Affordable Energy Drives Basic Needs in the Developing World
Acton Institute Powerblog

Affordable Energy Drives Basic Needs in the Developing World

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day,” wrote Maimonides. “Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” With all due respect to Maimonides, much has happened since the 12th century. Among those changes is inexpensive, plentiful energy which powers refrigeration, which frees a man from the burden of fishing every day and allows him to engage in other worthy pursuits. That is only if the progressive crusade to strand fossil fuels in the ground is seen as folly, as well as their efforts to replace current energy production completely with far costlier and extremely less reliable renewables.

Modern conveniences have improved life immeasurably to the extent that 99 percent of the world’s population in developed countries takes such everyday amenities as refrigeration for granted. For those living in developing countries, writes Sanjoy Majumder in the BBC News Magazine, up to 35 percent live without a means to safely, inexpensively and efficiently preserve their food from spoilage.

The growing number of those availing themselves of refrigeration is a testament to the immeasurable good technology has brought to the world – and especially the world’s poorest. Majumder relates the story of Santosh Cowdhury, a native of the Indian village of Rameshwarpur, who recently joined the ranks of the 25 percent of Indians owning a refrigerator. The tailor is the first in his village of 200 people to purchase a refrigerator, which has electricity, cell phones and televisions. Lacking availability to the most basic element of these – electricity – makes well nigh everything else impossible:

Rameshwarpur has a distinctly rural feel. People bathe in a pond in the middle of the village, children fly kites in the dusty lanes. The homes are little more than simple huts, made of mud and brick. But the village has electricity and many houses have televisions.

Santosh works as a tailor. He lives in a modest, two-room hut which doubles as his home and workplace. “I don’t have a regular job as such,” he says. “Sometimes I also work part-time in a factory. I make about three to four dollars a day.”

Life is quite hard, especially for his wife Sushoma.

She cooks lunch, stirring a pot of rice on a wood fire outside their hut. It’s something she does every day because they have no way of storing leftovers. So Santosh has to go the market early each morning to shop for groceries.

He’s always wanted to make life easier for his wife and has been dreaming of buying a fridge for 10 years. “Owning one will be so convenient,” he says. “You don’t have to buy vegetables every day, you can store food – especially in the summer.”…

It’s a special moment for the Chowdhurys. This acquisition could potentially transform their lives. “I can focus on finding more work and not worry about buying food for the family,” Santosh says. “My wife will get more free time and perhaps she can give me a hand as well.”

With those words, he opens his fridge and places the first contents inside – tomatoes, an aubergine, eggs and some milk.

“In 2004, 24% of households in China owned a fridge,” states Majumder. “Ten years later this had shot up to 88%.” Imagine how this amazing progress against poverty, hunger and productivity would’ve played out lacking reliable and relatively cost-effective electricity. Fortunately for Santosh and Sushoma Chowdhury and billions more on the fringes of the developed world, their well-being hasn’t been thwarted by the whims of the anti-fossil fuel progressives.

Bruce Edward Walker

has more than 30 years’ writing and editing experience in a variety of publishing areas, including reference books, newspapers, magazines, media relations and corporate speeches. Much of this material involved research on water rights, land use, alternative-technology vehicles and other environmental issues, but Walker has also written extensively on nonscientific subjects, having produced six titles in Wiley Publishing’s CliffsNotes series, including study guides for "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest." He has also authored more than 100 critical biographies of authors and musicians for Gale Research's Contemporary Literary Criticism and Contemporary Musicians reference-book series. He was managing editor of The Heartland Institute's InfoTech & Telecom News from 2010-2012. Prior to that, he was manager of communications for the Mackinac Center's Property Rights Network. He also served from 2006-2011 as editor of Michigan Science, a quarterly Mackinac Center publication. Walker has served as an adjunct professor of literature and academic writing at University of Detroit Mercy. For the past five years, he has authored a weekly column for the mid-Michigan Morning Sun newspaper. Walker holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University. He is the father of two daughters and currently lives in Flint, Mich., with his wife Katherine.