On Friday, we referenced “global greening” as one of the oldest climate denial talking points, created by PR pros and spread by the conspiracy-minded. This week, we’re taking a look at another long-time legend of climate disinformation, the more complicated issue of energy access, or as the fossil fuel industry would like you to say, “energy poverty.” Just as coal giants used the Ebola crisis to score PR points, the industry’s now using the surge in social justice concern to protect its profits.
A prime example can be found in a recent piece in (Koch-funded) RealClear Energy by Vijay Jayaraj of the (polluter-funded) CO2 Coalition. Writing from Bengaluru, India, Jayaraj warns that power blackouts, “very common occurrences in the energy impoverished Third World… could become a reality for many in the West if deluded leaders there continue down the path of ‘green-energy’ decarbonization.”
Jayaraj complains about a lack of consistent electricity in India, and the legitimate public health and other costs caused by, he writes, “poor grid infrastructure such as outdated transformers and inadequate fuel supply to power plants.”
…oh! So India’s grid needs updating, and its fossil fuel plants need more fossil fuels. Seems like an argument for investing in a decentralized, renewable-based energy grid, so that outdated equipment can be replaced and individuals can get reliable power from renewables and batteries instead of expensive fossil fuels!
No, not quite. Apparently wind and solar “are being added as a further risk to reliability,” something asserted but, of course, never actually explained, because it is nonsensical?
Jayaraj admits fossil fuels are failing to be as reliable or affordable as advertised, but then doubles down on them instead of replacing them with something better.
And something better is indeed possible.That’s one of the key take-aways of a great new Foreign Affairs piece by Nnimmo Bassey and Anabela Lemos, who make a compelling and well-researched argument for foreign investment in renewables in Africa. They respond to an August piece in the magazine by the Vice President of Nigeria, arguing that rich countries should maintain investments in fossil fuel infrastructure in Africa.
Bassey and Lemos offer a detailed rebuttal, explaining the “resource curse” that “countries blessed with natural resources experience worse development outcomes as a result of corruption, increased militarization, and political repression.”
And, to the point about the dirty energy industry being the only hope for providing electricity to those still off-grid: “Nigeria, for instance, has spent decades exploiting its oil and gas reserves and has become the richest economy in sub-Saharan Africa. But as of 2019, only 55 percent of Nigerians had access to electricity. In 2018, Nigeria overtook India as the country with the greatest number of people living in extreme poverty. And the Nigerian government has lost out on tens of billions of dollars in oil and gas revenues over the last decade thanks to corruption and to the cut-rate deals that officials have struck with multinational oil companies.”
Quite an embarrassing response to Nigeria’s Vice President, but it gets worse! “In Mozambique,” they write, “open-pit coal mining has severely harmed the health of people in local communities and led to land expropriation and human rights abuses. Communities near gas operations have protested over unfulfilled job promises and economic neglect. Liquefied natural gas development in Cabo Delgado Province has led to evictions and ruined fisheries and livelihoods, and civil unrest has spread in the midst of deep inequality and increased state repression, including the disappearance of journalists. This agitation has escalated into a militarized insurgency that has left tens of thousands of people dead, displaced nearly a million people, and destabilized the region.”
Sounds like a pretty steep price to pay, especially compared to the low cost of renewables.
Which, to be fair, the authors do acknowledge have down sides, writing that “big renewable projects also raise concerns about land grabbing. The extraction of minerals required for renewable energy must be carefully and fairly managed to prevent human rights and labor abuses and environmental degradation. But renewables would not contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, toxic air pollution, or oil spills.”
What’s more, “the potential of renewables to be deployed in a decentralized manner could create millions of local jobs and allow people to have a greater say in how energy systems are created and administered.”
Clean, reliable energy creating millions of local jobs? What’s not to like!? (Besides lost fossil fuel industry profits, of course, and their generous philanthropic and political donations…)