Energy demand hike should be celebrated

In: Uncategorized

12 Nov 2007

My comment in the latest Fund Strategy argues that the increase in energy demand should be a cause for job rather than gloom.

The 2007 World Energy Outlook from the International Energy Agency describes the rapid growth in energy demand as “alarming”. A better phrase would be “wonderful”.

Greater energy use should be welcomed because it is closely correlated with rising affluence. As the world becomes richer it uses more energy. Peasant farmers, with no access to running water or electricity, use little energy. The average westerner, in contrast, uses much more. Unless we are happy for billions to remain in poverty we need to generate much more energy.

Some might object that it is better to increase energy efficiency rather than energy use. But this argument is flawed. Greater energy efficiency leads to more energy use rather than less. The world has become far more energy efficient since the oil crisis of 1973-4 while also using much more energy. What energy efficiency means is that people can use even more energy more cheaply.

Environmentalists will sound dire warnings about climate change and resource shortages. But these too are misplaced. For a start they should recognise that curbing the growth in energy demand means leaving billions mired in poverty. If they are willing for this to happen they should say so openly.

Also there are plenty of technologies that do not emit greenhouse gases or depend on supposedly scarce resources. These include hydroelectric power and nuclear power. Technology for using fossil fuels can be made cleaner too. Other forms of energy, such as nuclear fusion, should also become feasible.

Strikingly it is often those who complain about climate change who most loudly resist other technologies that do not lead to climate change. They warn of the dangers of nuclear power and argue that hydroelectric power damages the environment.

It is hard to resist the conclusion that what such critics really abhor is modernity itself. They would rather the bulk of the population lives in near feudal conditions than have access to modern amenities with the attendant energy use. They already insist we spend inordinate amounts of time sorting through our rubbish and curbing domestic energy use.

Of course the most vociferous environmentalists would not want to live in such conditions themselves. There is no way the Prince Charles or Al Gores of this world will forsake their palaces or mansions. They just favour austerity for the rest of us.

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