The developed world can scarcely afford the transition to renewable energy, so what makes greens believe the world’s poor can foot the bill for wind and solar? Bjorn Lomborg, the man greens love to hate, argues that the world’s poor need fossil fuels in a recent op-ed for the NYT:
There’s no question that burning fossil fuels is leading to a warmer climate and that addressing this problem is important. But doing so is a question of timing and priority. For many parts of the world, fossil fuels are still vital and will be for the next few decades, because they are the only means to lift people out of the smoke and darkness of energy poverty.More than 1.2 billion people around the world have no access to electricity, according to the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook for 2012. Most of them live in sub-Saharan Africa and in Asia. That is nearly four times the number of people who live in the United States. In sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, excluding South Africa, the entire electricity-generating capacity available is only 28 gigawatts — equivalent to Arizona’s — for 860 million people. About 6.5 million people live in Arizona. […]What those living in energy poverty need are reliable, low-cost fossil fuels, at least until we can make a global transition to a greener energy future. This is not just about powering stoves and refrigerators to improve billions of lives but about powering agriculture and industry that will improve lives.
The technologies undergirding zero carbon energy sources like solar, wind, and nuclear are advancing, and as efficiencies go up, the costs associated with green energy production are coming down. But despite the best wishes of environmentalists, the world isn’t yet ready for a wholesale replacement of fossil fuels. Green energy has an intermittency problem—how can we power homes when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining?—and an economics problem.Rather than propping up energy sources incapable of competing on their own merit, we’d be better served aggressively pursuing options that can decrease emissions without bankrupting budgets (shale gas and energy efficiency measures, to name two options) and ramping up funding for the research and development of better green technology.Better battery technology and more efficient solar panels, turbines, and reactors are on the horizon, but trying to cram nascent renewables down the throat of the developing world is naive and counterproductive.