Sustainable development

Imposing Energy Poverty on Poor Countries Is NOT Sustainable Development

You cannot solve climate change by denying the poor access to energy.

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CookingFire
resilience.org

In a great article yesterday, New York Times economics columnist Eduardo Porter shows why "sustainable development"—as in imposing energy poverty on poor countries in the name of preventing man-made global warming—is a complete nonstarter. Porter begins by pointing out that the average Nepalese consumes 100 kilowatt-hours (kwh) of electricity per year; Cambodians, 160 kwh; and Bangladeshis, 260 kwh. In contrast, an American Energy Star-rated refrigerator burns through 300 to 600 kwh per year. The Times reports:

NYTElectricity
NYT

Barry Brook, professor of environmental sustainability at the University of Tasmania in Australia [correctly notes], "Most societies will not follow low-energy, low-development paths, regardless of whether they work or not to protect the environment."

If billions of impoverished humans are not offered a shot at genuine development, the environment will not be saved. And that requires not just help in financing low-carbon energy sources, but also a lot of new energy, period. Offering a solar panel for every thatched roof is not going to cut it….

The citizens of poor countries—including Nepalis, Cambodians and Bangladeshis—may not aspire to that level of use [of electricity by Americans]….But they would appreciate assistance from developed nations, and the financial institutions they control, to build up the kind of energy infrastructure that could deliver the comfort and abundance that Americans and Europeans enjoy.

Too often, the United States and its allies have said no.

The United States relies on coal, natural gas, hydroelectric and nuclear power for about 95 percent of its electricity, said Todd Moss, from the Center for Global Development. "Yet we place major restrictions on financing all four of these sources of power overseas."

Hooray for the honesty! Porter points out that many developing countries are now running to join China's new infrastructure development bank because it will fund conventional energy production projects like coal and gas-fired electricity generation plants. This contrasts with the "sustainability" requirements for projects funded by World Bank and the IMF. The only thing that sustainable development orthodoxy will sustain is continued poverty, disease, and early death.

Hat tip: Matt Ridley

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  1. Who would have thought that the People’s Republic of China would play an integral role in saving the world from the scourge of an illiberal economically-insane wealth-destroying materialistic-religious movement?

    1. I guess they may be evil, but they aren’t fucking stupid.

    2. Western civilization has a cultural disease that may well be it’s undoing.

  2. By that same logic, rich countries forcing their people to use less energy will make them poorer, and less able to cope with climate change if it is indeed as bad as the zealots say it it.

    1. Meh. Wiping out a couple billion people would surely help the planet.

      /honest prog

  3. I wish Ron, though he doesn’t here, would stop raping the term “confirmation bias”. The only difference between confirmation bias and making a rational conclusion based on the evidence is that one turns out to be false and the other turns out to be correct. And we can’t know which is which until we have a definitive answer to the question. Confirmation bias only reveals itself after the question has been definitively found.

    Ron constantly accuses those skeptical of AGW of “confirmation bias”. He seems completely unaware that the exact same charge could be made against AGW believers. Both sides look at the same evidence and make opposite conclusions and both could equally be charged with making the conclusion they prefer to be true. Ron assumes that it is the skeptics who are guilty of confirmation bias because he begs the question and assumes the pro position is definitively known to be correct, which of course it isn’t.

    1. Acknowledging confirmation bias can’t be known a priori, if either side is apt to suffer from confirmation bias, it’s obviously *likely* it’s the side that contains more consensus or groupthink.

      Especially if said side heralds said consensus and predicates future discoveries and views on it. Not to mention the whole peer-review process that is susceptible to it and does little to dispel it.

    2. J: You write:

      Ron assumes that it is the skeptics who are guilty of confirmation bias because he begs the question and assumes the pro position is definitively known to be correct, which of course it isn’t. That claim is simply wrong.

      I am very well aware that both sides in the climate change controversy are subject to confirmation bias. Please read my article, “Climate Change and Confirmation Bias” for details.

      1. Okay. The fact is the charge really doesn’t mean anything because we don’t have the definitive answer. Confirmation bias is only apparent after the fact. You can’t read someone’s mind.

