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A World of Difference in Energy Access

World Bank
…Sub-Saharan Africans use seven times less electric power than people in high income countries, according to the World Bank’s Little Green Data Book, released May 8 during United Nations Sustainable Development meetings in New York.

Only 25 percent of Africans have access to modern energy, according the Bank’s Investment Framework for Clean Energy and Development.

About 56 percent of total energy use comes from traditional biomass-mostly firewood. The top 20 biomass users in the world are all African countries, with the exception of Nepal (fourth), Haiti (11th) and Myanmar (12th), according to the book.

The growing appetite for energy has helped shrink forests. Nearly 45,000 square kilometers of forest were lost in low income countries between 1990 and 2005, and another 38,000 square kilometers of forest were lost in lower middle income countries.
“Most people (in Africa) do not have access to clean energy. As a result they suffer health consequences,” says Katherine Sierra, the Bank’s Vice President for Sustainable Development.

“They’re breathing indoor air pollution caused by poor fuels. There’s no lighting in the evening, so kids can’t study for school. There’s no refrigeration at clinics, vaccines spoil.”

She says the problem poses a major challenge to economic growth and the achievement of global development goals, such as halving extreme poverty by 2015.

“All this is very much related to poverty alleviation,” Sierra says. “It’s very clear major increases in modern energy will be part of the solution. But we’re projecting by 2030, even with a doubling in the amount of expenditure that might be able to go to energy in Africa, access rates, on average, will still be about 50 percent.”
(9 May 2007)

Outlining the options for our energy future

Development Crossing
This report is a summary of the International Energy Agency’s latest World Energy Outlook, focusing on its “Alternative Policy” and “Beyond the Alternative Policy” scenarios – a deliberate distinction aimed to spur action by underscoring the impacts on the future of the policy decisions made today. It is written in non-technical language to make it accessible to as wide an audience as possible.

The report highlights that early moves to shift towards a more sustainable energy system are more effective and cheaper compared to delayed action. It outlines some policy approaches that can bring about this shift and the time scales involved in it, noting that a delay of 10 years in implementing the Alternative Policy Scenario, for example, would push back the date of being on a sustainable path by several decades. It concludes that there is no sensible reason – economic or otherwise – to delay implementation. To download the report (PDF)…click here.
(7 May 2007)
The 24-page report is Analyzing Our Energy Future: Some Pointers for Policy-makers (PDF).

Castro on energy and biofuels

Fidel Castro Ruz, Gobierno de Cuba
Reflections by the Commander in Chief
The Debate Heats Up
Atilio Borón, a prestigious leftist intellectual who until recently headed the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO), wrote an article for the 6th Hemispheric Meeting of Struggle against the FTAs and for the Integration of Peoples which just wrapped up in Havana; he was kind enough to send it to me along with a letter.

The gist of what he wrote I have summarized using exact quotes of paragraphs and phrases in his article; it reads as follows:

Pre-capitalist societies already knew about oil which surfaced in shallow deposits and they used for non-commercial purposes, such as waterproofing the wooden hulls of ships or in textile products, or for torches. Its original name was ‘petroleum’ or stone-oil.

By the end of the 19th century -after the discovery of large oilfields in Pennsylvania, United States, and the technological developments propelled by the massive use of the internal combustion engine– oil became the energy paradigm of the 20th century.

Energy is conceived of as just merchandise. Like Marx warned us, this is not due to the perversity or callousness of some individual capitalist or another, but rather the consequence of the logic of the accumulation process, which is prone to the ceaseless “mercantilism” that touches on all components of social life, both material and symbolic. The mercantilist process did not stop with the human being, but simultaneously extended to nature. The land and its products, the rivers and the mountains, the jungles and the forests became the target of its irrepressible pillage. Foodstuffs, of course, could not escape this hellish dynamic. Capitalism turns everything that crosses its path into merchandise.

Foodstuffs are transformed into fuels to make viable the irrationality of a civilization that, to sustain the wealth and privilege of a few, is brutally assaulting the environment and the ecologic conditions which made it possible for life to appear on Earth.

Transforming food into fuels is a monstrosity.

Capitalism is preparing to perpetrate a massive euthanasia on the poor, and particularly on the poor of the South, since it is there that the greatest reserves of the earth’s biomass required to produce biofuels are found. Regardless of numerous official statements assuring that this is not a choice between food and fuel, reality shows that this, and no other, is exactly the alternative: either the land is used to produce food or to produce biofuels. …

As you can see, this summary took up some space. We need space and time; practically a book. It has been said that the masterpiece which made author Gabriel García Márquez famous, One Hundred Years of Solitude, required him to write fifty pages for each page that was printed. How much time would my poor pen need to refute those who for a material interest, ignorance, indifference or even for all three at the same time defend the evil idea and to spread the solid and honest arguments of those who struggle for the life of the species?

… A growing number of opinions are carried by the media every day and everywhere in the world, from institutions like the United Nations right up to national scientific associations. I simply perceive that the debate is heating up. The fact that the subject is being discussed is already an important step forward.
(9 May 2007)
Over the last year or two Fidel Castro has been writing about energy, biofuels and global warming. Intelligent thought is welcome from whatever quarter, whether it’s Castro or newspaper magnate Rupert Murdoch (Greens praise News Corp climate pledge). -BA