The fundamental demographic disparity between the developed and the developing nations presents extremely difficult cultural, technical and moral challenges to any attempt to manage global climate change. For example, the International Energy Agency reports(1.4) that over 1.3 billion people, or 18% of the worlds population, do not have access to electricity and 2.6 billion rely on primitive biomass for cooking and heating; with dire economic, health, and environmental impacts.

The economic development of nations requires an abundant supply of affordable and well distributed electric energy. In most instances, the fuel of choice is coal. Additionally, a number of developing nations rely heavily upon hydroelectric power, whose water source is derived from equatorial glacier melt water. For example over 50%(2.1) of Kenya's electricity is generated by hydro plants on the Tana River which is fed by the Lewis Glacier on Mt. Kenya. The glaciers on Mt. Kenya are rapidly melting, and not being replenished. It is predicted(3.2) that these glaciers will be gone within 30 years. River Tana is also a major source of water for World Bank developed irrigation and other agricultural projects. On the Asian Continent, billions of people depend upon Himalayan Glaciers, which are also melting at a rapidly increasing rate(4). As in other locations, the increased glacier melt is resulting in a temporary increase of downstream flow, providing some with the false impression that global warming is not a real threat to their water supply.

Inseparable from climate change is the rapidly expanding global population which has doubled in the past 40 years and now exceeds 7 billion.  Discussed in more detail here, the combination of a rapid increase in population and the economic advancement of that population in the developing nations has resulted in an exponential increase of energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.  Global population is expected to exceed 10 billion by 2050(5).

  • Do the 1.2 billion people who enjoy the benefits of living in a developed nation have the moral right to deny the 5.4 billion citizens of developing nations the health and economic benefits of industrialization and the required consumption of energy?
  • Do the developed nations have the moral right to deny 25% of the world's population access to such basic modern technologies as electricity? Can we resolve the environmental impacts of electricity production and distribution throughout the planet?
  • Is it in the interest of both the developing and the developed nations for the developed nations to provide family planning assistance to the developing nations. Do the developed nations have the moral responsibility to do so?
  • Economic growth requires a reliable supply of abundant energy. In 1998 the per capita emission of carbon dioxide in developed nations was approximately 3.5 metric tons while in the developing nations it was only 0.58 metric tons(5.6). A 2007 study(6.7) showed that since 2000 carbon dioxide emissions have grown faster than the highest of the scenarios developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Do we have the time, and wisdom to lower the disparity between the developed and developing nations while reducing global carbon dioxide emissions?
  • As large populations become displaced by the effects of climate change (lack of fresh-water, failing agriculture, lack of livable habitat, sea-level change, abrupt climate change) do we have the wisdom and time to provide for an increasing number of climatic refugees? How do we protect resident populations from the possibility of infectious diseases carried by climatic refugees?
  • Do we have the wisdom to prevent societal breakdowns and warfare over dwindling water supplies, food, livable habitat or other resources?

Or, Are We Toast?

1.)  International Energy Agency.  Energy access database.

2.)  International Energy Agency.

3.)  Kenya Wildlife Service, Mount Kenya Official Guidebook, Kenya Wildlife Service 2006.

4. ) The Washington Post. A Sacred River Left in Peril by Global Warming. June 17, 2007. Washington, D.C.

5.)  United Nations.  World population projected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050.  June 13, 2013.  New York. NY. 

6.)  Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, 2002. Global, Regional, and National Fossil CO2 Emissions.

7.) Raupach et al. 2007.  Global and regional drivers of accelerating CO2 emissions. Proc. Natl. Acad. Science. Early Edition.