Escaping the climate energy trap

Nearly half the world uses wood to cook and heat with, contributing to deforestation. (Image credit:

CFACT hosts tour of energy poor village of La Libertad at Cancun climate talks

(Cancun, Mexico) Few things divide rich from poor like access to affordable energy.  Today, it’s estimated that 1 out of 5 people have never flicked a light switch while nearly half the world cooks with solid fuel, such as wood or dung.  On Wednesday, December 8, CFACT transported COP16 delegates, press and observers to the Mexican village of La Libertad, where people cook, heat and live without electricity.  La Libertad presents a compelling picture of the plight of the energy poor.

“As COP16 considers the future of the world’s energy policy, it is vital that the voices of those suffering energy poverty are heard,” said CFACT President David Rothbard.

“Today’s visit was both sobering and inspiring,” Rothbard said.  “We and our guests saw the harsh realities of what life is like without basic necessities, such as electricity, which we take for granted.  Yet among the people of La Libertad we saw remarkable joyfulness and hope in the midst of poverty – especially among the many school children – this humbled us.  CFACT believes these children deserve every opportunity that our children enjoy, including affordable, abundant electricity and all the benefits that brings.  We must not set energy policy in a vacuum and create obstacles to the progress of countless communities like La Libertad.”

Access to affordable energy has led to a cleaner, greener environment and a rebound of natural habitats and wildlife throughout the developed world.  Efficient agriculture and distribution, both of which require abundant energy, permit developed nations to devote less land to food production, while minimizing the need to forage for wood for cooking and heating.

Billions know a different reality.  Energy poverty means a life without the nutrition, health care, refrigeration, jobs, information and education the rest of us take for granted.  Without electricity, foraging for food and fuel leads to deforestation and pressures wildlife, while an estimated 1-2 million people die every year from respiratory diseases linked to the burning of wood, charcoal, dung and other solid fuels.

CFACT has worked for years with impoverished people around the world including Valle Verde and other villages in the Yucatan peninsula and witnessed the consequences of energy poverty first hand.

“Global warming campaigners are here in Cancun proposing treaty provisions that would frustrate recovery for developed economies while doing nothing to alter the climate,” said Craig Rucker, CFACT’s Executive Director.  “It is vital we also turn our attention to those in the developing world whom too many are callously willing to trap in energy poverty permanently.  Wealthy activists advocating policies that hold the poor down makes for a sorry spectacle indeed.  Payoffs to developing countries to do without efficient energy will benefit elites in those countries while leaving the needy behind.  This is a disaster for both the energy poor and the working people who pay the bills.”

International aid should focus on helping developing nations construct an efficient energy infrastructure including electricity generation and transmission.  Rucker said, “For villages like La Libertad if there is energy, there is hope.”

I’ve written before about wood use in Sounding the alarmed, are the world’s forests 80% fragmented? Electricity will help break the cycle of denuding vegetation from hillsides followed by mudslides, it will even lower deaths from lung disease by removing indoor smoke. In the interim as infrastructure gets installed, more efficient wood stoves could make great improvement.

More efficient stoves will lessen the amount of wood needed for those necessities by 70 percent while lowering the CO2 put into the atmosphere. As an example, the average Mexican Ejido family requires 40 trees annually; an efficient stove reduces this to 12 trees. (For more on the effect of efficient wood stoves click here)

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