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Al Gore: Let The Poor Have Solar Panels!

First it was “let them eat cake” about the needs of the poor, but now it’s “let them have solar panels.”

Former Vice President Al Gore has taken to the oped pages once again to criticize arguments that getting off of coal-fired electricity will harm the world’s poor because it is cheap. Gore says poor people don’t need coal power, they need solar panels.

“This exploitation of an urgent humanitarian need to promote more coal-burning in poor countries is extremely misleading,” Gore wrote in the UK Guardian. “If ever implemented, it would actually significantly worsen the condition of the 1.3 billion people mired in energy poverty.”

“Access to affordable and reliable energy is, of course, essential for sustainable development, poverty reduction, improved access to education and healthcare, and the promotion of public safety and stable government,” Gore continued. “But the relative merits of different energy options must be considered over the long term with an emphasis on three factors: financial cost, reliability, and impact on society and the environment.

“And when viewed through this lens, renewable energy – particularly solar photovoltaic energy, or PV – far outranks coal as the best future energy choice for developing nations,” Gore wrote.

Many developmental economists have argued that despite the global warming impacts of coal power, it’s a cheap, reliable source of electricity that can quickly lift people out of poverty. Take China, for example. Coal power has allowed 650 million people to be lifted out of poverty since 1990 all while increasing female literacy rates and reducing infant mortality.

Of note is that 4 million fewer people die every year from indoor air pollution from burning wood or dung inside their homes — which is the third world’s main substitute to coal power.

But that’s all irrelevant now, argued Gore, because coal’s contribution to global warming outweighs its benefits. Gore says that poor countries are being hit by “stronger storms, more destructive floods, deeper and longer droughts and disruptive switches in the seasonal timing of rain.”

“Other manifestations of the climate crisis are already retarding economic growth, harming subsistence agriculture and creating social unrest,” Gore writes. “Food security and water supplies are being compromised, natural resources stressed, and critical infrastructure crippled”.

Gore also said that it’s becoming very expensive for poor countries to expand their electrical grids to rural areas where most of the world’s energy poverty is happening. So what’s Gore’s solution? Let them have solar panels!

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