A student perspective on energy in the developing world

September 21, 2008 • Categories: Journal Series

Michelle Byrne

By Michelle Byrne

The topic of sustainable energy is one that touches the lives of each of us. CEOs are seeking a “green” image for their company, current presidential candidates are preaching their solutions to the climate crisis, and local families are making financial decisions in response to rising energy costs.

As Americans begin to feel the pinch, one billion other members of the global community suffer as well, and maybe most of all. This sector of our human family also happens to be made up of the world’s poorest, those living on less than $1 a day in the developing world.

When leaving Uganda this summer, I was amazed to see the striking contrast between the dark expanse of land below as my flight departed and the vast networks of shining lights as I descended into New York City. Right now, those struggling to survive in regions of Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia simply are off the grid.

Lack of energy resources is devastating for communities in that it limits economic development, stifles schools and hospitals, and forces household members to walk miles each day to retrieve firewood for heating and cooking. If poverty is to be alleviated in the developing world, energy access must be increased.

In addition to suffering from a lack of energy in their home regions, the world’s poorest are also forced to endure the problems imposed upon them by overconsumption in the first world. While the United States consumes over one-fifth of the world’s total energy, the entire continent of Africa consumes a mere 3 percent. The high energy usage in wealthy nations leads to climate change issues such as coastal flooding, increased costs of aid, rising food prices, and decreased agricultural production. Lennart Bage of the United Nations notes this troubling reality, saying, “Those least responsible for the problem will be hit first, and hardest.”

Here at our University, “where learning becomes service to justice,” we members of the Notre Dame family must consider the consequences of our lifestyles and seek innovative solutions that benefit all members of the global community. As the third world seeks energy resources in pursuit of development, it will be vital that the infrastructure and policies put in place are created with a focus on renewables and energy efficiency.

“Charting a sustainable energy future" requires that we search not for ways to support our current consumption level, but rather for ways to achieve a world in which the whole human family can thrive.

Michelle Byrne is a senior studying Science-Business and Peace Studies. She is particularly interested in energy issues as they pertain to global sustainability, development, and the preferential option for the poor.

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