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The different energy sources on which the current system is primarily reliant are also extremely harmful and destructive in their own right, as are other sources that are being misleadingly put forward as supposed ‘clean’ energy alternatives. Below we summarise the key destructive impacts of the world’s current main energy sources: oil, gas, coal, nuclear power, agrofuels and industrial biomass, mega dams, and waste-to-energy incineration. Read more detailed information on each of these here.
Land and livelihoods:
- Oil and gas exploration and production, oil and gas pipelines, coal mining, mega dam construction, and industrial agrofuel and biomass for energy plantations all fuel land grabbing and the displacement and impoverishment of small-scale farmers and indigenous communities.
- Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) projects and proposals – created to justify the continued use of destructive and harmful energy - are also encouraging land grabs across Africa, Asia and Latin America and driving the commodification of nature.
Pollution, deforestation and biodiversity loss:
- Industrial agrofuel and biomass plantations drive direct and indirect land use change that cause extensive deforestation.
- Oil, gas and coal exploration and extraction and the construction of oil and gas pipelines also drive deforestation and the destruction of landscapes, biodiversity and ecosystems.
- The extraction and processing of oil and gas, oil spills and the toxic waste from coal mining cause extensive water and land pollution and biodiversity loss.
- Oil, gas and coal combustion and waste-to-energy incineration all lead to significant air pollution and smog.
- While some energy jobs are highly skilled, highly paid and desirable, the vast majority of jobs in coal mines, agrofuels plantations, oil and gas processing plants, and in the construction of energy infrastructure like gas and oil pipelines and mega dams, are badly paid, unsafe, insecure, and require workers to spend long periods away from their families and communities.
- Energy projects often generate a temporary increase in certain types of jobs, but more often than not they destroy more secure local jobs and livelihoods than they create. This increases poverty and inequality and often leads to the rupture or collapse of local economies, forcing people to migrate to urban areas or across borders in search of work to support themselves and their families.
- Furthermore, the environmental impacts of extraction of destructive energy sources like coal, oil, and gas often puts at risk the viability of other local economic sectors, for example agriculture.
- Water usage for energy extraction, processing and generation, and irrigation of industrial agrofuels and biomass, is extremely high and undermines the access of communities in many places to adequate clean water and sanitation.
- The energy sector is already the largest consumer of water in the industrialised world. The IEA predicts that water requirements for energy production are set to grow at twice the rate of energy demand, with a predicted rise in water consumption linked to power generation of 85 per cent up to 2035.
- If introduced on a large scale, carbon capture and storage (CCS) would lead to a further significant increase in water use (See Box 9 for more information on CCS).
- Air and water pollution from coal, oil and gas extraction, processing, transportation and combustion and waste-to-energy incineration, along with pesticide exposure from industrial agrofuels and biomass production and exposure to nuclear radiation from nuclear accidents, all give rise to significant health problems and premature deaths in people living close to harmful energy projects and infrastructure or exposed to toxic waste.
Human rights abuses
- The establishment of new harmful energy projects like oil fields, coal mines and agrofuel and biomass plantations is often accompanied by human rights abuses of community members, activists and investigative journalists by state security and hired private security forces, including surveillance, arbitrary detention, violence, torture and murder.
- The affected communities’ rights, including rights to a healthy environment, employment, health, education, and freedom of political association are often abused in the construction of destructive and harmful energy projects.
Culture, tradition and social cohesion
- By displacing and dislocating communities, these energy projects drive destruction of the cultures of communities and Indigenous Peoples – including the loss of their medicines, livelihoods, traditions and important sites of ancestor worship. The social upheaval caused by destructive energy projects very often undermines the social cohesion of communities and leads to social breakdown and increased social problems.
- False promises from energy companies often drive divisions and conflicts within communities.