Political Climate
Jul 13, 2007
Africa: Live Earth Vs. Africa

By Kofi Benti, Accra

Few people in Africa got to see Al Gore and his troupe of rock-star ecologists strutting their stuff two weekends ago, because most have neither television nor electricity. That’s just as well, because they would have been aghast at Live Earth’s bizarre message. In Africa, we have much more serious things to worry about than climate change. Indeed, if they achieve their objective the concerts will have done harm to the people of Africa.

Even if we accept that global warming may have a significant effect on our climate, limiting the use of fossil fuels in Africa would be counterproductive.  Respiratory infections are the leading cause of childhood deaths on my continent, mainly from inhaling the smoke produced by burning wood and dung in our quaint mud huts. Why do we burn these “renewable” but very dirty fuels? Not because we have some desire to save the Earth. No sir! It is because we don’t have access to natural gas or electricity.  The second leading cause of childhood deaths is not malaria or Aids, it is diarrhoea, caused by drinking dirty water. Why is our water dirty? Mainly because we lack cheap, efficient means of pumping and cleaning it. That requires fossil fuels--either directly or to produce electricity.

An underlying cause of many health problems in Africa is malnutrition. This is a consequence both of inefficient farming and poor food distribution. To rectify this situation will mean using cheap and relatively clean fuels, such as gasoline and diesel. (Of course we also need better roads--which can only be built using machines that burn. fossil fuels.)

Our already poor and struggling countries are being sucked into a giant movement to save the Earth--with aid money as the carrot and the stick. If we are cajoled into using more expensive “renewable” forms of energy, we will remain uncompetitive and our rates of economic growth will remain low or shrinking. That would be a tragedy because economic growth has been shown to be the best way to reduce poverty and improve health.  Read more of this chilling story here.

Note: Kofi Bentil is a lecturer at Ashesi University, a business strategy consultant in Accra and winner of the World Bank “Ghana Development Marketplace” award for entrepreneurship.

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