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Category — Energy Poverty

Energy and Poverty – What is Really at Stake in Cancun

A year ago during the Copenhagen conference on climate change, I published a post, Electricity for the Poor–What Copenhagen Really Needs to Confront, where I noted that some 1.5 billion people did not have access to reliable electricity supplies. To update this, there is more electricity generated this year than last, mostly due to newly commissioned large conventional sources of electric power – gas, coal, hydro, nuclear. The new estimate is 1.4 billion living in energy squalor.

To hear the good and the great at Cancun, the sustainability issue of energy poverty is hidden. Occasionally, one of the climate-change grandees slips up and admits that this the real subject is wealth redistribution, not climate. But that is about as close as it gets.

All the more reason that the international forums on climate change, energy environment, and the like should get to first principles and study this map:  The World At Night (courtesy of Bert Christensen)

When you fly overnight from Johannesburg to Europe the lights thin out just north of Lusaka, Zambia, a few more in Zambia’s Copper Belt and then nothing (and I mean nothing) until the North African coastline.  For most of this 11-12 hour flight there are no artificial lights below.  From the Sahara on south, but excluding South Africa, a region that is home to more than 400 million people consumes less electricity than New York City.

[Read more →]

December 6, 2010   8 Comments

Subsoil Oil and Gas Privatization: Private Wealth for the Common Good (Message for Latin America)

[Editor note: A profile of Guillermo "Billy" Yeatts, an Argentinean and energy expert, author, and free-market philanthropist, is at the end of this post.]

The history of oil and gas production in Latin America has been characterized by a continuing tug of war between the state as owner of the subsurface (Spanish colonial tradition) and private producers in pursuit of profits. Private participation in the industry has been limited to brief periods and restricted to specific phases of oil and gas production.

The typical pattern is that foreign oil and gas companies are allowed into a country to locate and initiate production. Once oil is flowing, governments nationalize the companies’ facilities – with or without compensation – and hand them over to government-owned and operated monopolies.

Whether the oil or gas is produced by private corporations or by a government monopoly, it is almost always the government that receives most of the profits. All too often, the money is used to keep the heads of state in power.

In the United States, by contrast, individuals own and control much of the nation’s subsurface rights to energy and other minerals. The results are starkly different. While the oil and gas industry in the United States expanded quickly, bringing prosperity to many areas that were once underdeveloped or deserted, oil revenues in other countries have propped up corrupt governments with little or no benefits to the general welfare.

State ownership of the subsurface removes incentives for risk-taking, investment, and technological innovation. Farmers and ranchers are pitted against oil development. In Latin America, the prospect of an oil or gas discovery is a farmer’s worst nightmare. They reap no financial benefit from the discovery, but they do suffer land damage and the disruption to their lives from drilling and production operations. Consequently, a landowner’s incentive is to hide any mineral wealth his property might have and to fight any attempt to exploit such wealth.

In the United States, on the other hand, landowners dream of oil being discovered on their property. If they own the mineral rights, they are compensated for the right to explore and receive a royalty for any minerals produced. This more than makes up for the inconvenience of oil and gas operations on their property.

Spread of Oil Nationalism in Latin America

Theories of political and economic nationalism espoused by Latin American intellectuals in 1920s provided the analytical framework for dissatisfaction with the distribution of wealth. Nationalists became convinced that the state had to play a major role in the operation and development of the oil and gas industry. This led to a domino strategy of government confiscations of privately owned energy facilities in both Latin America and the Middle East. [Read more →]

April 30, 2010   4 Comments

Facts vs. Climate Alarmism

Editor’s note: Bradley’s op-ed appeared in the December 8th Washington Times under the title “Alarmists Cold-Shoulder Facts”)

Facts are awfully stubborn things. And global-warming alarmists—who generally don’t let facts get in the way of a good, agenda-driven argument—recently lost a key ally in the run-up to the U.N. global-warming pep rally opening today in Copenhagen. They lost actual data supporting their claims.

In defiant acts of desperation, many out-of-the-mainstream environmental alarmists quickly moved to plan B. Some cite the current El Niño—a natural climate variation—warning of “record” high temperatures just on the horizon.

Others continue to trumpet “studies” that paint terrifying environmental fairy tales if world governments do not immediately criminalize carbon, ban fossil fuels, and ration energy.

But these tactics are not new. Paul Ehrlich’s “population bomb” of the 1960s predicted food riots in the United States and around the world. Today, obesity is a bigger problem.

Remember the Club of Rome’s 1972 prediction of resource exhaustion? Fifty-seven predictions were made regarding 19 minerals, and all either have been proved false or will be.

Perhaps most hypocritical is the global-cooling scare promoted by, among others, Mr. Obama’s science czar, John Holdren. Today, Mr. Holdren says a billion people may perish from global warming by 2020.

