Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Post # 96: Africa - A Continent In The Dark

 (African / Globe graphic source: Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Africa_%28orthographic_projection%29.svg)

Those of you who know me know I feel the highest use of technology is to alleviate the suffering of my fellow human beings.  I've previously shared here that the two parameters most impacting quality of human life on this planet are: (1) social stability (peace); and (2) access to abundant, affordable, and reliable electricity.  Think of all the ways we use electricity.  We "flip the switch" and we're shocked if the lights don't come on.  We rarely think about the "around the clock" duty our home and office space conditioning equipment is serving.  We turn the faucet and we're surprised if clean, clear water doesn't immediately issue forth.  Then there's our internet service, cable TV and, of course, our cell phones.

I discussed in Post # 94 the plight of those living today in Africa in terms of their prospects for a quality of life most of us in the "developed countries" take for granted.  Put bluntly, their prospects for a life you and I would want for ourselves and our children are very dim - literally.

In Post # 94, I pointed out that a heartless and unthinking push to globally decarbonize electricity could doom hundreds of millions – probably well over a billion – of our fellow humans to a life of misery.  Why?  Because low-carbon means no coal-fired electrical generation - the one source most likely to enable African nations to bootstrap themselves into the modern world.  Don't get me wrong.  I know coal is dirty.  I lived the first ten years of my life in a home heated by a coal-burning stove in rural East Tennessee.   I prefer nuclear power to coal-fired power - all things being equal.  But often, all things aren't equal – particularly in undeveloped countries.

I want to expand my discussion in Post # 94 by sharing some numbers I calculated this morning to quantify the mass of humanity whose lives are at stake in this argument...

I began with World Bank Data (herehere, and here), detailing country-by-country access to electricity for the nations of the African continent.  I chose to focus on Sub-Saharan Africa, whose total population was around 800 million souls in 2007 and is approximately 1.1 billion today.  A new report from the Population Research Bureau, predicts the population of this region will double by 2050.

I selected 25 countries, whose combined population in 2011 totaled 743 million or about 75% of the (then) population Sub-Saharan population.  For those interested, the countries on my list were: 

  • Angola
  • Benin
  • Botswana
  • Burkina Faso
  • Cameroon
  • Congo Republic
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Ethiopia
  • Gabon
  • Ghana
  • Kenya
  • Lesotho
  • Malawi
  • Mozambique
  • Namibia
  • Nigeria, 
  • Senegal
  • South Africa
  • Sudan, Tanzania
  • Togo, Uganda
  • Yemen, Zambia
  • Zimbabwe.

Nigeria leads the nations on my list in terms of total population (164M in 2011).  Four countries on the list have (had) populations exceeding 50M (Nigeria, Ethiopia, Dem. Republic of Congo, and South Africa).  Tanzania probably has a population of 50M today.

Now for the shocking results:

  • Over 85 million people in Nigeria (a nation with significant coal reserves) have no access to electricity.  More people are without electricity in Nigeria today than live in the states of California, Texas, and New York combined.
  • Over 69 million people in Ethiopia have no access to electricity today.  This is more than the current population of Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Georgia combined.
  • Over 58 million people in the Dem. Rep. of Congo currently have no access to electricity.  This is equivalent to the entire population of Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, Virginia, Washington, Massachusetts, and Arizona.
  • Just over 39 million people in Tanzania (nearly the combined population of Indiana, Tennessee, Maryland, Missouri, Maryland, Wisconsin, and Minnesota) have no electricity.
  • Thirty-four million people in Kenya (almost the combined population of Colorado, Alabama, South Carolina, Louisiana, Kentucky, Oregon, Oklahoma, and Connecticut) have no electricity.

All told, over 480 million people in Sub-Sahara Africa were without electricity in 2011.  That number easily exceeds 500 million people today.

Think of it... half a BILLION human beings without electricity – just in Sub-Sahara Africa alone!  That's close to the entire population of the US, Canada, and Mexico combined... 
  • without electricity
  • all day
  • every day.
Men, Women, Boys, and Girls.  The aged and infirmed.  Newborns and toddlers.  People who have dreams of a better life for themselves and for those whom they love.  People just like us.


Whatever approach to global carbon management we take, we have a moral obligation not to pursue an agenda that dooms a billion people to a life of squalor, sacrifice, and suffering without electricity. I'm pro-nuclear.  But, as I discussed in Post #94, nuclear power simply isn't a good near-term fit to the ground reality in some circumstances.  As dirty as they are, fossil fuels have an important role to play in the here, now, and near-future – especially in underdeveloped countries.  Creating extra barriers for hundreds of millions of our fellow human beings who desperately need electricity, while those of us in developed countries sit in air-conditioned offices with high speed internet connections, drinking our favorite thermally-tailored drink, promoting and even dictating a low-carbon energy future, is cruelty – plain and simple.  And cruelty in the name of a low-carbon agenda (no matter how noble the goals) simply cannot be condoned or supported.   

So once again I echo the sentiment of a growing number of pro-environment technologists who say...

We must not sacrifice Africa on the altar of a low-carbon agenda.

Just thinking,

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