Last week the World Bank voted to loan Eskom, a South African energy producer, US$3.75 billion to build a new coal power plant. Politicians in the UK and my beloved USA went ballistic. They howled that it was a tragedy for the World Bank to sabotage the work that has been done at ameliorating climate change.
I would tell these politicians to back off
. Approving a coal plant does not necessarily mean we are contributing to pollution. Oddly enough, more coal plants in developing nations could actually help reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in the short term.
Take the case of India. Gaurav Gupta, an Associate Partner of the Climate Project in India
, made some compelling points at a UCLA symposium I attended last Friday.
Currently, many Indians use kerosene and even wood for cooking and heating. Wood is a horrible source of fuel because you are destroying forests. Kerosene, ubiquitous in India, is a dirty fuel, and the hauling of kerosene in trucks, which use diesel, adds more soot and pollutants to the air.
According to Gupta, if Indians could build and operate efficient coal plants, you would have villages full of people that would avoid kerosene and its toxic byproduct, black carbon
, have steady electricity, and as net result, you would have cleaner energy that what is now produced from current inefficient and dirty technologies.
Of course the trick is to build these plants so that they operate as cleanly and efficiently as possible. Carbon capture and sequestration technologies are a long ways off. But Gupta has a point: if people have a reliable source of electricity, they will be more productive. And by the way, overpopulation scaremongers: Gupta made a great point that the best birth control is . . . light.
At a fundamental level, it is ridiculous for developed nations like the USA and those in the European Union to harangue developing countries that they need to follow our lead. Well, they are: they want to pursue economic development
and a way of life to which we in the West (and East Asia) are accustomed and feel entitled.
And if we want cleaner energy used abroad, why don’t we just make it easier to share renewable technologies such as solar and wind? If we want to engage and encourage developing nations, we really should share . . . not scare.