A Falling Roof, Abject Poverty, and the Need for Energy Liberation

The bathroom roof in my house collapsed last month. It is yet to be fixed. I was tempted to indulge in self-pity. Then I remembered that for millions in developing countries, this, or worse, is normal life.

Imagine your family of four living in a single, small room. You have no bathroom, no kitchen, no privacy. And the biggest sewer of the city flows just outside–uncovered.

In my country, India, that’s life for nearly 300 million people. I want my family to be safe. They want the same for theirs. But abject poverty deprives them of safe housing and healthy meals.

How can they overcome poverty, as the people in the developed world did? 

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Eliminating poverty requires a time-tested solution: a powerful energy sector fueling industry and commerce, creating well-paid jobs.

That’s what lifted the West out of poverty.

Every major developed economy followed that pattern. All started as agrarian economies. Most people worked on farms. But as energy—mainly from coal, later also from oil and natural gas—became increasingly available, they transitioned to manufacturing.

Manufacturing drove economies and enabled families to afford running water, safe housing, hygienic food, and medical services. Eventually, more people got education. That meant better jobs.

What do you think is the biggest reason why people in the West enjoy comparatively higher standards of living? It’s the industrial era of the 19th and 20th centuries. And it was powered by coal.

India is industrializing. But it’s a slow process. Today 1 in 5 people—around 300 million, almost the entire population of the United States—struggle to meet basic needs. They cannot afford basic housing and three meals a day.

World Economic Forum President Borge Brende realizes the need for rapid progress.

“The advent of the fourth industrial revolution can help India leapfrog traditional phases of development and accelerate its transition to a developed nation,” he said,

But restrictions on fossil fuels compound the challenges developing countries face. Radical environmentalists at the United Nations and elsewhere demand rapid transition from coal to renewables. They deny developing nations access to the energy that made their countries rich.

For us in developing countries, pseudo-scientific theories about catastrophic climate change, based on failed computer climate models that predict it, mean little.

The former chief economic advisor of India called the demonization of fossil fuels “Carbon imperialism.” He stressed India’s right to use coal.

Environmentalists also put severe hurdles in front of energy sources like nuclear and natural gas.

Despite its stellar safety record and capacity to provide abundant energy at low cost, anti-nuclear activists and radical environmentalists block nuclear energy in India.

Renewable (mostly wind and solar) energy industries and left-wing foundations in the West fund these efforts. Yet they enjoy the fruits of coal-powered energy in their cozy offices.

The double standard must end. Sovereign nations must protect their energy interests—as the United States did. If the United Nations continues to promote such policies, it will cripple efforts to tackle poverty in developing countries.

The poor must have access to conventional energy resources. I may have just lost my bathroom, but many in my neighborhood have never had one.

Vijay Jayaraj (M.Sc., Environmental Science, University of East Anglia, England), Contributor for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, lives in Chennai, India.

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

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Vijay Jayaraj (M.Sc., Environmental Science, University of East Anglia, England) is Research Associate for Developing Countries for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation ( https://cornwallalliance.org ). He lives in Chennai, India.
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