    3. Not really. Confirmation bias can apply to things that turn out to be true too. It is possible to be right, but have your reasoning be wrong.

      I’d say it is reasonable to say that both AGW skeptics and boosters suffer from confirmation bias. Most people do to some extent. Humans have a great ability to see patterns where none exists.

      1. Unless you can read someone’s mind, you cannot tell if they are guilty of confirmation bias until you know the answer. Sure, can you be guilty of it and get lucky and have what you want to be true actually be true? Sure. Since you are correct, your thought process is identical regardless of whether you were biased. Even an unbiased observer would have made the same conclusion. It is doubtful you would even realize it yourself let alone have someone lese realize it.

        Confirmation bias is only apparent and really knowable in cases where the conclusion turns out to be false. In retrospect, you can see the factors yourself or someone else ignored and attribute them to confirmation bias. Basically, what is confirmation bias in one case becomes good judgement about which factors are important in another. It all depends on whether your answer ends up being right.

        1. Confirmation bias can be readily observed when someone dismisses without consideration anything that doesn’t support their predetermined conclusion.

          Confirmation bias isn’t a search for an answer. It’s a quest to prove something that they believe to be the right answer, while ignoring anything that doesn’t.

          1. For example the job of the IPCC is not to figure out what is causing the climate to change. It’s to find human causes. The conclusion is predetermined. It’s got confirmation bias right there in its mission.

          2. But if I turn out to be right, those considerations I dismissed necessarily turn out not to be important or despositive because if they were, I would be wrong. When the conclusion turns out to be correct, you can’t tell the difference between confirmation bias and appropriately ignoring unimportant factors. It is only when you are wrong that the confirmation bias makes itself apparent.

            1. I see what you’re saying, but you’re missing the point. Confirmation bias is not a search for an answer. It’s a quest to prove a predetermined conclusion. If you dismiss considerations that do not support a predetermined conclusion that happens to be correct, you’re still engaging in confirmation bias.

        2. Since you are correct, your thought process is identical regardless of whether you were biased.

          I think you are assuming too much rationality in people.

          Particularly in a complex subject like climate where there really isn’t a yes or no answer, no one will ever know all of the relevant data or be able to consider every factor. I think some confirmation bias is inevitable in such a situation.

          1. No. I am not saying that the confirmation bias doesn’t exist, I am saying you will never know that it did in cases where the conclusion turns out to be correct.

            1. I still don’t think that is completely true except in the simplest cases. In the case of climate science, it seems most likely that no one is completely right about anything at this point.

              Perhaps it is true that we may not ever know confirmation bias for a conclusion that turns out to be true existed. But it’s not an impossibility. Bias is a phenomenon that can be observed.

              1. Bias is a phenomenon that can be observed.

                Right. You may not see your own bias, especially if you’re right, but others can observe it as you dismiss anything that doesn’t support your predetermined conclusion.

  4. It’s not America’s fault if they’re too science-ignorant to throw up some solar panels.

  5. Okay, I know we restrict coal and NG investments because of AGW hysteria. I assume we restrict nuclear investments because “nuclear” is a scary word. But why restrict hydroelectric investments? Isn’t that supposed to be one of those magical, utopian “sustainable” energy sources?

    1. Why do you hate the fish?

      (they’ve been tearing down hydro plants left and right in my state due to environMENTALists’ concern for the fishies)

      1. “There are hidden contradictions in the minds of people who “love Nature” while deploring the “artificialities” with which “Man has spoiled ‘Nature'”. The obvious contradiction lies in their choice of words, which imply that Man and his artifacts are not part of “Nature” — but beavers and their dams are. But the contradictions go deeper than this prima-facie absurdity. In declaring his love for a beaver dam (erected by beavers for beavers’ purposes) and his hatred for dams erected by men (for the purposes of men) the “Naturist” reveals his hatred for his own race — i.e., his own self-hatred. In the case of “Naturists” such self-hatred is understandable; they are such a sorry lot. But hatred is too strong an emotion to feel toward them; pity and contempt are the most they rate. As for me, willy-nilly I am a man, not a beaver, and H. sapiens is the only race I have or can have. Fortunately for me, I like being part of a race made up of men and women — it strikes me as a fine arrangement and perfectly “natural”. Believe it or not, there were “Naturists” who opposed the first flight to old Earth’s Moon as being “unnatural” and a “despoiling of Nature”.” -Robert A. Heinlein

        1. I think there is some use to making a distinction between the human world and the non-human world. If people want to call the non-human world “nature”, I don’t really mind, even if it is still a fuzzy distinction at best.

