Opportunity in the Developing World

When someone thinks of an “underdeveloped” or “developing” country, it’s all too easy to envision an area that is lagging behind (both technologically and economically) the Western world. It’s common to think of these places as needing our help to catch up to the standards we set and to follow the trends that we start. But there’s another way to view these developing countries, and one that puts these areas in a much more positive and optimistic light. What if, instead of viewing the underdeveloped world as places that need to catch up, we saw opportunities to start new, more sustainable trends?

There are several trends set by the “developed” world that should actually be reversed – like burning fossil fuels for energy, for example. This practice has already negatively impacted our environment and contributed to climate change, so there’s no reason why developing nations should follow in our footsteps when creating their own ways to utilize energy. There aren’t nuclear power plants built in many of these countries yet, which means there’s a huge opportunity to form new energy policies resulting in clean energy.

This article from the World Resources Institute, discusses the necessity for developing countries to create high performance energy systems at a low cost. Obviously, this is no easy feat – but the good thing is that people are talking about it. The 2011 Asia Clean Energy Forum, for example, is a conference between policy makers, NGOs, and private companies that is focused on creating a low-carbon future in Asia. Here, the most efficient, cost-effective, and sustainable practices in clean energy are evaluated, and solutions to potential obstacles are discussed. I think it’s no coincidence that two Asian countries have already made considerable progress in creating a low-carbon future – China has been so successful in decreasing the cost of wind energy that it is likely to be financially competitive with coal in just a few years, and Indonesia has created an innovative energy plan that utilizes water flow to harness micro-hydropower.

Another important thing to mention – that is briefly addressed in the article, but I think deserves specific attention – is the concept that these innovative energy ideas don’t have to come from just one developing country. Efficiently utilizing different sources of energy, like wind and solar energy, for example, requires many different parts and services. Each tiny step can be mastered by a different country, and a web of interdependence and connectedness can be formed among many developing countries. If each nation is part of the growing trend, then they can all experience the economic prosperity of the clean energy system they’ve built. This not only has the potential to create a functioning system creating clean energy, but it can also cause underdeveloped economies to greatly prosper.

We live in a world that is constantly changing. Technology continues to advance in order to make things better and faster, but some of our “advanced” practices have compromised the quality of our environment for the sake of cheap and efficient energy. Clean energy is undoubtedly our world’s future – in the face of climate change, we simply don’t have any other option. Evaluating what works well and what doesn’t work in developed countries can provide these areas with ideas of how to best develop their own communities in the most sustainable way. I think there should be conferences like the Asia Clean Energy Forum worldwide that specifically discuss clean energy options and spark new ideas for a low-carbon future. After all, innovation may not happen with a snap of your fingers, but it can result from a forum of inspirational ideas and clean energy aspirations.

Rebecca Birnbaum is a Program and Research Intern for the SISGI Group focusing on nonviolent conflict resolution, nonprofit management, and sustainable development. She is a senior at the University of Michigan, where she studies Anthropology, Political Science, and Peace and Social Justice. To learn more about the SISGI Group, visit www.sisgigroup.org.


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