Avoiding Disaster: Why We Need Green Development

| 1/17/2014 10:18:00 AM

Two of the most important issues of our century — clean energy and poverty eradication — are potentially mutually exclusive, if development efforts do not factor in increased consumption that will occur.

Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF between 1995-2005, said towards the end of the last century “The eradication of poverty must be at the center of our development efforts [in] the 21st century.” That the poor should have access to education, clean water, electricity and a decent place to live, has few opponents.

Poverty Eradication vs. Green Energy

installing solarToday in the world, there are millions of people working actively in governments, NGOs, and personal efforts to even historically unfair playing fields so that basic human rights — the right to an education, food, cloths and shelter — are not available for the fortunate, but for everyone fortunate enough to find themselves in possession of a life. 

But what happens if progress in poverty’s eradication far-outpaces green energy solutions? A quick glance at the numbers seems that this is the scenario we currently face. According to the UN’s numbers, between 1990 and 2015 the proportion of people living on incomes of less than $1.25 a day has been halved since 1990. In 2010, 700 million fewer people lived in poverty than in 1990. The world’s population is growing while poverty levels are decreasing.

Numbers on green energy are far less inspiring. In places like China the poor are rising to the ranks of middle class with through-the-roof growth rates. Incomes have quadrupled since 2004 and been squared since 1980. Reflective of this is China’s building on average three new power stations every week — many of these coal plants. By 2030, it plans to have a power capacity that will be larger than what exists in the US, the UK and Australia today. The graph (see graphic below) shows the increase in China’s coal consumption since 1950. Despite upward trends in renewable energy across the world, these numbers are neither keeping pace with population growth nor development levels. Wealth in this sense is a synonym for consumption and consumption sits shotgun pollution. Numbers seem encouraging in green energy since they are moving in the right direction, but they are being outpaced by progress with the poor becoming un-poor.

Eco-Conscious Habits and the Developing World

Within this problem is also an opportunity. I agree with Bellamy that the eradication of poverty must be the center of our development efforts but would add that at the center of that should be development done in a way that minimizes increased consumption and strain on our ecosystems. Social development programs should operate not with just the goal of eradicating poverty, but doing it in a way that allows those emerging from deprivation to bypass the environmental pitfalls the rest of the world stumbled over during its own development. More than just focusing on government policy and driving down the cost of green energy, families in development programs should be educated and encouraged to adopt green habits.  solar lights

1/19/2014 6:20:14 PM

Kevin, actually China is starting to work on its pollution. International publicity on its smog and pollution problems have applied enough pressure to start it.

Kevin Haendiges
1/18/2014 3:28:59 PM

The developing world doesn't give a damn about clean energy, they just want what the developed world has. China is building coal fired plants at breath taking speed, so is India, think they care about pollution? You'd be wrong. Third World countries can't afford the luxury of green thinking, they use the resources available to them.

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