Let’s accept it. Climate change is a reality and current and future generations are up against the greatest challenge that humanity has ever faced. Yet some people believe that there is a trade-off between combating climate change and delivering development for the people. Around this year’s Earth Day, it is time to explode this harmful myth. It’s time to accept that the key to dealing with both poverty and climate change is energy security. And that energy security can be achieved without fossil fuels.
On a global level renewable energy is winning the race against fossil fuels as more clean-power capacity is being installed than coal, oil and gas together. Solar power is growing faster than even we at Greenpeace predicted, and renewables are now the cheapest way to provide more electricity in an ever-growing number of countries.
Dharnai, a solar-powered village in India, shows how we can make the renewables boom deliver for all — including the rural poor. Dharnai is located in Bihar, one of the poorest provinces in India. It did not have access to electricity for 30 years before a solar mini-grid was installed with the support of Greenpeace India in July last year.
The village faces extreme poverty, deep caste divisions and very high illiteracy rates. But life in Dharnai has been transformed in the last 10 months since an affordable solar-energy grid arrived. Dharnai is the first village in India where all aspects of life are powered by solar. The 100-kilowatt (kW) system powers the 450 homes of the 2,400 residents, 50 commercial operations, two schools, a training center and a health-care facility. A battery backup ensures power is available around the clock.
Solar-powered lighting means children can now go out and play after school and finish their homework after sunset. Women feel safer venturing out after dark and families at home do not have to spend time in darkness. The arrival of solar-powered water pumps has brought new hope to many farmers in improving access to fresh-water resources. With solar energy, more villagers have been able to recharge their mobile phones regularly, and so the solar grid has also opened up Dharnai to the world of the Internet.
This is just the beginning. Improvements in the quality of life of Dharnai’s residents have become the talk of neighboring villages that are eager to understand and replicate the Dharnai model. India has 80,000 other villages that also need solar micro-grids.
That is why it is so important that Greenpeace India continues to work for a better life for India’s citizens and to help deliver clean, reliable electricity for all. Dharnai shows what real development — development that doesn’t cost the Earth — looks like. It is this kind of sustainable development that Greenpeace India stands for. And it shows the absurdity of recent suggestions that Greenpeace in India is acting against India’s national interest.
Ironically, Greenpeace India’s work to bring energy to Dharnai has been rewarded with brickbats rather than bouquets by India’s recently elected government. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has suspended Greenpeace India’s ability to receive foreign donations and has also frozen the organization’s domestic accounts.
Even as my Indian colleagues prepare to answer the MHA’s allegations, in court if necessary, the Indian government’s actions beg the question — how does delivering electricity to a village that had none, or advocating for clean air, safe food, protecting forests and legally sanctioned rights equate to undermining economic interests?
But the story of Dharnai goes well beyond India. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide live without electricity. For them, the Dharnai solar-powered micro-grid could be a game-changer, a model for bringing clean, reliable energy to all.
Communities without electricity, and their governments, can make a leap forward by setting up their own renewable-power systems. They can avoid the pollution from coal-burning power plants and build a clean-energy system that local communities own and control.
If all of us put our efforts into achieving a renewably powered world, we can conquer climate change and vastly improve the livelihoods of people in even the poorest regions. That is the message of Earth Day in 2015. That is the message of Dharnai.
Kumi Naidoo is the Executive Director of Greenpeace International.
To learn more about Dharnai, please visit: dharnailive.org.
This post is part of a Huffington Post What’s Working series on the environment. The series is putting a spotlight on initiatives and solutions that are actually making a difference — whether in the battle against climate change, or tackling pollution or other environmental challenges. To see all the posts in the series, read here.
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