Now, I come from a country of many many power outages. Scheduled and unscheduled. We have this system of load shedding and it is basically switching off power in one or many areas to relieve the power supply systems. It comes in stages and the higher the stage, the more frequent it will be that day.
One of my country's biggest exports is coal and fossil fuels. Basically, our economy hinges on these heavily. Since I could open my eyes and see, far off in the distance there has been a coal burning station in the mountains surrounding our mining town. It burns all day and night. Often, there is a black smudge over those mountains from all the burning going on.
Having mentioned the above back story into my life, I do consider myself someone who is “planet-conscious”. Doing my best not to litter, to use energy wisely and conserve as much as possible. But, moving from coal energy to other sources of clean energy, so quickly, without careful and I mean careful planning, will kill this country and bring our people to their knees and here’s why:
1. I live in one of the many many mining towns in just my province, not the whole country.
Laborers, skilled workers and scientists alike gravitate to mining towns simply because work is easier to find and is able to sustain them and their families, allowing them to send money home and care for themselves. My own brother is a geologist and works for a nearby mine. My sister is a metal worker whose job is refining the mined metals into things of industrial use, sometimes to the same mines. Imagine in the rush of a month or a year, people like my brother and sister lose their jobs because all the dirty coal mines had to close down to make room for clean energy. All the people who work underground and work in support, in the offices, in operations would be instantly devastated and displaced. After working hard for years at university, graduating and jumping through the impossible hoops of finding a job in our country (unemployment rate is currently almost 40% nationwide) working a month, a year, 3 years whatever the case may be just to have your whole livelihood decimated.
And the argument could be made that some and yes only some of these people could be reskilled and find employment within clean energy, but that would take years the government would rather opt for employees fresh from the box and already skilled to take over the new work. And on the slim chance that they do get reskilled, it will take time, while families starve.
2. Environmental activism and calls for energy reform are a luxury. It’s hard to join in and stand with the fight for clean energy when your home doesn’t even have running water, when you do not even have roads or access to internet and electricity. The very same individuals without these modern basic necessities cannot hope to understand what it means to have a COP26 alliance. But they do their best, planting food and trees in their communities. Saving water and recycling most waste material. It is a luxury to stand and speak on conservation and climate change. Not many have that or even have awareness of the problem or how big it is.
3. Concerns over new capitalist energy regimes. We’ve been hearing news of investors coming into South Africa with billions upon billions to invest into clean energy and politely force the country to change to coal all over the private sector. There is a buzz of money being allocated to South Africa for an energy reform. At what cost? Are we about to have privatized energy not owned nationally but supplying our homes? Are we about to have foreign corporations and investors sell us energy made from our wind and our land used for their own business? Where is the local buy-in of the people? Due to the corrupt nature of national affairs we might soon be buying South African power in pounds and euros. So instead of purchasing back our coal from their mines here in South Africa, we’ll be purchasing electricity. No consultation of local innovative energy solutions. Just obscene cash injections given to ministers to make deals of privatisation. This is a major concern on the minds of many. We sit with our breaths held. Uncertainty with rising fuel prices and even higher instability with the national power grids on our minds.
4. How feasible are these energy reforms for a developing country? This might be a few leaps over certain necessary revolutions. It is my opinion that before we can engage in what is sure to be a hair-ripping and economy-crippling activity which will involve a lot of missing funds and job loss, first, skill the people, give them access to basic water and sanitation. Invest in our own internal education because I can promise you that the innovative ideas and creative thinking are all here in the minds of young people constantly being failed by their own government now attempting a money grab that has no concern for its people’s well being.
In closing, saving the planet is a great hope of mine. Our entire continent has so much to offer in biodiversity and I don’t want to lose any of that. But bring us to the table also. Make space for the poor who can’t participate because they work seven days a week only to earn well below minimum wage. The students who can’t graduate because of fees and the families with no homes.
About the author:
I am a person of the world with a window that allows me many lives. Music and good food are why I'm still here. Apples are my arch enemy.