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Green Energy
A Luxury the Poor Can't Afford
Photo of Bjorn Lomborg courtesy of Getty Images.

Photo of Bjorn Lomborg courtesy of Getty Images.

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 hateargues 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.

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  • Andrew Allison

    Of course the less-developed nations are going to use the most cost-effective source of energy. That’s why the AGW crusade is so utterly futile. It’s really very simple: if CO2 is going to cause untenable global warming, we’re doomed. Fortunately the hypothesis has been decisively discredited. While the “naughts” were indeed the hottest decade on record, long-term averages Long-term averages have been trending down for 16 years. Despite 2012 being the hottest year on record for the lower 48, decadally smoothed global temperature was at a 10-year low (, and this winter is forecast to be unusually cold. At this point, there’s as much evidence that atmospheric CO2 is holding of the next ice age as that it’s causing the temperature to rise.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Nuclear power is the cheapest commonly available power, it produces no CO2, and yet the environmentalists never talk about it, from this fact we know that reducing CO2 isn’t what the environmentalists really want.
    Liquid fluoride thorium reactors use the hundreds of times more common and therefore cheaper thorium 232 vs. uranium 235. They can’t melt down because they are already molten at normal atmospheric pressure.
    So how come the environmentalists aren’t jumping all over this cheap solution to Global Warming?

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