Searching for Solutions to Global Warming in Africa
By Joe Conason
June 22, 2010 | 5:10 p.m
Dar es Salaam, TANZANIA-What would the wealthy nations of the West
(and their rising rivals in the East) do if they actually wanted to
prevent catastrophic warming? Here in Africa, the obvious answer is
that they would find the ways and means to discourage deforestation-
the ruinous practice of clear-cutting for timber, charcoal and arable
land that accounts for at least 20 percent of the atmospheric carbon
burden. Save the trees, and you might just save the planet.
In theory, this ought to be a simple enough task to accomplish, with
sufficient motivation and money. But in practice, the incentives
created by Western policy are so perverse, according to Tanzania
president Jakaya Kikwete, that they reward clear-cutting not once but
twice over. So he told Bill Clinton, who is visiting Africa this week
to oversee the Clinton Foundation's work on health care and renewable
The need for food and fuel, let alone cash, is immediate in poor
countries; the threat of climate change is not.
As Mr. Kikwete explained the problem, it has become possible to open
forests to loggers for profit and then receive carbon-credit subsidies
as a reward for replanting the raped forest. Stupid is too kind a word
The Tanzanian leader expressed frustration, too, with the imperial
style that persists in Western efforts to preserve forest land. The
agencies that certify projects for carbon credit are overwhelmingly
foreign, with personnel parachuted in to perform inspections. While it
is essential to verify every carbon credit, the parachute inspection
is not, as they say, a sustainable model.
More than a third of Tanzania's land is still protected forest in
national parks and reserves, unlike neighboring Kenya, for example,
where deforestation is proceeding rapidly. Its president is plainly
proud of his nation's greenness and trying to preserve that legacy.
But the economic pressures on the leaders and people of poor countries
are enormous-almost unimaginable. The need for food and fuel, let
alone cash, is immediate; the threat of climate change is not.
A glimmering hint of a solution can be found in a rural village called
Kitere, hundreds of miles south of the capital. There a local health
clinic assisted by the foundation-a clinic that is really a
rudimentary hospital, serving thousands of people-is improving its
services with solar electrification. Using photovoltaic panels,
batteries and AC conversion equipment made in the United States, the
clinic now produces enough of its own clean energy to operate lights
(instead of dirty kerosene lamps), refrigeration for medicines and a
laptop computer. Much of the clinic's operation is still outdated by
American standards, but its electrification has greatly increased its
capacity to treat illness and save lives.
Across Tanzania, with Mr. Clinton's help and advice, more than 50
clinics have installed solar arrays at very low cost. These small
beacons of progress point toward a much larger and more comprehensive
renewable development program-a wise bargain, not an act of charity.
Our capital and technology, deeply discounted, in exchange for their
forest land. The world's poor countries proposed roughly the same idea
at the Copenhagen climate summit last December, only to be rebuffed by
the wealthy because of the cost.
Yet that is the deal that must be done someday soon to avoid climate
disaster. For a fraction of the world's military spending, it could be
a Green New Deal that creates new industries, advances new
technologies and revives our economy-much like the spending on World
War II boosted America into prosperity. It is a proposition that we
can no longer afford to refuse.
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