          What I object to is the idea that “unnatural” is bad. That’s just idiotic. Pretty much all of the great things people do are “unnatural”. The very ideas of good and evil are unnatural in that sense and only apply to the human world.

          1. Chemicals!!!!!!!!!

    2. Because hydro actually works. These AGW assholes don’t give a shit about the planet. They just want everyone to be dirt poor to satisfy their childish sense of fairness.

    3. Isn’t that supposed to be one of those magical, utopian “sustainable” energy sources?

      Hydro is the least good of the “sustainable” energy sources because of it’s impact on land and sometimes fish migration. I think the objections are mostly silly, but it does have significant environmental impact.
      But the less environmentalist progs love big dams because they are almost always huge government projects.

  6. But if we don’t make “carbon” artificially unaffordable, we’ll all drown in a tsunami of melted polar ice.

  7. The citizens of poor countries?including Nepalis, Cambodians and Bangladeshis?may not aspire to that level of use [of electricity by Americans]

    I doubt that very seriously. In fact, I would suspect that anyone who actually believes that poor people just loooove being poor is a fucking moron who should be ignored whenever they open their yap.

    1. Enh. I think he’s mostly saying there’s a big step between where they are and where we are. You don’t have to want to drive a Bentley to want to simply get to stop sleeping in the gutter.

      1. I think he’s mostly saying there’s a big step between where they are want to be in the future and where we are *now*.

        *I* don’t aspire to having a 600 kwh/yr. fridge 1, 5, or even 10 yrs. from now.

    2. But, but, but… poverty is so romantic!

      1. Nothing like the romance of seeing a mud and straw brick house with wheels of camel dung drying outside to use as fuel. When I got back from Afghanistan, I went right to the electric meter and kissed it.

    3. I think there is a certain level of comfort at which a lot of people will stop aspiring for more. Not all Americans aspire to use as much electricity as the average American.

      But it doesn’t matter what I think. People shouldn’t be constrained.

    4. It would be a huge step up for people in developing countries if they could just afford washers/dryers and have access to enough electricity to run them.

  8. I wonder if the Chinese would spring for small pebble-bed reactors. Strew those out all over Africa and backwater Asia, and it would provide electricity for a lot of really remote places without the need for massive transmission infrastructure.

    It’s going to be really embarrassing if the Chinese end up being the ones to figure out that raising these folks productivity puts them in a position to be “better” consumers, providing an outlet for Chinese manufacturing that’s less dependent on the US economy staying vaguely up.

    Holy shit. Maybe we really are on the way downward spiral. :-/

  9. There was some lunatic in the NYT the other day explicitly bemoaning economic development initiatives involving roads and other infrastructure in poor countries, because they allow poor people to exploit natural resources and destroy Gaia.
    Roads are bad, children, mmmkay?

    God obviously wants those people to be poor.

  10. I’d like to know more about how they are figuring the per capita usage.

    Is that total national power generation / national population

    Or is that looking at home use only?

  11. Sustainable living is growing in popularity every day, with good reason. In simple terms, “sustainable living” refers to living a life where you take advantage of as few resources as possible and remain comfortable while doing so. This type of lifestyle benefits future generations tremendously. Why? These individuals will generally have to deal with a lesser amount of environmental damage, overall.

  12. Sustainable living is growing in popularity every day, with good reason. In simple terms, “sustainable living” refers to living a life where you take advantage of as few resources as possible and remain comfortable while doing so. This type of lifestyle benefits future generations tremendously. Why? These individuals will generally have to deal with a lesser amount of environmental damage, overall.

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