“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.”
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. Like other rabid environmentalists, even John Holdren, Flavin has occasionally provided insight for nonalarmists who are wed to energy and climate reality, consumerism, and a non-coercive society. On consumerism, some Flavin statements in his 1986 study, “Electricity for a Developing World: New Directions” [Worldwatch Paper 70], are worth revisiting.
Here are several quotations that suggest why plentiful, affordable energy is important for those who need it most:
“Electricity can bring sweeping changes to the lives of rural people. It often opens villages to the outside world and gives people the idea that things can change. Surveys show that many people look back on the arrival of electricity as a turning point in their lives. Electric lights are usually the first appliance purchased, a big improvement over gas or kerosene lamps. Electric lighting allows school children to read in the evening and extends the work day into the evening hours. Electric irons are also popular in many communities, as are radios, television sets, and electric fans” (p. 36).
“Studies show that in most villages people believe that electricity improves their standard of living more than any other change they have experienced. Women appear to appreciate the benefits of electricity more than men, since they generally spend more time around the home and electricity can help in household chores, while fans and radios make leisure time more pleasant. Many women report that they have more free time after getting electricity. Frequently, electric pumps are used to provide a reliable, clean supply of water from a village well for the first time, which makes life easier and improves health” (pp. 36-37).
“Sometimes electricity provides unexpected benefits. In a remote village in China’s Fujian province in which young men have traditionally had a hard time finding wives, the arrival of electricity has attracted more brides” (p. 38).
“The real potential of electricity lies not in providing social amenities but in stimulating long-term economic development” (p. 41).
“Let them eat cake” was supposedly the infamous response of a princess when told of the people’s deprivation. “Let them have solar panels” or “Keep them from having a carbon footprint” might be the infamous words of today from the environmental elites.
Energy poverty from statism is the number one environmental, economic, and social problem related to energy. Christopher Flavin’s 1986 study explains, in part, why.