Green energy policies hold back the developing world, creating a gulf in energy consumption between the West and nations such as Kenya.

In mid-December, United Nations delegates from around the world flew their private jets to Dubai to announce a deal to phase out the use of coal, oil, and natural gas to fight climate change. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres scolded skeptics that this was “inevitable whether they like it or not.”

Those private jets are a far cry from the lifestyle you lead, or we lead — or indeed, much of the rest of the world. Curious about our comparative carbon footprints, we recently engaged in an experiment. We kept energy diaries, and what we found might surprise you.

What Energy Poverty Looks Like

The result of policies designed to hold back the developing world is an ongoing gulf in energy consumption between the West and nations such as Kenya. To practically illustrate the difference, the co-authors compiled an energy diary, one in Texas and the other in Kenya.

The diary summarizes a typical day for each household and then expresses the energy used in an easy-to-understand format: the energy equivalent of a gallon of crude oil. A gallon of crude contains 135,500 BTUs of energy — a British Thermal Unit is defined as the energy needed to raise the temperature of a pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. A gallon of gasoline with 10 percent ethanol has 89 percent of the energy of a gallon of crude. Put another way, a gallon of crude has almost 40 kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy, or enough to run a 1,000-watt hair dryer on high for 40 hours.

In the DeVore family’s case, Chuck drives 25 miles to work, uses a computer in a well-lit and air-conditioned office for eight hours, and drives back home. The family home has a well, a pool, air-conditioning, and heating — common U.S. amenities. Carefully accounting for energy used, gasoline for travel, and electricity and propane for household purposes, the DeVore family consumes energy equivalent to about 6.9 gallons of crude oil every day.

The largest share of this energy, 6 gallons of crude, is for heating and cooling the home as well as heating water, followed closely by transportation. The other 0.9 gallons is used for lights, internet, the well, the pool, the refrigerator, and appliances. This energy costs almost $24 a day, including taxes. Importantly, while the household spends about two hours a day on household chores, machines pitch in with up to five hours’ worth of work that would otherwise be done by hand.

In rural Kenya, Jusper Machogu lives a very different life as a farmer and agricultural engineer. In Kisii, where Jusper lives, most people rely on muscle power to get work done, with the nature of the work differing between males and females. Men perform energy-demanding manual labor for a short time while women perform low-energy demanding tasks throughout the day.

Since most Kenyans rely on physical exertion to accomplish work, rather than machines, it’s useful to understand that an average person at rest produces 100 watts of energy, with most of that going to operate the brain, heart, and other vital organs. Heavy labor for several minutes can be sustained while generating 300-400 watts, while a professional athlete might produce 2,000 watts for short periods of time.

Thus, a person working in a field to tend crops over an 8.5-hour day might generate 2.1 kWh of power — a little less than the energy in one cup of crude oil. So, when thinking of the energy used by the DeVore family in a day, 6.9 gallons of crude oil, that’s the equivalent energy output of about 120 people doing physical labor in a day.

The Machogu household uses electricity to power five 12-watt light bulbs for about two hours throughout the day, charge their phones, and operate a small radio. In three to four days, the family consumes 1 kWh of electricity — about as much as the typical American family uses in an hour. They also have access to a small motorcycle, which is used every few days to go into town. Using both the motorcycle and the electricity consumes the equivalent energy in 10 tablespoons of oil, or just a bit more than half a cup of crude.

The DeVore household uses about 177 times the energy from manmade sources as does the Machogu household.

The main source of energy for Jusper and his family is wood to heat water and cook meals, about 23 pounds of it, day in and day out. The firewood, cut by hand, yields about as much energy as a gallon and a half of crude. This is virtually the same as the energy used by the DeVore family for heating water and cooking, though using clean-burning propane is far easier on the lungs than burning wood. In other parts of Kenya, where wood is scarce, dried cow dung is commonly used for heating.

Including the energy from the wood the Machogu family burns, the DeVores use 4.6 times as much energy.

