A Free-Market Energy Blog

Powering Countries, Empowering People: A Case Study (Part 3 of 3)

By -- September 22, 2016

“Ethical people in wealthy developed countries should support the aspirations of poor families, communities and countries all over the world. They should help them address Real World health and environmental problems, while resisting calls to focus on speculative problems or implement policies that will actually worsen current conditions, disease problems and death tolls.”

[This completes the series of Part I and Part II.]

The political and intellectual elites emphasize climate change over the basics of life. These concerns were dramatically illustrated in Chad, Central Africa, where in 2009 the government banned the manufacture, importation, and use of charcoal – the sole source of fuel for 99 percent of Chadians. “Cooking is a fundamental necessity for every household,” its Environment Minister pronounced. But “with climate change every citizen must protect his environment.”

The edict sent women and children scavenging for dead branches, cow dung, grass, and anything else that burns. “People cannot cook,” said human rights activist Merlin Totinon Nguebetan. “Women giving birth cannot even find a bit of charcoal to heat water for washing,” said a mother.

The government admitted it had failed to prepare the public for its sudden decree, but said propane might be an alternative fuel, at least for families lucky enough to locate some. When citizens protested, they were violently dispersed by police.

“We will not give up,” a women’s group leader said. “Better to die swiftly than continue dying slowly.” [1]

Meanwhile, in Gambia, West Africa, a UN-sponsored and subsidized “national ministerial dialogue” promoted alarmist views on “catastrophic climate change.” A Forestry and Environment department representative asserted that it would be “nearly impossible to adapt to … impacts such as the loss of the West Antarctic ice sheet … and [resultant] 5-15 meter sea level rise.”

This could perhaps happen – if human carbon dioxide actually has replaced the numerous powerful natural forces that have always driven climate change, and if Antarctica’s year-round temperatures actually rose from -50 degrees Fahrenheit to at least 33 degrees, to melt all that ice.

An 83-degree temperature increase is virtually impossible, of course, and unlikely even under the most extreme computer model scenarios. Even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change now says 12-18 inches of sea level rise might be possible by 2100, and seas are actually rising at only 7 inches per century. [2]

More importantly, real horrors already kill millions of people in Africa and other impoverished areas.  Lung infections: 1,400,000 people annually; intestinal diseases: 1,500,000 a year; malaria: at least 438,000 mothers, fathers, children and grandparents per year. [3]

They are dying in large part because their countries are destitute and primitive, because they don’t have access to hydrocarbon energy that would power water purification plants; replace open fires to heat homes and cook food; fuel cars, trucks, and buses that carry people, food, and consumer products; and generate electricity to power homes, clinics, hospitals, schools, factories, offices, and shops. In short, fossil fuels that environmentalists hate create jobs, hope, opportunity, prosperity, and infinitely better health than people in those impoverished nations have ever known.

Instead, they are starving and dying because of callous attitudes of far too many environmentalists and government bureaucrats who currently devise and control energy and climate policies – while living well themselves, thanks to the same fossil fuels and modern technologies they deny to others. Their comments and attitudes are mindboggling and outrageous.

“People here have no jobs,” said Mark Fenn, the World Wildlife Fund’s former anti-mining coordinator in Madagascar. They live in abject poverty, in shacks with dirt floors, little electricity, and no indoor plumbing, on an average income of $85 per month. “But if you could count how many times they smile in a day, if you could measure stress – and compare that to well-off people in London or New York – and then tell me, who is rich and who is poor?” [4]

“African villagers used to spend their days and evenings sewing clothing for their neighbors, on foot-peddle-powered sewing machines,” Gar Smith, former Earth Island Institute editor told CNS News Service. “Once they get electricity, they spend too much time watching television and listening to the radio. If there is going to be electricity, I’d like it to be decentralized, small and solar-powered.” [5]

“I would promote solar and wind for power, not damming more rivers,” actor Ed Begley Jr. told Public Relations Society of America environmental committee members. “It’s much cheaper for everybody in Africa to have electricity where they need it – on their huts.” [6]

“If you think about all the youth that everybody has mentioned here in Africa,” President Obama told South Africans in June 2013, “if everybody is raising living standards to the point where everybody has got a car and everybody has got air conditioning and everybody has got a big house, well the planet will boil over – unless we find new ways of producing energy.” [7]

Not surprisingly, those attitudes anger people in poor countries.

“Anti-globalization protesters seem to believe that poor people don’t want the same conveniences of life that they themselves enjoy: running water, permanent homes, affordable clothes and food, leisure time, cars. They prefer that things stay ‘exotic’ – underdeveloped and poor,” Kenya’s Akinyi June Arunga observed.

