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Tapping the Sahara to Meet Europe’s Electricity Needs

July 23, 2008

The top story on the Guardian website this morning:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/jul/23/solarpower.windpower

The proposal is to build an enormous solar farm in the Sahara desert that could one day supply Europe with most of – if not all of – the clean, renewable electricity it needs. If the proposal turns out to be feasible and timely then what could be wrong with it? The language of the article reveals one of the fundamental obstacles towards a fair and equal world. It is a positive thing for Europe to be actively proposing renewable energy projects, but does it matter to anyone that this farm would be on African soil? What about the energy needs of Africa? Will they be met by this project as well? A farm of this size could easily provide enough electricity for the entire African continent but without the required £35.7 billion investment it will never get built. There is no mention anywhere in this article or in any other that I was able to find of using even a fraction of the solar energy to supply electricity to African nations.

The assumption of the proposal is that – once again – it is acceptable for European nations to impose themselves on the African continent, take anything they want for themselves and essentially ignore the needs of the people who live there. Undoubtedly there would be a cut for the Algerian state or whichever nation this farm might end up in, but traditionally that money does not filter down to those who need it the most. This is nothing new – we have been following the same procedure for the last 200 years or so – but that does not make it just. As the cost of fossil fuels increases African nations are hit the hardest as the cost of even the most basic food increases beyond the point that most people can afford. Furthermore, according to the International Energy Agency’s 2004 report ‘Analysis of the Impact of High Oil Prices on the Global Economy’ a $10 increase in the price of a barrel of oil means a 3% loss of gross domestic product for sub-Saharan Africa compared with 0.8% for Asia and 0.4% for the wealthy nations.

At least the greed is becoming more overt. Perhaps the US and UK governments will soon admit why our troops are in Iraq and Afghanistan and why we need to remain there.

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