Climate and Energy

Pretty much all the energy we use today comes from the sun. Of course, if we use solar photovoltaic panels, or solar hot water panels, we know that energy comes from the sun. Heat from the sun creates differences in air temperature which causes wind, so wind generation is ultimately from solar energy. The sun evaporates water from seas and lakes, and then it rains on high land where it can be dammed or otherwise used to create hydro-electric power. And the energy released when anything is burned is caused by releasing the bonds between atoms, bonds originally formed by solar energy transformed into chemical energy to make plants grow. Some of that solar energy was captured by trees growing a few decades ago. But some of that solar energy was locked up by green plants millions of years ago, plants which died and decayed and eventually turned into coal, or by plankton which died and fell to the bottom of the sea, eventually turning to oil or gas.[1]

Genesis 1:16 tells us that God set the sun to govern the day. Each day, the sun gives us more energy than we can possibly need. The trouble is, we are using up our ancient, fossilised sunlight, and using it up much, much faster than it was laid down. But we are not making the most of the energy that is renewed daily by the rising of the sun.

And when we crack open the earth to release its stored energy, we also release its stored carbon, which we now know blankets the earth with its greenhouse effect, causing rising global temperatures and all the associated global climate chaos.

I don’t suppose the author of Genesis had this in mind at the time of writing. But a recurrent theme of the Bible is how God gives enough to his people, who will insist on taking more and suffering the consequences. When the people of God were lost in the wilderness, God gave them manna to meet their needs each day. But those who tried to keep extra found that it bred worms and became foul (Exodus 16). The prophets rage against those who use unfair weights, cheating others and keeping a little extra for themselves (Amos 8, Micah 6). And the man who had such a bumper crop, he built bigger barns to keep it all for himself? You may remember that he came to an abrupt end (Luke 12).

God gives abundantly, generously. His gifts are new every morning. The trouble comes when we take more than we need. This applies to energy as much as it does to quails and manna. How can we reduce our dependence on ancient, fossilised sunlight, and instead make the most of the daily renewable energy of the sun? Or to put it another way, we have an ample daily allowance. What do we need to do to try to live within our sunlight means, and stop digging into our reserves, getting further and further into carbon deficit?

In our climate and buildings resource we looked at ways to use less energy. This month we’re looking at renewable energy, aiming to guide you through decisions around switching your energy provider or even generating your own energy with solar panels.