"It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong." Richard P. Feynman

Friday, April 23, 2010

Africans Need Power and Food- We Give Them LED Lights and Trees!

The Energy Collective has a brilliant (not) article on marvellous things we are doing for the Africans - enough to give Greenies a warm fuzzy feeling and an Obama-style genuine knee tremble at the vision of all those Africans singing in harmony and planting trees and then going home to sit around their little solar LED lights , giving thanks to the great Green Bwana who is the source of all this largesse. Who needs real power stations which will create real jobs and who needs to plant food crops when when we can follow the Green dream with other people's money!

Rarely do you find a business that attacks two big problems–global poverty and climate change–at the same time.
Mate, I have to tell you that you haven't done it here either!
A San Francisco-based startup, Dissigno operates a power and lighting project in Tanzania that provides villagers with battery-powered LED lights that are recharged with solar power. The company, which also has solar businesses in the U.S. and Czechslovakia, has big plans, hoping to expand its power and lighting business to Ethiopia, Botswana and South Africa.

“There are 1.6 billion people around the world who don’t have power,” says Gary Zieff, a founder of Dissigno. “That’s a business opportunity for us"
They still won't have power after installation of a few batteries and LEDs and the "main business opportunity" is milking eco-dollars from gullible Governments and organisations .
The tree planters organisation is called TIST which also draws funds from all over.
TIST has since been funded by an array of companies, governments and nonprofits, including a big European hedge fund, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Dow Foundation and private donors. (You can buy your own offsets from TIST on ebay.) Farmers are paid depending on how many trees they plant. Some plant fruit or nut trees, while others plant trees for firewood which, once they are cut down, stop generating income.
Now it puzzles me how we know when a tree is cut down and stops "earning income "- being UN funded I guess they all have Serial Numbers and inspectors regularly check them. I suppose that will be defined as a Green job!
Isn't about time we got rid of these smug self-satisfied Eco-missionaries and looked at proper aid programs


  1. Thanks for reprinting the blog. You have some interesting comments. However, I must ask - since aid hasn’t been accomplishing very many of the things it’s purported to solve for the past 30 odd years, why do you think it will suddenly work now? When 60,000 poor people were asked what number one thing they wanted, they said technology and information, not food and charity .(C.K. Prahalad, The Fortune At the Bottom of The Pyramid ©2006 Pearson Education Inc, Wharton School Publishing ). Granted this is not the 4 Billion poor around the world speaking, but a representative.

    In fact as “the poor” come on line in the next 5-15 years, there will be an enormous strain on resources. We’ve already seen the impact of India and China competing for fuel and food. It seems to me that adding 3-5 Billion new people will only add more strain. We have been having difficulty managing resources to date, how will it be any different with additional people? Look closely at Haiti for examples of the impact we people make on our environment. It is nearly complete de-forested and the people are suffering without fuel, topsoil or clean water.

    I agree with you. I’d like to see utilities add more transmission to provide power to the dispersed and rural communities. However, they won’t because they don’t have the money to invest and if they did, the payback doesn’t warrant the investment. So instead of leaving these rural communities to continue to use biomass and fuel based lighting, why not use a distributed generation system to provide power in the meantime. Batteries and LED lights just happen to be the cheapest, easiest way to get the power from the point of production to the end-users hands. It’s not the final answer, but a good one in the interim. Without that, people continue to die from using kerosene lanterns. (Kerosene lighting causes indoor air pollution and greenhouse gas production releasing approximately 2.6 kilograms of CO2 per liter of kerosene burned. The World Health Organization attributes 1.8 million deaths worldwide per year to indoor air pollution. Children account for 1 million of these deaths. Evidence suggests that smoke inhalation causes asthma, tuberculosis, cataracts, lung cancer, and pregnancy complications. The open flame of kerosene lanterns is a fire and burn risk. Kerosene lanterns create almost 1/100th the light output of a single 15-watt CFL bulb.)

    It might look cool on a summer night in the comfort of your vacation home, but daily use is dangerous, expensive and not very effective. Perhaps you have a better idea? Or would you rather they continue to use kerosene lanterns while waiting for the aid to trickle down to the rural communities?

    Lastly, the eco dollars you are talking about is actually investment in businesses in the communities. We are creating partnerships in these communities. Local business benefit from equity and employment. Far better tactics at eradicating poverty than aid.

    Gary Zieff

  2. Gary, I am sure you are very dedicated and genuine person and I take your point that Led lights would be great for people who don't have them. I absolutely do not believe that CO2 is a problem but your provision of lighting is worthwhile in its own right.My problem with the whole renewable energy debate is that it cannot work with a base load electricity grid and if we are ever going to lift these people from poverty power stations will be required with coal or nuclear the ony real option.If the trillions of dollars completely wasted on wind and solar generators by the West were re-directed to proper aid programs for poor countries the outcome would be much better.