I am glad to know that I live in a world where poverty is declining.
While that is true it remains a world of haves and have nots. Those of us who “have” can barely conceive the lives led by those of us who have not. We can scarcely grasp the diabolical choices they face. Our position of astounding privilege can lead to badly warped perspectives.
Two friends of mine recently took two very different journeys. An Australian, Gary Davies, went to Germany. An American, Michael Shellenberger went to Indonesia. They both met locals, and their journeys both involved rivers.
In Indonesia, Michael met a family who live in the concrete undercarriage of a busy road bridge. They live there because that’s the best option they know of. Reaching their home required a precarious crossing of a polluted river. Once a two-year-old child was dropped, and died. Their living involves fishing recyclable rubbish from the dirty water. They are periodically evicted. They dream of a job in a factory. In their current economic conditions, these people live on the margins of harm from extreme weather events that are expected from a changing climate. It’s a problem of global environmental commons to which they scarcely have the income to contribute.
Per capita electricity consumption in Indonesia is 733 kWh per year.
In Germany, Gary and his friends were accosted by locals protesting nuclear energy. These people doubtless lived in secure homes. These people had the economic security that permitted leisure time to protest against facilities that provide electricity with no greenhouse emissions, no air pollution, and that have never hurt a German person by virtue of the nuclear fission process. Not only that, their economic security enabled a remarkable conversation starter: a free glass of champagne. So wealthy are they, they can provide alcohol to strangers in the name of delivering their argument to an audience. Such wealth results from several centuries of exploitation of energy for economic development.
Per capita electricity consumption in Germany is 7,270 kWh per year. So wealthy is Germany that in the last four years she has, by simple dint of policy, forced closure of over 50 TWh per year of nuclear electricity generation. That’s 28 % of the total annual electricity generation of Indonesia, junked.
Meanwhile on the Rhine, Gary didn’t see families living under bridges, fishing rubbish to make a living. He saw a barge called Privilege moves masses of polluting coal up-river, to power an economy that keeps the locals in champagne.