I was introduced to Jean Pagnone over 25 years ago, by her boyfriend, and my then college friend, Louis. They have now been married for a number of years, and live in Sacramento, California, where Louis is an emergency room physician with Kaiser Permanente. They have two ridiculously cute children, Eva & Luca, who will no doubt blossom into part of our next generation of leaders. Outgoing in demeanor, they show all the signs of what a positive environment, nurturing the mind, body and soul, have on our children. Jean is involved in local politics, supporting conservative candidates and issues important to her. She prides herself on being a proponent of common sense thinking and is a complete “Dr. Who” nerd. At one time she was the Communications Director for a non-profit energy group, which is where she learned how much she loved energy and fossil fuels. The following piece on energy poverty that she submitted to me will be next seen on her own blog, which she publishes regularly. – Cory Antflick
We’ve all participated in a feel good campaign, designed to bring awareness to one cause or another. Whether it is about leaving the porch light on in support of a soldier that has lost his life or affixing a ribbon to the backside of a car, people tend to go through the motions with the best of intentions, but often without giving it much thought.
Every year environmental groups and their supporters celebrate Earth Hour, a night when people all over the world turn off their lights for one hour to protest fossil fuels and to raise awareness about climate change. Part of their goal is to have the developed world look as dark as Africa. But what Africans really want is to look like the rest of the developed world. On March 28, 2015, while the world shuts off their lights for one hour, over 1 billion people will be in darkness – just as they are every other night of the year. They are the ones who suffer most. And while good intentioned, Earth Hour distracts us from the real problems that those who suffer from “energy poverty” face.
By definition, energy poverty is a lack of access to modern energy services. There services are defined as household access to electricity and clean cooking facilities. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), modern energy services “are crucial to human well-being and to a country’s economic development. Globally, over 1.3 billion people are without access to electricity and 2.6 billion people are without clean cooking facilities”. Energy poverty negatively affects health (shorter life spans), education (schoolchildren cannot study in the dark), and jobs.
Let’s put some things in perspective. For those without electricity, a large part of the day is spent gathering dung and wood. Almost 3 billion people still burn dung, twigs, and other traditional fuels indoors in order to cook food and keep warm. Utilizing these fuels in the home releases harmful fumes which, according to the World Health Organization, contributed to the premature deaths of 4.3 million people in 2012 alone. Ponder this fun fact: IEA states that “the use of solid biomass (mainly fuelwood and charcoal) outweighs that of all other fuels combined, and average electricity consumption per capita is not enough to power a single 50-watt light bulb continuously”.
What is the best path to social development and economic prosperity? Access to abundant and affordable energy. In the developing world, what energy sources will best advance human life now and in coming years? Fossil fuels. The problem lies with environmental groups and governments that push for predominantly renewable standards. Those standards are inefficient and increasingly expensive. In January 2014, the Center for Global Development released a paper analyzing access to energy. In it they find that with a $10 billion investment in renewable energy, we can pull one person out of poverty for approximately $500 (giving access to about 20 million people). However, using gas electrification, that $10 billion investment would be more than four times as efficient (access to 90 million people). By utilizing renewables alone, we hurt the poor the most and leave tens of millions in the dark.
Rather than celebrating darkness, let’s work to support policies that encourage the same growth and opportunity that we have enjoyed. Let’s turn the lights on for everyone and give those in the developing world a future bright with possibility.
– Jean Pagnone