By Paolo Cisneros | LiCore AC

There was a time not long ago when many people assumed renewable energy would never be economically competitive with fossil fuels. Solar panels and wind turbines were nice ideas, the thinking went, but they couldn’t replace the coal-fired power plants that had driven the development of a global middle class.

Thankfully, however, mindsets are changing. Not only are individuals, business and governments beginning to acknowledge the environmental imperative of transitioning away from dirty energy, economic factors are making their decision even easier.

Around the globe, the price of solar and wind energy continues to drop. As a result, the world has seen a rapid addition of renewable generation capacity to many of its electric grids. Solar energy has become especially attractive in Mexico where analysts predict prices will plummet to record lows.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, big business has taken note. One of the United States’ largest public pension funds, for example, recently announced it would ramp up investments in climate-savvy ventures.

By most measures, this is good news. As green energy becomes increasingly profitable, a larger number of firms will invest in building out the infrastructure necessary to generate it. That means cleaner electric grids and a mitigated climate crisis. But as is always the case when large sums of money are involved, there is a serious possibility for human exploitation.

In Mexico, rural and indigenous communities are at risk of displacement by private sector energy interests. These companies are eager to obtain land that is naturally suitable for solar and wind power generation. Much of that territory, however, is the ancestral homeland of vulnerable communities. Clashes are already commonplace in the state of Oaxaca where transnational energy firms are champing at the bit to develop industrial-scale wind farms. In many instances, rural groups have accused these companies of speech suppression, displacement, human rights violations, and a host of other aggressive tactics.

Taken as a whole, this confluence of circumstances presents a complex dilemma: How can the global community capitalize on the promise of renewable energy without doing so on the backs of society’s most vulnerable people?

This is where the environmental justice theory comes into play. At its core, the EJ movement is about giving voice to the people who are disproportionately exposed to environmental threats. The classic EJ constituency is comprised of low-income urban residents who don’t have the political sway necessary to prevent polluting industries from setting up shop in their neighborhoods.

In standing up for these less powerful voices, the EJ movement seeks to make environmentalism relevant to a broader audiences. While traditional environmentalists focus on threatened wilderness and endangered species (important issues, no doubt) they are less able and/or willing to argue that environmental issues affect everyone, regardless of their personal exposure to waterfalls or mountain ranges.

For those of us who care about environmental justice, we’re constantly on the look-out for new solutions to the problems we hope to address. However, because our movement necessarily concerns itself with people and communities that lack economic and political capital, we’re forced to be exceptionally creative. That’s why we’re so excited about COOPEREN and its potential to level the playing field for some of Mexico’s most vulnerable people.

While applied research and technological innovation continues to be the main thrust of LiCore AC’s work, social concerns are at the heart of everything we do. That’s why we’re so committed to addressing issues of environmental justice.

You can learn more about the environmental justice movement here, here and here.