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Energy Poverty: Environmental Problem #1 (worth remembering Sunday)

“Climate change is not an economics problem. It’s an ethics problem.”

- Stephen Schneider, Science, June 4, 2004.

Well, yes it is.  And the climate-change debate brings up the energy-policy debate.

Poor people around the world need abundant, affordable, modern energy. And this points to private property and free markets–and adaptation in the face of uncertainties–and not government ownership and control of energy resources. The failure of Kyoto I should not be followed by a Kyoto II. The United States should not enact either a carbon tax or a carbon cap-and-trade program. Resource access on government lands (and waters) should be permitted. The goal is a robust supply-side strategy that respects free consumer choice to benefit one and all, and particularly the most vulnerable.

Here are some quotations on the need to eradicate energy poverty (a list that needs to be added to if folks have other quotations that can be added in the comment list).

“Today, 1.6 billion people in developing countries do not have access to electricity in their homes. Most of the electricity-deprived are in the sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia. For these people, the day finishes much earlier than in richer countries for lack of proper lighting. They struggle to read by candle light. They lack refrigeration for keeping food and medicines fresh. Those appliances that they do have are powered by batteries, which eat up a large share of their incomes.”

- Faith Birol, “Energy Economics: A Place for Energy Poverty in the Agenda?” The Energy Journal, Vol. 28, No. 3 (2007), 1–6, at 3.

“Rising energy demand is part and parcel of a broader process of rapid economic and social development, which is lifting millions of people out of poverty. That is cause for cheer.”

- International Energy Agency, World Energy Outlook 2007 (Paris: OECD/EIA, 2007), p. 55.

“For decades the public has been exposed mostly to the pessimistic view, a view fueled by a constant stream of bad news and doomsday predictions about resources and the environment emanating from individuals, environmental groups and the media. No doubt, a certain level of consciousness raising by scientists and environmental groups is essential to develop and maintain people’s sensitivity to environmental problems. But there is a big difference between advising caution on a slippery road and crying ‘fire’ in a crowded theater. We’ve had too much of the latter, in the name of environmentalism.”

- Jack Hollander, The Real Environmental Crisis: Why Poverty, Not Affluence, Is the Environment’s Number One Enemy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), pp. xi-xii.

“Poverty has received scant attention from an energy perspective. This is remarkable given that energy is central to the satisfaction of basic nutrition and health needs, and that energy services constitute a sizeable share of total household expenditure in developing countries.”

- United Nations Development Programme, Energy After Rio: Prospects and Challenges (New York: United Nations Publications, 1997), p. 8.

“Wood, dung, and other biomass represent the lowest rung on the energy ladder for cooking, with charcoal, coal, and when available, kerosene, representing the next rungs up the ladder to the highest rungs, electricity and LPG. . . . The cook stove efficiencies of firewood, kerosene, and gas are roughly 15%, 50%, and 65% respectively. Therefore, moving up the energy ladder results in declining emissions of carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, and particulates.”

- United Nations Development Programme, Energy After Rio: Prospects and Challenges (New York: United Nations Publications, 1997), p. 8.

“Most estimates of household expenditures on fuel are substantially understated for very low income households because people living in poverty devote a larger portion of their most important asset, their time, to the production of energy services. . . . For example, very low income households devote roughly 100 more hours per year to the collection of biomass than do the rich households. However, the rich households spend about 30 times more money per year on fuel than those living in poverty.”

- United Nations Development Programme, Energy After Rio: Prospects and Challenges (New York: United Nations Publications, 1997), p. 9.

“The linkages between energy and poverty have implications for the development of strategies to alleviate poverty. The standard poverty-alleviation strategies—macroeconomic growth, human capital investment, and income redistribution—do not address directly the energy-poverty nexus. If patterns of energy use result in adverse effects on nutrition, health, and productivity, the benefits of economic growth are likely to be absorbed only very slowly by the people living in poverty. For instance, schooling will continue to promote earning capacity, but by less when biomass is the dominant energy carrier because of poor lighting, limited access to knowledge via radio and television, and poor school attendance due to respiratory illness.”

- United Nations Development Programme, Energy After Rio: Prospects and Challenges (New York: United Nations Publications, 1997), p. 11.

“Poverty has a woman’s face. Of the approximately 1.3 billion people living in poverty, 70% are women. . . . There is considerable evidence that women are often the most vulnerable to energy scarcity, environmental damages from energy production and use, and adverse impacts of technological changes in the energy sector.”

- United Nations Development Programme, Energy After Rio: Prospects and Challenges (New York: United Nations Publications, 1997), pp. 12, 16.

“Women, especially poor women, are more vulnerable than men to changes in energy availabilities and prices, in light of the relatively high proportion of households headed by females (30% in most regions), the global feminisation of poverty, and the fact that women typically are responsible for household fuel and food expenditures.”

- United Nations Development Programme, Energy After Rio: Prospects and Challenges (New York: United Nations Publications, 1997), p. 18.

Appendix: Stephen Schneider on Global Cooling

“The dramatic importance of climate changes to the world’s future has been dangerously underestimated by many, often because we have been lulled by modern technology into thinking we have conquered nature. This well-written book points out in clear language that the climatic threat could be as awesome as any we might face, and that massive world-wide actions to hedge against that threat deserve immediate consideration.”

- Stephen Schneider, Back cover endorsement, Lowell Ponte, The Cooling: Has The Next Ice Age Already Begun? Can We Survive It (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1976).

“Predictions of future climate trends by Stephen Schneider and other leading climatologists, based on the prevailing knowledge of the atmosphere in the early 1970s, gave more weight to the potential problem of global cooling than it now appears to merit.”

- Paul and Anne Ehrlich, Betrayal of Science and Reason (Washington: Island Press, 1996), p. 34.

2 comments

1 Bill { 04.07.09 at 5:53 pm }

Really great article. Energy problems will not go away in the near future. In CA we are trying to get a bunch of initiatives passed that will try to move our reliance to more sustainable sources. I read a great article about it, check it out: http://caivp.org/article/issues/2009/4/3/most-special-election-ballot-measures-trouble

2 Christopher Flavin (Worldwatch Institute) on the Benefits of Electrifying the Developing World (quotations from the past to challenge CO2 caps in the future) — MasterResource { 05.02.09 at 12:19 pm }

[...] poverty from statism is the number one environmental, economic, and social problem related to energy. Christopher Flavin’s 1986 study explains, in part, [...]

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