Cutting-edge colonialism: “Hey Africa, we’ll take all that cobalt, but we decided your hydrocarbons have to stay in the ground”
Here in North America, we’re becoming accustomed to powerful figures uttering utterly bonkers statements with respect to energy. We have President Biden in 2020 expressing an interest in throwing fossil fuel executives in jail for their crime of providing hydrocarbons, then currently admonishing those same executives for not producing enough oil/natural gas. We see European powerbrokers working feverishly to globally ‘eliminate fossil fuel subsidies’ at COP26, and at the very same time, the exact same time, capping power bills for homey customers due to the sky high price of natural gas – in other words, they are creating fossil fuel subsidies for their own people, but demanding everyone else halt the practice.
The incoherent messaging is somewhat of a screwball sideshow here; we in North America and Europe have wealth and alternatives to ensure that we get through. But we also get trapped in our own little narcissistic world view, and forget that these contradictory viewpoints are not at all amusing for most of the world’s population.
Africa provides a sadly clear example, and I’ve got to say, hats off to Africans for handling this situation with grace. I would be full-on Yosemite Sam if I had to endure the hypocrisy being thrust their way.
Powerful climate activist forces are aligning to stop Africa from developing its hydrocarbon resources. Bill McKibben, one of the world’s most influential climate activists (founder of 350.org), wrote in the Guardian: “either there’s a death knell for the fossil fuel industry or there’s a death knell for our civilisations…If ground is broken as planned next April on this [African] pipeline, the failure will be all of ours.”
McKibben lives in the bucolic northeastern US. He flies wherever he wants. He eats whatever he wants. His leisure activities are limited only by his conscience. Mr. McKibben shows scant interest in swapping places with the average African, though to do so would be far more beneficial for the planet and make a better statement than flying around the world yelling at us to quit flying around the world.
At the same time, McKibben/350.org are pushing governments mightily to adopt electric vehicles and abolish internal combustion engines. Those EV batteries require immense amounts of minerals, including cobalt, much of which comes from mines in Africa.
In other words, activists like that are keeping alive the colonialist tradition of looting developing countries of whatever the west wants, while keeping those developing populations in a state of arrested development because, well, rich, educated, elite people apparently know better. The Guardian article howls about how fossil fuel development hurts pretty much everyone, at the very same time that Africans are finding their voices to host events like Africa Energy Week, a symbolic rising of the continent’s affirmation of its right to develop its own resources on its own terms. As it should be.
As must always be stated, Africans recognize the need to move towards cleaner energy sources, which is one reason that the focus is strongly on natural gas development. African energy leaders can see as well as anyone that replacing the world’s coal-fired power with natural gas would go a very long way to meeting anyone’s emissions reduction expectations. But the usage is beside the point; Africans have a right to development through cheap, reliable energy, just as the west has done for a few centuries.
The efforts of activists to thwart Africa’s hydrocarbon development are even more excruciatingly misguided when viewed alongside the US president’s demand for more hydrocarbons from the world.
Thank you Africa for the measured, diplomatic way in which you are handling these outrages. After decades of mistreatment and misguided aid adventures (very well chronicled by NJ Ayuk in his book Billions at Play), you have every right to react firmly and angrily. Enough is enough. But you are rising above, as when you welcomed climate protesters into Africa Energy Week for dialogue.
It is getting more ironic by the day to see the rich, developed west – with every conceivable benefit and opportunity – drive itself into the ground, while the developing world – with almost nothing, and still fighting the same fights it has for decades – showing the kind of leadership we keep pretending we offer them.
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