How Extreme Energy Poverty Immolated Hundreds Of People

Last month, Cornell professor Robert Howarth told Bloomberg, “We need to get rid of all fossil fuels as quickly as possible. Let’s just move on and get rid of the gas system.”

As Bloomberg noted, Howarth’s anti-hydrocarbon research was a “clear factor” in the Biden administration’s January decision to halt permit approvals for new LNG export terminals. [emphasis, links added]

Howarth is not alone. His views on hydrocarbons reflect the mainstream of climate activism in America. The League of Conservation Voters is funding efforts to “reject fossil fuels and embrace clean energy nationwide.”

The Sierra Club is “committed to eliminating the use of fossil fuels, including coal, natural gas, and oil, as soon as possible.”

Those views may be popular in places like Ithaca, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, but the hard reality is that extreme energy poverty is rampant all over the world.

While Western climate activists, academics, and NGOs hype the “energy transition,” dozens of people die every year in the most gruesome and painful possible manner: They are immolated while trying to cadge a few liters of low-cost or free fuel.

These accidents show that claims about the need to achieve rapid decarbonization of global energy and power systems are essentially a Western conceit.

To paraphrase the title of an outstanding April 2023 essay by demographer and author Ruy Teixeira, the world’s poor aren’t “down with the green transition because they aren’t using enough hydrocarbon energy to justify any transition.

The details around these deadly accidents are almost always the same: energy-starved people congregate near a damaged tanker truck, an illegal fuel depot, or an illegally tapped pipeline in the quest for “free” or low-cost gasoline or propane.

Word spreads, and dozens more people are attracted, carrying Gerry cans, plastic jugs, or other containers. And then, without warning, someone lights a cigarette, or there’s an errant spark, and humans are burned to death, often beyond recognition.

I have been tracking these incidents for years because they get scant coverage in Western media outlets. While they don’t get much attention in the pages of the New York Times or on NPR, they provide a vivid and painful reminder of the prevalence and danger of extreme energy poverty.

These accidents are particularly common in Africa, where energy of all types — electricity, gasoline, propane — is in short supply.

In 2021 alone, as I reported in Forbes, more than 260 people were burned alive, with the deadliest events involving tanker truck accidents in Haiti and Sierra Leone.

In 2019, the death toll was 270, including an accident in Niger, where 76 people died after an overturned tanker truck exploded as crowds tried to collect spilled fuel.

A similar accident in Nigeria that year killed at least 45. As reported by the BBC: “People had gathered around the crashed tanker after the crash, with some attempting to salvage fuel.”

In August 2019, about 64 people died in a similar accident in Tanzania. Per a news report, “People were trying to recover fuel from the vehicle, which had overturned on a major road when it exploded.”

As seen in the graphic below, the average U.S. resident uses 20 times more energy than the average resident of Africa, a continent that has some 1.4 billion people.

The disparity in Eastern Africa, where Tanzania and Kenya are located, is even more striking: the average American uses 56 times more energy than the average East African.

At least 172 people have died in four deadly hydrocarbon accidents since last July. Among the latest was an explosion in Kenya.

On February 2, a facility that was selling liquified petroleum gas without a permit exploded and “set off a late-night inferno that burned homes and warehouses in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, killing at least three people and injuring more than 270.”

On February 7, a business news outlet in Kenya reported that a day before the deadly explosion and fire, two workers at a similar facility in the Kenyan town of Nanyuki were “arrested for illegal operations including refilling different brands of LPG cylinders without consent and transporting LPG cylinders by road without a valid license.”

The death toll in Nairobi was later increased to seven. One news report said residents “preferred” the illegal LPG facility because it had “cheaper gas.”

In December in Liberia, more than 40 people were killed after a leaking fuel tanker exploded. Here’s the Associated Press account:

A leaking fuel tanker exploded earlier this week as people gathered to collect the gasoline…authorities in Liberia said Thursday. The blast on Tuesday also injured at least 83 people in the town of Totota in the central part of the West African country, health officials said. Many of the dead were buried in a mass grave on Wednesday because their remains were unrecognizable, said health official Dr. Cynthia Blapook in Bong County. Health authorities said an exact death toll was difficult to confirm because of how badly the bodies were burned.

Later news reports put the toll at 89 dead and more than 100 seriously injured. …snip…

Last year, I revisited those numbers for a report I wrote for the Alliance For Responsible Citizenship. I found that roughly 3.7 billion people live in the Unplugged World.

It’s no coincidence that the people who are dying for a few drops of gasoline live in Unplugged countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, and Liberia.

The defining disparity in the world today is the massive gap between energy-rich countries and energy-poor ones.

Despite that enormous disparity, left-leaning politicians and climate activists routinely claim that slashing hydrocarbon use should be a society-wide imperative.

To cite just one recent example, in January, legislators in the state of Washington approved legislation that would prohibit Puget Sound Energy from providing natural gas connections in new residential or commercial structures.

(That legislation contradicts a January 2 ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which found that bans on natural gas violate the 1975 Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975. See my February 5, 2024 piece “‘Electrify Everything’ Slammed Again By Ninth Circuit,” for more.)

Or consider the claim made in 2021 by Bill De Blasio, then-mayor of New York City, that his city of 8.4 million people “will renounce fossil fuels fully.”

Liberal legislators can ban hydrocarbon hookups — and mayors in rich cities can renounce them — but all around the world, and particularly in Africa, people are scrambling for enough gasoline or propane to make it through the day.

And on far too many occasions, they are dying while trying to do so.

Read the full post at SubStack

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