With that, this is what a typical day for a female in Jusper’s community during the planting season:

  • Up at 6 a.m. to light a fire from twigs or sticks or crop residue.
  • Milk the cow in about 10 minutes.
  • Prepare three liters (quarts) of tea for six family members. This usually consumes about four to seven pounds of firewood in 30 minutes.
  • Spend another half an hour cooking finger millet porridge for lunch, and another 2.5 pounds of firewood burned for three liters of porridge.

Meanwhile the man:

  • Cuts 55 pounds of green Napier grass for the cattle from 450 yards away and carries it on his head before cutting it into tiny pieces with a machete. This takes about 40 minutes.

The woman will then walk to their tiny farm nearby and start hoeing their lands in preparation for finger millet planting. This usually runs throughout the day from around 8:30 a.m. to 4 or 5 p.m. with just porridge throughout the day. Sunny days are the best, because then the soil is loose and easy to work on, and thus an average female farmer will till about 1,000 square feet and clear all sorts of non-soil matter to the sides.

The man will be plucking tea or harvesting corn.

Often, females and males will pluck tea together. This usually starts at 7 or 8 in the morning. Men will feed the cattle and head straight to the farm as the female prepares breakfast. Tea plucking is achieved by picking the buds and two leaves using fingers (China started using machines to harvest tea in the past decade, but premium teas are still plucked by hand.) This runs to around 1 p.m., and then the farmers carry up to 44 pounds of fresh tea leaves in baskets on their heads to the tea-buying center almost half a mile away. Sometimes, men carry a larger load of 66 pounds to the market so the female can go prepare lunch.

For lunch, the female cooks ugali (pounded corn flour) and kale and avocado from their farm. This takes almost seven pounds of firewood in 40 minutes.

After lunch, if it has been raining, collected rainwater can be used for the cattle, bathing, kitchen, and washing utensils. If not, the females journey downhill to a spring 0.4 miles away. Each female then has to carry 20 quarts of water (weighing 44 pounds) on her head, uphill. This takes 20 minutes to an hour, depending on the line to use the spring.

From 3 to 5 p.m., the family will start threshing corn. Men beat the corn with sticks to separate a little more than four pounds while women use a stone or knife to clean kernels off the cobs.

A man then splits firewood and herds the cattle for an hour or so as the female picks up green indigenous vegetables from their kitchen garden and cooks them. The man milks the cow as the female prepares supper. Boiling vegetables, cooking ugali, frying the vegetables, and boiling milk will take an hour and consume almost nine pounds of firewood.

After 8 p.m., the family can thresh more corn until 11 p.m. unless they have to wake up early to pluck tea or go to church.

There’s not a lot of time in the Machogu family’s day to watch Netflix or play video games, assuming they even had the electricity to do so. And there are no private jets or Dubai resorts for either family. The elites flying in to discuss the fate of energy consumers are perfectly willing for the poor to make sacrifices to their political whims. But they have no idea how the rest of us live — or do, and don’t care.

Energy, Economics, and Well-Being

The UN wants to fight climate change by taxing Americans and Europeans to send the cash to corrupt Third World leaders, while building a few trophy wind and solar projects to provide unreliable electricity to the masses. This will neither change global temperature (whatever that means) nor lift the 6.2 billion people of the planet’s 8.1 billion who live in developing nations up from poverty.

Americans use a lot of energy. It supports our high productivity. We make a lot of stuff, and we provide a lot of services with energy underpinning that productivity. The average American produced about $69.70 worth of goods and services every working hour with the aid of machines and energy in 2023 (in 2017 PPP dollars).

But people around the globe have a far different relationship with energy. While Americans enjoy a high-carbon lifestyle, most people overseas have access to a fraction of the energy Americans take for granted.

The Machogu family in Kenya, a nation of 55 million people — a bit more than California, Arizona, and Oregon combined, living in a nation a bit smaller than Texas — is pretty typical. The average Kenyan consumes 1/44 the energy an American does. This results in a per capita output of about $4.90 for every hour worked, about 1/14 of that in America, after adjusting for Kenya’s lower cost of living.

But due to policies in vogue with Western elites, developing nations are discouraged from accessing their own oil and natural gas resources as well as using affordable and reliable fossil fuels to power industry, keeping prosperity out of reach for billions of people.