While delegates at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change mingled and planned the redistribution of the world's wealth, my friends at Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow -- last year's Greenpeace infiltrators -- invited some folks on a side trip to learn what energy poverty looks like:
Off we went in a convoy of white vans - Germans and Kenyans and Americans and Kazahkstanis and English and Tawainese and others - to see a side of Cancun featured in no magazines or travelogs.
Fifteen minutes on the highway headed through the Yucatan jungle, another five minutes or so on Merida Road, and then a bumpy, twisting ride over a pothole scarred back road, and there we were, in the Comunidad de La Libertad, more easily known as "Community of Freedom" back in Des Moines or Omaha....
One young mother graciously agreed to let us visit her makeshift house - made of some wood planks and stone and a bit of cement - and share with us how she and her family live....
She cooks most food in an old metal barrel over an open fire - tortillas on a metal pan or beans boiling in a pot of water - because she can only afford a little gas for her indoor stove, and wouldn't waste a week's worth of energy on one pot of beans. Thus, she and her two little children get to breathe in the smoke from the cooking fire; smoke that kills an estimated two to three million women and children around the world each year from respiratory diseases.
There is no plumbing or proper sanitation - just an outhouse-style bathroom where basin baths and other necessities are attended to. Clothes-washing is done by hand, taking hours of time, and water comes from a small hand-pumped well that provides relatively convenient, but certainly not uncontaminated, water.
Of course the developed nations were built with the benefit of efficient, inexpensive energy, where even most of the poor are well off compared to those in energy-starved countries. Meanwhile the "haves" in Cancun are trying to figure out how to shut down fossil fuel-generated energy access that could help lift many out of the poverty and into healthier lives.
Good for CFACT for bringing this issue to light, and for working to bring energy to those in need with their Adopt-A-Village Project.