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How the Left rejects cheap energy for the Third World and the poor

The TVA provided huge amounts of cheap power to people and transformed lives. Credit: tva.com

The TVA provided huge amounts of cheap power to people and transformed lives. Credit: tva.com

Progressives used to believe that big projects, like TVA electrification, would help society at large and the disadvantaged in particular by supplying cheap power. Much of that trend has been reversed by environmentalists embracing “small is beautiful” claptrap. Worse, they sanctimoniously preach the Third World must not bother with electrification, running water, and air conditioning because, darn it, it’s just bad for the planet. Therefore, the Third World should be happy with little microgrids, waving at tour buses of ecotravelers, and supplying the West was cheap labor. For their own good of course. As dictated by someone writing his screed on a laptop in a Starbucks.

“Giving society cheap, abundant energy,” Paul Ehrlich wrote in 1975, “would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun.”

What a snobby, nasty, elitist way to look at humankind. And just why would cheap, abundant energy be bad? Presumably Ehrlich took advantage of it himself, yet wanted to deny it to others.

Elaborate justifications were offered as to why poor people in other countries wouldn’t benefit from cheap electricity, fertilizer and roads in the same way the good people of the Tennessee Valley had.

By the time of the United Nations Rio environment conference in 1992, the model for “sustainable development” was of small co-ops in the Amazon forest where peasant farmers and Indians would pick nuts and berries to sell to Ben and Jerry’s for their “Rainforest Crunch” flavor.

Sounds like colonization, doesn’t it? How did environmentalism and progressivism get so twisted and perverted that it champions keeping the boot on the backs of the poor?

When challenged as to why poor nations should not have what we have, green leaders respond that we should become more like poor nations. In The End of Nature, Bill McKibben argued that developed economies should adopt “appropriate technology” like those used in poor countries and return to small-scale agriculture. One “bonus” that comes with climate change, Naomi Klein says, is that it will require in the rich world a “type of farming [that] is much more labor intensive than industrial agriculture.”

Ah, no. Going back to small-scale farming is no solution at all for a society as a whole. First off, millions would go hungry because small farms don’t have the output per acre that agribusiness does. They just don’t. Naomi Klein apparently wants us to move back to the country and labor twelve hours a day. Sounds like serfdom to me. Is she volunteering to go too? Didn’t think so.

Climate change is a reason to accelerate rather than slow energy transitions. The 1.3 billion who lack electricity should get it. It will dramatically improve their lives, reduce deforestation, and make them more resilient to climate impacts. The rest of us should move to cleaner sources of energy — from coal to natural gas, from natural gas to nuclear and renewables, and from gasoline to electric cars — as quickly as we can. This is not a low-energy program, it is a high-energy one. Any effort worthy of being called progressive, liberal, or environmental, must embrace a high-energy planet.

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