Sustainable Development And Renewable Energy

My Reason colleague Ron Bailey has an article from Johannesburg on the topic of renewable energy and its treatment at the UN summit. Ron points out that some of the mental energy of the participants is going toward quibbling over their different definitions of “renewable” (i.e., depends on what your definition of the word “renewable” is). In an article on Tech Central Station, James Shikwati asks a related question: “the reduction in fossil fuels in order to utilize more “renewable energy” also will make the underdeveloped stagnate. Why is the developed world keen on preventing the underdeveloped from making use of natural resources that they themselves used to develop?” Shikwati is from Kenya, and asks what I think is an even more poignant question:

A delegate from Sweden pointed out that “the poor should not be allowed to make the same mistakes the developed made leading to pollution, the poor should leap-frog in order to attain sustainable development.” But what gives the developed nations the right to make choices for the poor?

I’d like to hear how the delegates would answer that question. My suspicion is that many would say “learn from our mistakes.” But our mistakes were made in our context, with our opportunities, our choices, our priorities. How do you know that today’s developing countries would benefit from “learning from our mistakes” when they are in a different context, with different opportunities and priorities? How do you know? Or, when I’m feeling particularly snarky, I ask the knowledge problem question this way: how arrogant are you to think that you should make decisions for others?