A Constructive Approach on Energy?

Earlier this week I posed questions about the energy goals of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, a group fighting restrictions on greenhouse gases, financing a naysaying blog on global warming and, in theory, aiming to “ stop energy poverty now.”

Craig Rucker, the group’s executive director, sent a response, in which he insists that “stop energy poverty” is more than a slogan. You can read the response in full at a link below. Here are a couple of excerpts, along with my reaction:  

In a nutshell, solving energy poverty requires a helping hand from developing nations which should include technology, training and infrastructure. Both the developed and developing world must guarantee everyone’s access to free trade, free markets and the rule of law.

Developing peoples need a legal environment that minimizes barriers to entry and permits them to produce and keep what they earn. Free trade is needed to give developing workers access to capital and a market for their goods. Aid is wasted when corrupt institutions are permitted to cream it off the top and prevent it reaching those in need. While we must free and empower the impoverished individual, we can afford to ask more of the developing world’s governments. Systems that operate on control, redistribution, bribery, graft, fraud and abuse must be replaced with level playing fields and accountability. If we are to be generous in providing technology, training and infrastructure, we should make partners of those we seek to assist and ensure foreign aid operates as a trampoline rather than a hammock.

Nobel prize laureate Dr. Richard Smalley placed energy at the top of a list of problems he saw facing humanity. In his words, “If abundant, affordable, clean energy and water were readily available to everyone, all of the other eight problems [including poverty itself] become much easier to solve.” Raising the cost of energy hurts the poorest most — both at home and abroad. It harms their present health and well-being and creates a roadblock to upward mobility….

Sadly, the U.N. and other institutions that at least in theory have embraced Dr. Smalley’s goals all too often enact policies that effectively keep the world’s poor in an energy trap, without any measurable economic growth. [Read the rest.]

The document provides a reasonable start for finding common ground in framing an energy quest that advances human progress while limiting environmental risks.

But I find it hard to reconcile the group’s financial support for Climate Depot with its rhetorical embrace of Richard Smalley’s vision of a sustainable energy future — which was premised on an inevitable transition away from carbon-rich fuels and included a modest tax on liquid fuels.

Smalley also was crystal clear about the need to speed the shift from energy choices that produce greenhouse gases for the sake of limiting risks of disruptive warming:

Most people who bother to read the literature about global warming agree that 750 [parts per million, or ppm, of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere] will produce a major change in the global climate. Even 550 ppm is probably high enough to kill all the coral reefs on the planet. So if you cared about CO2 (and I realize that we have a country these days that is in deep CO2 denial) and if you wanted to keep it from getting above these large levels, you would have to stop using carbon fuels to stay beneath these curves.

So let’s take the position of the conservatives and let’s say: “Okay, I don’t care about coral reefs and I’ll accept 550 ppm in the atmosphere”. It means that by 2050 all of the world’s energy demand above what we use now in 2003 – an additional 16 [terawatts] — will have to come from some new energy supply that doesn’t put a single atom of carbon into the atmosphere. [Read the rest.]

Smalley’s views are utterly at odds with Climate Depot’s robotic propagation of any content — valid or not — as long as it casts doubt on science pointing to risks from human-driven climate change.

On energy policy, the blog also seems to contradict its supporters’ embrace of existing renewable energy technology — from solar ovens in Mexico to gas capture at pig farms in Thailand — as a bridge to a more fully developed energy future.

Note this mini-post from Marc Morano, who runs Climate Depot and used to be  a press aide for Senator James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican:

 Watch Now: Climate Depot’s Morano in TV debate with Canadian Green Party Leader Elizabeth May — Morano: ‘Solar panels on huts made of dung are not going to cut it. The developing world faces a lack of development threat, they face a lack of carbon based energy threat — that is the greatest moral question of our day — how to get them carbon based energy to make their lives more in line with the western world.’

That message seems hard to reconcile with video in which leaders of the Committee For a Constructive Tomorrow  donate solar ovens to a Mexican village. There’s absolutely a role for expanded access to fossil fuels or renewable or other non-polluting energy options in the world’s least developed places, depending on the circumstances.

At the very least, considering the committee’s focus on bringing energy services to the world’s poor, maybe it could see the logic in creating a second blog, StopEnergyPoverty.com. I’d add it to my blogroll.

As is the case here, posts on poverty alleviation would most likely generate less commentary and views than those on the ever-heated topic of climate.

But that line of discourse might — in the long run — chart a more productive path toward human progress on a finite planet.

By ANDREW C. REVKIN/NYT

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