It’s understandable why public opinion continues to squarely reject the apocalyptic vision of climate change. In Washington, pragmatic politicians of both parties balk at even watered-down proposals to cap greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that will bring higher energy costs and more government control.

There simply is not an appetite for this social-engineering project. And despite the dire warnings of an intellectual cadre, the public is getting it right. The Earth’s average temperature is virtually unchanged from a dozen years ago—a result not predicted by climate modelers or activists.

The rate of sea-level rise has slowed to a crawl, throwing cold water on ice-melting scares. Global hurricane activity is near a 30-year low. Fatalities from tornadoes across the United States this year are on course to be the lowest in more than a decade. (Yes, some scientists link global warming to tornadoes.) In 2009, much of the Midwest and Northeast shivered through the coldest summer in recent memory. [Read more →]

December 14, 2009   1 Comment

Energy as the Master Resource: Where Left, Right, and Center Agree

“A reliable and affordable supply of energy is absolutely critical to maintaining and expanding economic prosperity where such prosperity already exists and to creating it where it does not.”

- John Holdren, “Memorandum to the President: The Energy-Climate Challenge,” in Donald Kennedy and John Riggs, eds., U.S. Policy and the Global Environment: Memos to the President (Washington, D.C.: The Aspen Institute, 2000), p. 21.

Julian Simon (1932–98) is an inspiration to many of us here at MasterResource. Indeed, this blog is named for Simon’s characterization of energy as the master resource. In honor of Simon, I have reproduced some quotations from the vast literature on that theme.

The primal importance of energy is recognized across the political spectrum as the views of John Holdren, Paul Ehrlich, and Amory Lovins attest. Affordable, reliable energy is thus the starting point for public policy debate. And oil, gas, and coal are the backbone of energy plenty, as even politicians are realizing now that government-forced energy transformation (energy rationing) is under debate.

“The future belongs to the efficient,” it has been said. And the foreseeable future belongs to the carbon-based energies.

Here are some quotations, beginning with Julian Simon’s classic. [Read more →]

July 3, 2009   4 Comments

Christopher Flavin (Worldwatch Institute) on the Benefits of Electrifying the Developing World (quotations from the past to challenge prospective CO2 caps)

“Today, 1.6 billion people in developing countries do not have access to electricity in their homes. Most of the electricity-deprived are in 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.

Chris Flavin, head of the Worldwatch Institute, has written prolifically (albeit often erroneously) on energy and the environment. Ken Lay, the architect of Enron’s “sustainable energy” vision, was a Flavin fan, keeping this study in his “Desk.”

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I often wonder: What if Dr. Lay (as he liked to be called by the outside world–part of Enron’s “smartest guys in the room” problem) had instead kept a copy of William Stanley Jevons’s The Coal Question in his desk and had taken to heart Jevons’s argument that renewable energies were ill-suited for the carbon-based energy era.  But Lay was a political capitalist and second-hander, not a true capitalist or intellectual CEO like Charles Koch of Koch Industries Inc.

Back to Mr. Flavin. [Read more →]

May 2, 2009   4 Comments

Pew Center Realism Towards 'Kyoto II': Game, Set, Match Adaptation?

“I can find virtually no one—in government, in the environmental community, in business or in the press—who thinks that the Kyoto Protocol has even the proverbial snowball’s chance in hell of coming into effect in anything approaching its current form.  This is every bit as true internationally as it is in the United States.”

- Paul Portney [then president: Resources for the Future], “The Joy of Flexibility: U.S. Climate Policy in the Next Decade,” Keynote Address, Energy Information Administration Annual Outlook Conference, March 22, 1999, mimeo, p. 2.

Joe Romm at Climate Progress is increasingly fighting his own flank as a number of Left environmentalists are moderating their climate views in response to scientific and political realities. His enemies list grows and grows, the latest being Newsweek’s Jacob Weisberg, whom Romm challenges (and more!) for seriously considering Freeman Dyson’s conclusion that climate alarmism is exaggerated.

Dr. Romm is also upset at Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, who said recently: “Binding targets for the developing nations is [sic] out of the question.” To which Dr. Romm posted [Read more →]

April 8, 2009   1 Comment

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). [Read more →]

April 5, 2009   2 Comments

Conference of the Century! (Fantasizing about a 350 ppm CO2 Cap)

Well, how else should we describe a conference addressing “The Greatest Challenge in History”? That’s what the 350 Climate Conference, to be held May 2 at Columbia University, calls global warming, which it also asserts is ”likely the greatest threat humanity has ever faced.”

The number “350? refers to the “safe upper limit” of carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations in the atmosphere–350 parts per million (ppm)–according to NASA scientist and Columbia University professor James Hansen, who will keynote the conference. Atmospheric CO2 levels today are roughly 385 ppm.

The online conference flyer explains: [Read more →]

March 30, 2009   4 Comments