“However, the ‘indigenous’ customs enjoyed by such tourists aren’t so charming when they make up one’s day-to-day existence. Then they mean indigenous poverty, indigenous malnutrition, indigenous disease and childhood death.” [8]

Perpetuating the “Good Old Days” in Poor Countries

In 1862, the Civil War was raging. Nine of ten Americans were farmers, versus 2 percent today. The industrial revolution was in its infancy. Malaria halted construction on the Washington, DC aqueduct. Typhus and cholera killed thousands more every year. Life expectancy was 40. Progress over the next half century was limited.

By 1900, coal and wood heated America’s homes and shops, spewing toxic soot and gases into urban air in prodigious quantities. A few families had telephones and electricity. Air conditioning units were open windows and handheld fans. Ice blocks cooled ice boxes, to keep food from spoiling too quickly.

New York City collected 900,000 tons of vehicle emissions – horse manure – annually, and dumped it into local rivers, rendering their waters unfit to drink and their fish and shellfish unfit to eat. Lung and intestinal diseases were rampant. Life expectancy was 47.

That’s about what average life expectancies are today in sub-Saharan Africa: 46 to 52 years.[ix]

Thankfully, progress since 1900 has been nothing short of astounding in the United States and dozens of other nations – where average life expectancy is now around 78, and even poor Americans enjoy better living standards than kings and queens did a century ago.

As my grandmother used to tell me, “The only good thing about the good old days is they’re gone.”

Unfortunately, even today, “the good old days” prevail over too much of the world. Living standards in Africa and many other parts of the world remain not much different from those in 1900 or even 1862 America. Few Americans would be thrilled by the prospect of returning to either era.

They should be equally dismissive of policies that would keep any family or country living under conditions that prevailed in those earlier times.

What Will Happen to the World’s Poor?  

Ultimately, the energy, environmental and economic debate is about two things:

Whether the world’s poor will take their rightful places among the Earth’s healthy and prosperous people – or must give up their hopes and dreams, because of misplaced health and environmental concerns.

And whether poor countries, communities and families will determine their own futures – or the decisions will be made for them by politicians, and activists who use environmental disaster claims to justify treaties, laws, regulations, and policies that limit or deny access to dependable, affordable electricity and other modern, life-saving technologies.

Ethical people in wealthy developed countries should support the aspirations of poor families, communities and countries all over the world. They should help them address Real World health and environmental problems, while resisting calls to focus on speculative problems or implement policies that will actually worsen current conditions, disease problems and death tolls.

In large part this means helping poor nations produce abundant supplies of the affordable, dependable energy that is the lifeblood of modern societies, and the key to a better future for people everywhere.

Anything less is callous, immoral eco-manslaughter.

If these countries can harness their energy resources, put their creative skills to work, and unleash the power of electricity and free enterprise – under sound and honest legal, regulatory, economic and property rights systems – they will generate previously unimaginable opportunity, health, and prosperity for billions.


[1] “Panic, outcry at government charcoal ban,” IRIN News, January 9, 2009,  http://www.irinnews.org/news/2009/01/16/panic-outcry-government-charcoal-ban; Paul Driessen, “Eco-imperialism degrades Africa,” February 14, 2009, http://townhall.com/columnists/pauldriessen/2009/02/14/eco-colonialism_degrades_africa?page=full&comments.

[2] See http://www.antarcticconnection.com/antarctic/weather/climate.shtml + IPCC + NIPCC

[3] World Health Organization, Preventing disease through healthy environments, 2013; http://www.who.int/quantifying_ehimpacts/publications/preventingdisease5.pdf; InfoPlease, “Common infectious diseases worldwide,” 2016, http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0903696.html; World Health Organization, Fact Sheet: World Malaria Report – 2015, http://www.who.int/malaria/media/world-malaria-report-2015/en/

[4] Mine Your Own Business: A documentary about the dark side of environmentalism, Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinny, producers, New Bera Media and Moving Picture Institute (2007).

[5] Marc Morano, “Environmentalist laments introduction of electricity,” CNS News, August 26, 2002.

[6] Ed Begley, Jr., Public Relations Society of America teleconference, October 29, 2002.

[7] Ryan Kierman, “Obama: Planet will boil over if young Africans are allowed cars, air conditioning, big houses,” CNSNews.com, July 1, 2013.

[8] Akinyi June Arunga, “Smug WTO foes are no friends of poor: Environmental activists deny the world’s poor the very blessings that they themselves enjoy,” Providence Journal, September 21, 2003.

[9] United Nations Development Program, “Human Development Report: Education drives Africa development gains over 40 years,” November 4, 2010.


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