Terrorism is generally rooted in perceptions of unfairness, often reflecting feelings in developing countries that their citizens lack economic and social opportunities that are available to others and that peaceful mechanisms for change will not give them satisfactory relief. Poverty is one of the roots of terrorism, and one reason for poverty is a lack of abundant, reliable, and affordable energy services. But poverty alone is not the sole source of the problem, neither is its eradication the ultimate solution. As the events of September 11, 2001, showed, some terrorists are educated and come from upper middle-class families. To address the issues at the root of terrorism, we must also look for ways to assure productive lives for people as they move up the development ladder; and, again, their access to sustainable and affordable energy services is a key.
“Providing energy services is essential to job creation, and energy is the engine that drives economic development,” says Thomas J. Wilbanks, an ORNL corporate fellow in the Environmental Sciences Division (ESD). He has led efforts to provide technical assistance to help many countries address their energy and environmental challenges.
For 20 years Wilbanks and his ORNL colleagues have been providing guidance and assistance in energy and environmental problem-solving to 40 nations in Asia, Africa, Central America, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has supported many of the 70 projects that ORNL has been involved with in these nations.
“Of all the Department of Energy’s national labs,” Wilbanks says, “ORNL has the most diversified program of research and technical assistance related to energy and environmental needs in developing countries and countries in transitionfrom the world’s poorest countries, such as Liberia, Haiti, Bangladesh, and Sudan, to such high-priority countries and regions as India, China, the former Soviet Union, the Middle East, Central America, and the Caribbean. One national lab promotes renewable energy and another promotes energy efficiency in these developing nations. ORNL is different. Working with local counterparts in each nation, we try to help them determine which energy and environmental pathways make sense for them, considering the whole range of possible strategies.”
In the wake of the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, Wilbanks believes that international assistance by the U.S. government (including ORNL) is important for a combination of three reasons: Security, trade, and sustainable environmental management.
It is important that diversified energy sources be put into place in both developed and developing countries, Wilbanks says, so that these nations will be less dependent on oil. Using oil as the chief energy source has several problems: The price can increase dramatically; the source may be unstable in times of war and political conflicts; and the supply may be interrupted by terrorists. Half the oil used in the world comes from Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of 15 of the 19 September 11 terrorists. According to Wilbanks, Japan imports oil and liquefied natural gas from the Middle East to meet many of its energy needs, and it shares a U.S. concern that terrorists might act to interrupt vital energy supplies. Moreover, diversified, clean energy sources are a key element of a strategy to provide sustainable energy services for development over the long run, which contributes to security by shrinking the roots of terrorism.
Energy markets in the developing world are one of the most rapidly growing export opportunities in the world. It has been estimated that the total market for clean energy technologies might be more than $200 billion per year by 2015. In order to provide jobs and keep the U.S. economy strong, it will be important to increase our market share where the share is currently low and to maintain the market share while the market size increases where our current share is high.
“America needs to be competitive in global energy markets by offering affordable energy products and services that meet the needs of both developing and developed countries.” Wilbanks says. “For example, in the 1990s ORNL aided the introduction of energy-efficient refrigerators to India that are suitable for Indian people’s homes. As another example, our nation should develop and market clean energy technologies that meet the special needs of tropical countries. Examples are solar cooling devices, diesel generators that work in high heat and humidity, and green buildings that make sense under those conditions.”
One important source of information that helps promote worldwide sales of commercially available energy products and services is the Internet-based Green Technologies Information Exchange (GREENTIE). Under program leadership by Marilyn Brown (director of ORNL’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Program) and Melissa Lapsa of ORNL’s Engineering Science and Technology Division (ESTD), ESD’s Sherry Wright maintains the U.S. part of the GREENTIE database. This database provides information on companies and suppliers of more than 100 technologies whose products or services reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A current ORNL activity focused on trade but relating all three priorities is supporting the development of a Clean Energy Technology Exports (CETE) Program, which has been proposed by the U.S. Senate and supported by the Bush administration. ORNL researchers led by Wilbanks have helped DOE and eight other responsible agencies draw up a strategic plan for CETE, which was submitted to Congress in March 2002.
The Bush administration has opposed ratification of the Kyoto Protocol to reduce climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions to below 1990 levels, both because such a reduction would hurt the U.S. economy and because the Protocol does not address growing emissions from major developing countries.
“The President believes that rapidly developing countries, such as China and India, should reduce their use of coal to address their growing emissions of greenhouse gases,” Wilbanks says. “The United States must build positive relationships with China, India, and other countries to help them find clean energy pathways without asking them to sacrifice their own economic growth.”
Environmental pressures and stresses, including those related to climate change, can result in situations that drastically overtax the financial resources of a region, thus leading to an impoverished standard of living among the region’s inhabitants or exacerbating existing levels of poverty. The extended drought in Afghanistan is a familiar example. It has made a poor country poorer. As a result, Afghanistan became more receptive to terrorist groups that bring in money, and farmers there turned to raising opium poppy crops to increase their income. Afghanistan was seen by the United States as a threat because it harbored terrorists and exported illegal drugs.
In a number of USAID projects, ORNL researchers have worked on the environmental side of the development process. For example, in the 1990s they worked in Guatemala, where the largest rain forest north of the Amazon was being cut down because of pressures for economic development. Such deforestation threatened the survival of several endangered species and was eliminating a key “sink” for atmospheric carbon dioxide. Under the leadership of ORNL’s Keith Kline (ESTD), USAID, ORNL, and others helped Guatemala reduce its rate of deforestation so effectively that USAID rated this project their most effective environmental project in the world.
ORNL researchers are now conducting the first assessment of climate change impacts on a city in a developing nation. They are studying Cochin, India, a coastal city that could suffer significantly from changes in precipitation quantity and intensity and from a rise in sea level. This project is expected to produce an Internet-accessible approach that will help cities in developing countries perform self-assessments of their vulnerabilities to climate change impacts.
In a project funded internally by ORNL’s Laboratory Directed Research and Development Program, Wilbanks, Paul Leiby (ESD), and Bob Perlack (ESD), working with Tim Ensminger (ESD), Sherry Wright, and Stan Hadley (ESTD), have developed a computer model that integrates analyses of costs and benefits of climate change avoidance and adaptation pathways. The model anticipates growing policy attention to adaptation as a way to respond to concerns about climate change impacts.
In a talk on integrating mitigation and adaptation as global climate change response strategies at the February 2002 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston, Wilbanks said, “Adaptation has become an important strategy to reduce a region’s vulnerability to climate change impacts. Examples include better management of river systems to deal with both drought and heavy precipitation, as well as changes in building codes in coastal areas and floodplains to make houses more flood resistant.” But, Wilbanks noted, adaptation is unlikely to take care of all climate change impacts, especially in developing countries, natural ecosystems, and possible instances of abrupt major climate changes.
The Oak Ridge Climate Impact Response Model examines the possibility that global mitigation strategies will be needed for low-lying islands and coastal towns in developing countries for which a rise in sea level could be devastating, while adaptation strategies may be preferable in many other regions. “Common sense tells us that the national and global response to concerns about climate change should include attention to both mitigation and adaptation,” he says. “But integrating the two paths is a considerable challenge.”
In conclusion, Wilbanks says: “Climate change may increase environmental stresses, such as flooding and drought, that could bring more poverty and trigger terrorism, so efforts should be made to slow climate change and improve capacities to cope with it. In this connection and many others, clean energy systems that reduce greenhouse gas emissions are a key to the kinds of sustainable development that will be needed to make the world a happier and more secure place to live.”
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