Clockwise from top:
Justin Luo, 16, China, has lived in Beijing for 14 years
Sally Paeck, 15, South Korea, has lived in Beijing for five years
Sam Turner, 15, UK and China, has lived in Beijing all his life
Alice Shi, 14, China, has lived in Beijing for ten years
What are the main problems with renewable energy sources?
Justin: The main problem is that most people don’t prioritize renewable energy because they don’t understand how important it is. People don’t understand the value. For example, with cars – although hybrids are available, people think they are slower and less convenient. There are gas stations everywhere, but no similar system for electric cars. Building up that sort of system is expensive.
Sam: There’s a [perception]that existing energy sources are more powerful or reliable. The technologies around non-renewable energies are mature and developed. It will take time and money for green energy technologies to catch up. That increases the cost of renewable energy.
Do you care about how the electricity you use is produced?
Alice: If a particular invention or advance is covered on television, that increases my awareness. But it’s complicated and most people don’t really understand. The average person needs to be educated about the benefits of green energy in order to care about it.
Justin: In the case of manufacturing, the end consumer can’t control how each separate component is produced. There aren’t simple, clear choices in the market. Most people don’t care enough to research that kind of thing on their own. People don’t question how things are made. I don’t think the way to solve the energy crisis is to put the responsibility on consumers. They don’t really have the power to control manufacturing processes. You can’t go to the factory and demand they use green energy.
What are the ill effects of using non-renewable energy?
Sam: Global warming is one of the main ill effects, causing [phenomena]like rapidly-rising sea levels.
Alice: The seasons are really strange now. In America they’ve had heavier snowfalls than ever before, while in China this winter was not really that cold. It only snowed once in Beijing.
Justin: In Inner Mongolia, coal mining has caused dangerous subsidence. It’s a really beautiful place, but they’ve destroyed it by mining fossil fuels. If we rely on non-renewable energy, it’s going to become very hard to live on planet Earth.
Alice: Because coal is running out, miners have to [excavate]more and more dangerous areas, going deeper into the ground. When the [areas under excavation]are too weak, they collapse and the workers are trapped inside.
Do you think the world is on the verge of an energy crisis?
Sam: I think the crisis will peak in our generation or in the next, but either way, it’s close.
Sally: Maybe it will happen within this century. It depends on the rate of consumption.
What are the impacts of the energy crisis?
Alice: As fossil fuels become rarer, the price increases. Every time Mom and I get gas for the car, the price is higher. Higher fuel prices have a negative impact on the economy.
Justin: That increased cost means that poor people can’t afford fuel. It has the potential to cause societal breakdown. Maybe people will start to care about green energy when it’s too late.
Alice: If energy becomes expensive and people can’t afford it, then there may be wars and [protests]. People will care when they are forced to. They’re just thinking about themselves and their economic situation.
Sam: Poorer people care more about the cost of the energy they use. For wealthier people, if there’s an increase in energy pricing it doesn’t hurt as much. It’s not just about the cost of gasoline; the cost of transportation goes up in price and everything is affected.
What alternative energy sources could replace fossil fuels?
Justin: You can see solar panels on the highways around Beijing. Those are quieter and more reliable than windmills. Lots of places don’t have wind, but sunlight is universal.
Sally: Solar power is limited. You can’t charge the panels at night or if it’s cloudy. In Korea, there are windmills making electricity. People feel proud of them because they are benefitting the country.
What’s your opinion of nuclear energy?
Sally: Most people would prefer not to use nuclear energy because they know it could seriously harm their health. After Japan’s nuclear crisis and associated cancer risks, people are nervous. When it goes wrong, it really goes wrong, so nuclear energy is really unpopular right now.
Justin: I think nuclear energy is becoming safer and safer. For example, many car manufacturers are looking at nuclear-powered [prototypes].
Alice: I don’t trust nuclear energy. It’s not safe like solar or hydroelectric power. Nothing can totally hold back nuclear [fission]. There’s always a risk it will go out of control. It can really negatively affect human health, such as after the nuclear accident in Fukuoka.
Justin: I just mean it’s much more stable than before, not that it’s absolutely without risk. When it’s safe and everyone knows it’s safe, I think it will become the most popular energy.
Alice: I still don’t think nuclear energy is mature enough or stable enough for widespread use.
Sam: It’s hard to convince people to accept nuclear energy, but I think it has a lot of advantages. Unlike wind and solar, it’s always available. It’s just a matter of developing the technology, controlling it and making it trustworthy.
Do you think consumers want to change to renewable energy sources?
Sally: People won’t change to green energy if fossil fuels are still cheaper. When the cost of non-renewable energy becomes more expensive than green energy, people will switch.
Alice: And the consequences of fossil fuels will motivate people too. Many of my friends in Beijing complain about the pollution – the issue will have to be resolved. Experts give a lot of advice, but it’s just talk. There are no popular movements to change things. The emphasis is on discussing the consequences and not on solving the problems. There’s no social pressure to conserve energy.
Sam: People talk about how bad it is, but they don’t make changes and they still consume as much electricity as ever. But soon, they will have to change their minds.
Photo by Samantha Corset
This article originally appeared on p44-45 of the beijingkids March 2014 issue.
Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com