How Fossil Fuels Are Saving Lives In Developing Countries

Pump Jack, Oilfield, Oil, Fuel, Industry, Petroleum

Over the past 20 years, renewable energy usage has exploded around the world. In general, there is a widespread belief that renewable is better for the planet. That is often true. But not always.

Last week I interviewed James Rockall, who is the CEO of the World LPG Association based in Paris, France. Mr. Rockall highlighted a major global problem in which the fossil fuel solution is clearly better than the status quo.

Robert – About a decade ago I was researching a book chapter I was writing, and I learned something new. I learnt that most of the developing world uses wood as a primary source of energy, especially for cooking. And a lot of people die prematurely because of the particulates and so forth that causes. Can you address that?

James – Absolutely. First of all, we would never say that the majority of the developing world cook with wood. I don’t think it’s true anymore. The data that we have is that around three billion people, which is not quite half the planet, don’t have access to clean cooking. Now, in many cases, it is wood. It’s also charcoal, it’s coal. It’s dung cakes. It’s kerosene. You know, in some places I’ve seen people just burning rubbish because they need heat. So, it’s a lot of things. It’s not only wood, but wood is a big part of it and it’s killing people.

Every year, almost four million people die from household air pollution, which is mostly coming from cooking. And if you just put that into context, we had two million people die in the world last year from COVID-19. There are more people who die from household air pollution than the total who die from HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined. So, it’s a huge killer.

What’s important, I think, for people to recognize is it’s something which has a fairly straightforward solution. You don’t need to develop vaccines to stop people dying from air pollution. You need to give them clean cooking solutions. The world spends about twenty-five billion dollars a year trying to combat those diseases I mentioned – HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria — every year. Twenty-five billion dollars. If we spend 10 percent of that every year, two and a half billion dollars between now and 2040, we could provide universal access to clean cooking in the world. Now, I’m not saying it’s going to save four million lives a year, but it’s going to save a large proportion of them. So, this is very much a health intervention.

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