Sustainability, Biogas and the Role We Play in it all | Blog by Paul Smit

Recently the world seems to move a whole lot faster than it usually does. But, at the same time, we seem to be standing completely still. This is a sensation experienced in shared fashion across the globe right now in the shadow of the infamous coronavirus (COVID-19), which suddenly and shockingly gripped our usual way of life and picked it apart. Everyone was impacted, and straying away from frequent news broadcasts and conversations about the virus proved to be an impossible task, often driving us up the wall in despair and confusion. There is a current day phenomenon that shares similar traits with the coronavirus, albeit a much slower process: climate change.

Whether you subscribe to the belief that climate change was manmade or not, the majority of people worldwide believe that climate change is a pressing global emergency. Despite being such an immense challenge for humanity, it seemingly occupies a backstage position within our minds as it does not share the obtrusive and immediately impactful nature of COVID-19. The latter effectively blocked us from physical contact with the people we would otherwise see on an almost daily basis, and made us feel as though the walls of our rooms are slowly beginning to creep up on us. On the other hand, the experiences we have with climate change are limited to slightly warmer summers for the average person in western civilization. Being situated in the Netherlands, the idea of only truly noticing the devastating impact of climate change when I am neck deep in the North Sea, which chose to pay a surprise visit to my otherwise cork dry hometown, does not sound appealing. But, what can us average Joes really do to prevent that from happening?

When exiting room, we may turn off the lights to save a slither of energy. If we feel truly green, we may bring our own canvas bag to the store, or choose the short receipt upon checkout at the supermarket to save a fraction of a tree. When turning our head to mass production conglomerates, tirelessly exhausting dark-grey smoke into the atmosphere, it makes us wonder whether any of our efforts matter. And, though it is true that some of the countries that are most reliant on fossil fuel such the United States are turning the tide by cutting down on coal, the domestic natural gas consumption rises significantly to complement it, which is only slightly more environmentally favourable than extensive coal use. As a result, those of us left worrying about the future are more likely to swap our underwear for swimming attire and take up a couple swimming classes than to make drastic changes to our lifestyles to bring about seemingly meagre changes.

As of right now, most people believe that climate change is reversable, but that it would take drastic change beyond flicking a light switch. If we wish to reserve our swimming attire for the beach, and not our backyard, what can we realistically contribute? No wonder that we often cannot help but feel powerless in the climate change arena – if not entirely insignificant. Where do we truly fit in inside this immensely multifaceted debate?

But that’s just it! How often are we granted an opportunity, beyond angrily unleashing in a random forum tucked away in a cobwebbed corner of the internet, to share our voice in a way that has an impact on our own community and the way life can be lived there? What options are there for us to contribute to beating climate change, while reaping communal benefits that make it more immediately worthwhile? The key may lie right underneath 90% of us.

This number represents the amount of households that are connected to the existing gas grid, which we rely on for our everyday energy needs. To date, this grid procures households across the Netherlands with natural gas to meet energy demands that would otherwise have to be met through coal, city gas or heating oil. Natural gas, however, soon proved to be a temporary solution – not only because it remains harmful to the environment and the world is rightfully in uproar in pursuit of sustainability, but because of the frequent and destructive earthquakes that have terrorised households in the Northern Netherlands for years. After a 3.4 magnitude earthquake in May of 2019, enough was enough, and the government sought to speed up the reduction of natural gas extraction to be rid of it by 2022, costing the state 400 million euros. Does that mean we will become less dependent on the gas grid? Not necessarily, as gas has yet a part to play in our sustainable future.

When we think of gas, we think of environmentally harmful natural gas or perhaps an intolerance to beans… both of which are not appealing. However, our future may yet continue to revolve around gas, namely biogas. This is gas that has been extracted from otherwise wasteful organic resources, such as food waste, through a process called anaerobic digestion. This term appears complex and the process itself even more so, but the beauty of this renewable energy source is that it can be directly injected into the existing gas grid that we rely on so much to date, which favours our wallets and busy schedules.

For biogas to be a success, however, we do not merely depend on technical ingenuity. The success of biogas has everything to do with the involvement of us common folk, and our ability to share our voice, demands and concerns. Through a combination of ample participation opportunities in local biogas decision-making processes within our communities, as well as increasing levels of knowledge about biogas and sustainability in a more meaningful manner – beyond ‘switching off light = good’ – we are mobilised to work towards real local solutions together. As a result, sustainability becomes more visible with real local results and benefits.

Paul Smit graduated in February from the Master International Communication at Hanze Universty of Applied Sciences Groningen. Paul now works at ‘Gussta’ in Almere. A furniture supplier which offers solid oak and scaffolding wood furniture in a sustainable way.

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