Health and welfare depends on carbon energy


“We utilize energy from carbon not because we are bad people, but because it is the affordable foundation on which profound improvements in our standard of living have been achieved – our health and our welfare.

“I was a physics and chemistry teacher at Nyeri Baptist High School in Kenya, East Africa and witnessed first hand this simple rule – without energy life is brutal and short. World-wide, carbon-based energy demand will grow as Africans and others continue to discover the benefits of technology, medicine, mobility and agriculture and start reaping the benefits of higher standards of living just as we have. Having lived in Africa, I don’t see how one could halt the progress they need and will achieve. In my view, international rules to limit energy production will not halt the expansion of their energy use because of the tremendous benefits provided by energy that the energy-poor crave.”

John R. Christy, Alabama’s State Climatologist and Professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, written testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee, February 25, 2009.


Energy is a vital resource for people from rich and poor countries alike. This is an undeniable fact. And as countries develop, they will require more energy, not less.

It is also true, though, that the impacts of global warming are likely to be felt first and most intensely by poorer countries as droughts strain food production, coastal flooding creates environmental refugees, and tropical storms batter vulnerable communities unable to move out of harm’s way.

This is exactly why the U.S. should lead the way to develop a global framework for dealing with the challenge of moving the planet away from carbon-based energy in time to avert global warming’s most serious threats.

Put simply, Christy presents a false choice between energy use and environmental protection. There are affordable sources of clean energy, and we need to put the market incentives in place to rapidly unleash these technologies. That’s exactly what a cap on global warming pollution would do.

Developed countries should help developing countries adopt clean technologies rather than selling them old-fashioned, dirty, fossil fuel-based technologies that threaten their citizens’ health.

There are already examples of developing countries’ adopting clean technologies.  For example, Brazil has built a successful sugar cane ethanol industry that has made the country self-sufficient in automotive fuel and minimized the transportation sector’s greenhouse gas emissions.

As another example, Environmental Defense Fund has promoted the deployment of biogas digesters, which generate fuel from manure, to reduce methane emissions and provide clean energy in poor, rural Chinese provinces.

There is a lot more that needs to be done, and with the right policy in place, namely an economy-wide cap on global warming pollution, we can begin this work in earnest.

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  1. selwynr
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    While I’m totally supportive of edf in general, it’s disappointing to see a plug for Brazillian ethanol. Not only is burning ethanol a source of CO2 but it impacts on food production and is a considerable cause of deforestation. It is at best a very temporary solution to rising crude prices. Far, far better would be the Brazillian government spending big on public transport, encouraging cycling and the manufacturing or importing of electric cars that could ultimately be powered via soalr and wind.

  2. Heather Shelby
    Posted March 19, 2009 at 10:01 am | Permalink


    I understand your concern. I wanted to explain that this is specific to Brazilian ethanol, which is made using cane sugar. This is a resource they have an abundance of, and therefore does not lead to the same problems as corn ethanol. EDF has previously stated that producing corn ethanol in the US will put a strain on our resources for food production. You can find an example of that here:

    Thanks for posting!

    Heather Shelby
    Online Membership Associate
    Environmental Defense Fund