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The Christian Church, climate change, and affordable energy access

The Christian church can play a key role in alleviating poverty across the world. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be through monetary donations.

Vijay Jayaraj (M.S., Environmental Science) is the Research Associate for Developing Countries for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.

Policies, both good and bad, have immense capability to impact the lives of the poor, and some of those impacts could be irreversible.

The world’s poor, especially those in developing places like South America, Africa, and Asia, need greater access to affordable, reliable energy to meet their domestic, commercial, and industrial needs.

But the global policy shift towards less affordable and less reliable energy sources, driven by fears of man-made global warming, has made energy access more difficult than ever. With every hurdle, developing countries’ struggle to reduce their poverty rates grows more difficult.

Is there a legitimate justification for these anti-development energy policies? And what must the church stand for?

Energy Poverty: The Ultimate Nemesis of Poverty Alleviation

Most countries in Europe, North America, Australia, and a few parts of Asia experience a luxury that they often take for granted: access to uninterrupted power supply at costs ordinary people can afford.

Very few people realize the importance of power supply. The recent blackouts in California were a grim reminder.

The economic success of the West can be credited easily to the industrial revolution. Fossil fuels were the principal energy source driving what helped the West come out of poverty. Today, Europe and North America boast the most developed societies.

And it is not a surprise that many developing countries desire to follow the fossil-fuel route the West adopted to improve their own conditions today.

China and India alone account for 3 billion of the world’s roughly 7.5 billion people. Bringing affordable, reliable energy, especially electricity, to those 3 billion cannot be done without fossil fuels.

Unlike the West, these countries, and many others, are still developing or poor. That means a considerable part of their populations are still in abject poverty. Many others are unable to afford even basic utilities like electricity and running water for their homes.

A delay in provision of access to electricity to homes, and to the industries that act as the backbone of their economies, will result in direct prolongation of poverty, increased malnutrition, and poverty-driven mortality.

However, developing nations have encountered unexpected and unethical challenges to their ambitions to alleviate poverty. The challenges come in the name of fighting climate change.

Energy-Restrictive Climate Policies: Justified?

Climate change-based restrictive energy policies have taken center stage globally. They are now directly impeding the fossil-fuel route the developing nations aspired to follow.

The policies prescribed are based on predictions about the future of our planet’s climate. But the chances of the predictions’ coming true are unknown at best, and in any case very low.

Yes, climate is changing. It has always been changing. But the notion that current  changes are unprecedented is not true. The prediction that global climate will become inhospitable by the end of the century is unsubstantiated.

In the past 2000 years alone, as shown in the graph below by leading climate scientist Dr. Roy W. Spencer of the University of Alabama at Hunstville, the world experienced two periods that were as warm as the present. One was during the time of Jesus, known as the Roman Warm Period. The other was during the 10th century. Both are affirmed by climatologists.

The future projections of a climate doomsday are based on computer climate models created by a handful of scientists at various institutions across the world.

Hundreds of these models have all failed to reflect real-world temperatures in the past 40 years, and there is no reason to expect their future predictions to be accurate.

Hence, there is no justification for restraining poor nations from accessing affordable, reliable, and abundant energy resources like coal, oil, and natural gas because faulty climate models predict catastrophe.

Many say that renewables are the ideal alternative. But they have been a big let-down. Besides the installations’ being expensive, they also cause electric rates to skyrocket. Even if people are ready to pay for it, wind turbines and solar panels cannot produce reliable electricity because of their intermittent nature and the lack of backup storage.

More importantly, renewables cannot save a planet that is not dying. The moral case for renewables is that they will help save us from climate change. But there is no climate emergency.

The church must therefore stand for the poor, not just in developing countries but even in the developed West, where the impact of a crumbling energy sector — triggered by pseudo-scientific theories and renewables — can be devastating to households and the economy.

How can the church do that? By supporting policies that promote affordable and dependable electricity, by understanding the nuances of the climate change debate through unbiased sources, and by carefully discerning the voices that are often popular in our culture before taking them at face value.

Readers who want to learn more could start by reading Dr. Roy Spencer’s A Guide to Understanding Global Temperature Data and the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation’s A Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor 2014: The Case against Harmful Climate Change Policies Gets Stronger.

Vijay Jayaraj (M.Sc., Environmental Science, University of East Anglia, England), is a Research Contributor for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.

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