Acting local, thinking global

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'People and Planet before Profit'

The major energy systems of Nepal today – that either leave us reliant on our own hydroelectricity and fuel-wood or on the coal-derived electricity and fossil fuels that we import from India – have failed us in more ways than one. Today, many old and new ambitious mega-hydropower projects, in spite of their huge negative implications on river ecosystems, have been unable to meet our daily energy needs – a failure that can mostly be attributed to Nepal’sunstable political, economic and weather conditions. Such state of affairs has left the electrified areas of Nepal susceptible to tens of hours of blackouts each day, especially during the winter months.

Burning fuel-wood for energy, on the other hand, practiced mostly by our rural poor, does not only encourage forest degradation but also releases more greenhouse gases (GHG) than burning coal. And our sole reliance on India for fossil fuels has proved to be a faulty practice in the past when Modi’s Government, unexpectedly, imposed a five month long blockade on us and left us scrambling to meet even our most basic of needs.

Relying on energy infrastructures such as these – that are solely profit-driven or require huge investments or are extremely polluting – has left one in four Nepalis starving for energy and has left Nepal ranking 74th(out of 80 countries)in the Energy Development Index. Much of the energy systems that we have in Nepal today are unpredictable and polluting at best and completely non-existent at worst – a fate we Nepalis share with more than 2 billion energy poor people around the world.

As the rest of the world today relies prominently on the same dirty, profit-driven energy infrastructures that we do, access to energy has failed to reach all people around the globe, especially since there is no guarantee of significant returns from many such energy-starving populations. This has had major impacts on the health, livelihood and environment of billions around the world. On top of this, dirty energy has also been responsible for climate change – one of the greatest man-made catastrophes till today.

To address such climate emergencies and livelihood disparities bought on by dirty energy, Reclaim Power - a global collaboration between movements and organizations – came into existence in 2013 to connect climate and energy struggles from all over the world. The collaborators of this group recognize energy as being “vital to the realization of people's right, social justice and sustainable economic development". Thus, they aim to motivate and rally as many people as possible for the promotion of public and community renewable and clean energy infrastructures – i.e. solar, wind and micro-hydro projects – in place of dirty energy produced bytransnational, money-hungry corporations.

To achieve such ends, Reclaim Power demands that no new potentially environment-and livelihood- threatening projects be undertaken by governments around the world. It instead stresses that all financial and technical resources and manpower should be funneled into clean, renewable, democratic and pro-poor energy systems that put “people and planet before profit”. Another major demand made by Reclaim Power is that governments – especially of the Global North – track and cap the wasteful energy consumptions by their major corporations and elites.

With the ultimate goal of reducing GHG emissions and ensuring easy energy access to all corners of the globe, in 2016, Reclaim Power has associated itself with many movements around the world that have helped raise awareness about such issues and gave common people a chance to be directly involved in climate action. Advocates, leaders, activists and commoners from Kenya to Sri Lanka to Bolivia to Mexico organized various climate interventions including rallies, peaceful protests, media roundtables, workshops and awareness programs to mobilize and inspire people.

In UK, for example, trade unionists, environmentalists and local resident groups convened to block fracking – an extremely polluting technique to extract fossil fuels and GHG – that was imminent in many communities across the country. Galvanized by the dire effects that fracking is known to have on the health, safety and environment of the surrounding communities and ecosystems, this anti-fracking protest has helped block any advancement on this issue for more than three years now.

In another part of the world, in Philippines, people from all walks of life came together, this October, to march against the Duterte Administration's decision to promote economic development on the backs of dirty, coal-powered energy. Recognizing that such a decision would not be conducive to equitable and sustainable development and citing examples of death and destruction caused by climate change in many parts of the world – including in Philippines itself- this movement requested the Duterte Administration to overthrow the coal legacy it had inherited from the preceding government and instead direct its attention towards renewables.

Meanwhile, recently in Bangladesh, a human chain was formed outside the National Press Center demanding that big polluters be kicked out of the annual climate conference – the Conference of Parties (COP). Citing the inherent conflict-of-interests between the bottom lines of polluting fossil fuel industries and such climate gatherings, this group wanted to remove such industries from climate negotiations so as to eliminate any undue influence while formulating climate policies.

Perhaps, any of these climate initiatives, by themselves, would not hold much of a significance on a global scale. But by interconnecting such actions to each other and by giving such local acts a global platform, Reclaim Power has amplified the voices of those that actually matter – the people who are on the ground, living and suffering.

When the effects of all such grassroots actions are compounded, they give each other weight and bolster one another so that policy makers can no longer ignore the voices of the common public. After all, one stick may break, but a bundle wont. By acting local but by thinking global, even those of us who feel hopelessly powerless can play a significant role in ushering in the era of renewable revolution and ensuring climate and energy justice for all.

(Pandey is a Btech. Biotech student currently working at ISET-Nepal and is a Climate Tracker) 

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