American Startups Work to Bring Solar Powered Electricity to Parts of Africa

A June 26, 2017 article by Bill McKibben in the New Yorker titled, The Race to Solar-Power Africa explains the reasons why implementing an electric grid on the continent presents a unique challenge. McKibben writes,

“There are about as many people living without electricity today as there were when Thomas Edison lit his first light bulb. More than half are in sub-Saharan Africa. Europe and the Americas are almost fully electrified, and Asia is quickly catching up, but the absolute number of Africans without power remains steady.”

The demand for reliable and accessible electricity has prompted some entrepreneurs in the West to launch solar companies in Africa. It has some advantages over the traditional electric grid infrastructure but comes with its own set of problems relating to the newness of technology being used, engineering challenges, and uncertainty around financial feasibility, both for the consumers and for the companies.

An Economic Perspective on Energy Efficiency

The term “energy efficient” is common enough, used to describe everything from dishwashers to windows. A Freakonomics Radio podcast episode titled How Efficient Is Energy Efficiency? explores the complicated relationship between energy efficiency standards and their real world outcomes. Arik Levinson, an environmental economist and professor at Georgetown University, discusses the 1974 California Energy Commission whose regulations were the first of their kind in the nation. Levinson’s paper on energy consumption as affected by these regulations asserts,

“There is no evidence that homes constructed since California instituted its building energy codes use less electricity today than homes built before the codes came into effect.”

This conclusion, based on Levinson’s research leads the host, Stephen Dubner, to question the validity of his statement and to explore the reasons why energy efficiency regulations are still such a major part of the United States’ climate policy.

Climate Change Denial – How Did We Get Here?

As we gear up for the 2017 Buffalo Humanities Festival, we’ve been thinking a lot about why the topic of “Environments” carries with it such an immediate and vehement reaction. The debate over global warming is exasperating to many people who, in light of the evidence that our climate is indeed changing, wonder why we are still struggling to come to a consensus over scientific facts.

The United States of Anxiety, a podcast produced by WNYC Studios tackled the history of climate change denial in their second episode this past May. The Birth of Climate Denial explores the beginnings of climate change awareness in the 1980’s, when NASA climatologist, James Hansen, presented the issue to Congress.

Something has changed between the initial bi-partisan acceptance of climate change and the moment we find ourselves in now. This episode by the United States of Anxiety presents a compelling explanation of the social and cultural factors that contributed to the development of climate change denial.

image above: UN Photo. April 30, 1992. The environmental group Greenpeace protesting against the Government of the United States for the reluctance to accept goals to reduce green-house gases.