Friday, September 21, 2018

To End Poverty, Increase Access To Energy

Photo Credit: Getty Images
This post was originally featured in Scientific American.

Concern about climate change has unintended consequences for the most impoverished countries

By Tisha Schuller, Seth Levey

The goal of alleviating global poverty is not controversial. Poverty creates terrible human suffering and wasted human potential, and it’s urgent that we find solutions. Some solutions are obvious and widely popular, such as vaccines, free primary schooling and better nutrition. But we have also come to understand that energy is among the most important anti-poverty tools, an underpinning for other development goals. Yet energy access as a way to fight poverty is often greatly misunderstood.

ENERGY ACCESS

We came to understand the importance of energy late, only as part of analyzing the potential for global decarbonization. The United Nations also came to this understanding in 2015 when it developed its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aimed at “ending poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring prosperity for all.” Goal number seven: access to energy for all.

A hint at the challenges involved lies in the focus of SDG no. 7, or SDG7, on “affordable and clean energy.” This phrase conjures images of rooftop solar panels, kitchens illuminated with a single light bulb, and community wind turbines. These are important parts of fighting poverty, and they represent progress for people who rely on burning wood for heat and light. However, this basic level of energy access addresses only a tiny part of the greater challenge. It is the first step, not the destination. Yet the data indicator used by the U.N. to determine energy access success is minimum threshold of 50 kilowatt-hours per year. In other words, the goal would be considered met if a person in India or Senegal used as much energy in a whole year as an average American uses in just 33 hours.  READ MORE

Friday, February 16, 2018

Reclaiming Environmentalism: How I Changed My Mind Without Changing My Values


This post originally featured in The Breakthrough Institute's Winter 2018 Journal.

In hindsight, I don’t blame them for being hostile. I was insufferable. I would come from Boulder, Colorado, with my long, straight hair and peasant skirts to a remote field location in, say, rural Georgia. My job: introduce oil and gas workers to the importance of environmental management practices. After a long flight and drive, I’d walk into a shop smelling of grease and diesel. A skeptical field hand would open a folding table and set up two rows of cold metal chairs. I would set up my projector and laptop and cast images on a white wall, or, if I was lucky, a stand-up projector screen. With all the enthusiasm of an adolescent puppy, I would begin.

Their crossed arms and narrowed eyes stunned me. I was hurt, embarrassed, angry, and self-righteous at the reception I got. If only these people could understand how important this was! They needed to listen to me!

I tried different tactics to soften the atmosphere, some more effective than others. But most importantly, I learned to begin all the sessions with questions. I asked questions, and I listened — about their work, about what was important to them, about what “environmental” meant to them.
By learning the language of these oil and gas workers, by listening to their stories about their work and their lives, I quickly found common ground with them. They cared about their families and their communitiesThey wanted to protect them. They valued clean air, clean water, and proper management of waste. The key was changing the way I communicated.

To read the full essay, visit The Breakthrough Journal.