I’m not a fan of light pollution (i.e., the unnecessary usage of light sources during normally dark periods — it disrupts the behaviors of nocturnal animals and plants, among other reasons) or the burning of fossil fuels to create light. But those are topics for other posts. Today, it’s all about the availability of electricity on the African continent. The following images from NASA remind me of the stark differences in resource allocation between the U.S. and Europe, and Africa.
Here are some sobering facts:
- Population of Africa: just over 1 billion
- Population of the United States and Europe combined: just over 1 billion
- Access to electricity for Africa: 42% (only 30% for Sub-Saharan Africa, which is represented by 800 million people; so, 560 million people don’t have access to electricity)
- Access to electricity for the United States: 100%
- Access to electricity for Europe: 100%
Among many reasons, here’s how a lack of electricity affects Africa:
- Limited preservation of food stuffs (this creates a bunch of problems from diseases affecting the food supply and over-allocation of resources to subsistence agriculture)
- Reduced health care (hospitals require electricity to operate equipment and lighting, and to maintain healthy climate control for patient management)
- Heating homes (reliance on burning material to create heat and light only provides relief to immediate surroundings and the pollution created has an impact on the health of those in the vicinity)
- Light (limited light means less time available to work and educate)
- Communication (extremely limited access to the Internet, phone service, data, etc. means less modernized interaction between people and communities; this affects education, response to time-sensitive incidents, and transfer of vital information*)
- Limited production capabilities (manufacturing relies heavily on electricity, so no local manufacture of sophisticated equipment and other goods)
So, who cares?
Well, I guess anyone that has empathy with other humans cares. I don’t think the argument that a simplistic life is more appealing to those that have the “fortune” of being excluded from the problems of the modern world is valid. If it were, the mass migration from rural communities to urbanized location wouldn’t be occurring. Additionally, limited access to food and health care are obviously an inferior way of living. Americans and Europeans have the option to shun electricity if they desire but the percentage of those that willfully choose to be absent from the “grid” doesn’t even register. Well, I’m taking some liberties with the word “fact” but I will bet my blog that no one can prove otherwise.
* Incidentally, as I have talked about in other posts, warfare in Africa can be attributed to a bunch of stuff, but in my mind there is no question that the lack of modernization breeds war. Most wars have traditionally been fought over scarcity of resources (dig in and prove me wrong). Religion, geopolitics, race, and income disparity all have their place as well (and may actually mask the real reason), but at the heart of it, a modernized society is less likely to engage in warfare. There’s simply too much to lose.
An African continent with limited electricity affects the entire global economy. There are 800 million people in Africa that are not consuming American or European goods and services. Can you imagine what would happen to our respective economies if Africans started buying what we have to offer? It’s virtually impossible to maintain strict localization in an industry nowadays, so everything from construction to light manufacturing to consulting services would benefit by adding another 11% to the world’s consumer base even if it was through an indirect impact (e.g., I may sell a widget that is only purchased in Wichita, but my prospective customers may have more money to buy more of my widgets because they in turn have products that bring revenue home from their own products that they have sold to Africa).
Reverse consumption is also there. The fast growing Chinese and Indian markets ensure that the cost of goods they manufacture will rise which in turns means higher prices for the things we buy from there. It’s what I call the Japan effect. When I was a very young kid, I could flip over any toy or small electronic product and see the words “Made in Japan” on them. Then, as I got older I saw less of that and more of “Made in Taiwan.” Then came “Made in Malaysia,” “Made in Philippines,” “Made in Thailand,” “Made in Sri Lanka,” etc. as the other names started to disappear. Why? It became too costly in each of those respective places to get cheap products as their economies and standards of living grew. So, I’ll know things are going to get better for all of us when we start seeing “Made in Nigeria,” “Made in Kenya,” and especially “Made in Liberia,” and “Made in Sudan.”
Yes, I know there are a lot of horrible things that come from the production of cheap goods. But low income jobs are better than no jobs and warfare. And, all economies eventually grow thereby creating a higher quality of living as they do. That’s happening in India and China. I lived in India in the 1980s and it’s a very different place today than it was then. Southeast Asia and China are accumulating tremendous wealth and a better overall quality of life for their citizenry. It’s long overdue — it’s now Africa’s turn.
So what’s the right solution. Simple economics. The Chinese get it. They are investing trillions over the next several decades in Africa. Yes, their short term goal is all about access to cheap resources, but as their economies intertwine, Africans will have more capital to buy goods and services from China. Double benefit. But the Chinese can’t or shouldn’t do it alone. The U.S. and Europe need to pump a lot more money into infrastructure and technology. Humanitarian aid and basic subsistence skills aren’t enough. It hasn’t worked fast enough after over half a century of effort. So, let’s start with the basics. Let’s get Africa some light.
Footnote: OK, yet again, I’m oversimplifying complex issues. That sticks to the theme of irresponsibility for which my blog is so well known. But the basic premises are correct. So vote “yes” on stuff that gets more electricity to Africa. Whatever that may be. Go find out. Just sayin’.
And finally, here’s your bonus. Take a look at more details about the size of Africa.