you and comments on pursuing nuclear-first approach to energy. I’m linking an article at the bottom that can explain it better than I can, but first and foremost, it seems that with our current supply of viable uranium, we could only continue powering nuclear reactors for the next 80 years. If we were to scale and go nuclear-only that supply would drop to 5 years. Nuclear Power plants have a lifespan of 50 years before they need to be decommissioned, take 6-12 years to build, and cost upwards of $10B to build each one, it just doesn’t seem very feasible. I do wholeheartedly agree that going carbon zero should be the goal, I just question whether nuclear will get us there, or if there will be a new emerging technology that will sweep over us.

    https://phys.org/news/2011-05-nuclear-power-world-energy.html

    1. Hei! Thanks for your comment. I think this is similar to the “oil” supply. Before fracking and other techniques, humankind was supposed to run out it in a relatively short time period. Nevertheless, the more we look for it, the more we find. This applies to Uranium:
      -Uranium is a relatively common metal, found in rocks and seawater. Economic concentrations of it are not uncommon.
      -Quantities of mineral resources are greater than commonly perceived, and are relative to both market prices and cost of extraction.
      -The world’s known uranium resources increased by at least one-quarter in the last decade due to increased mineral exploration.
      Furthermore, IV generation nuclear reactors have increased efficiency, lifespan, and autonomy. I agree that other future options may be more appealing, but currently, I still see nuclear as the most feasible one.

  8. This was a really good read and something I think the Global community needs to take a look at fast. Brett made a great point above that underdeveloped countries are often forced to exploit there own resources to make additional money while in turn that makes them even more vulnerable to climate change. I’ll admit this article changed my opinion a bit on nuclear energy. Obviously there are risks with it that we have seen with the Chernobyl disaster as well the issues in Japan after the Tsunami but after doing some research I didn’t realize that nuclear waste was a small amount of the energy that’s actually produced. I read that the amount of nuclear waste in the US could fill a football field 10 yard deeps which is the amount of waste generated by a coal plant in 1 hr.

    1. Thanks for your comment. It is great that you changed your perspective a bit. Furthermore, IV generation nuclear reactors can use nuclear waste as a fuel, amazing, isn’t it?

  9. Great post! This is a topic that I have been thinking about recently. Many countries worldwide are trying to shift their model to achieve net-zero. However, there is a vast divide between developed and developing countries: developing countries are now responsible a large amount of global carbon emissions, and they are not thinking of slowing down because changing to new forms of emissions requires investment they are not able to make just yet. I also think it is interesting you mention nuclear as an alternative. This type of energy has been set aside due to security concerns for many years; however, it might be worth reconsidering it now.

    1. Thanks for your comment Yana ;)
      I <3 nuclear and there is a low-probability but high-consequence risk involved on it that thanks to AI and modern computers can be increasingly reduced.

  10. My father was a nuclear engineer in the Navy, so I’ve had a relatively positive view of it for years. Nuclear can be outstanding if it is managed right, but a disaster if it is not. I’m wondering whether our innovations in organizational excellence (e.g. six sigma, etc) have made nuclear a more viable option now than it might have been in the 1970s and 1980s, when it got such a black eye. Maybe it was just ahead of its time?

    1. Thanks for your reply professor. I can’t believe your father worked as a nuclear engineer, WOW! He would love IV generation nuclear reactors and all the new technology involved in modern nuclear plants. I think that you are right, maybe they were ahead of their time…

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