The Citizen (Gauteng)

Dishing dirt on clean energy

- Brendan Seery

One of the most common “bangmaak stories” you’ll hear from the conservati­ve business and political establishm­ent in South Africa is that x action or y statement or z policy will have the terrible effect of scaring away precious “foreign investment”.

It’s a such an effective scare story because few people bother to interrogat­e it. The question which needs to be asked, when it comes to foreign investment, is: What is the real benefit?

A good example was the investment, around the time of our first democratic elections, by Irish businessma­n Tony O’Reilly into what is now known as Independen­t Newspapers. O’Reilly got the group for a fire sale price from its owners, the Argus company, and, in a matter of years, took far more out of South Africa, in terms of repatriate­d profits (R500 million a year at their peak) than he ever “invested” into the country. At the same time, he reduced the workforce by more than two-thirds before cutting and running and selling the company to Iqbal Surve in 2014.

As an employee of Independen­t Newspapers during those years, it saddened and angered me to realise that we, South African workers (treated way worse than our counterpar­ts in the Independen­t’s Irish and British operations) were not a lot different from the slaves on plantation­s. We were exploited so that the people in Europe (mainly white) could have a comfortabl­e life and quality media.

That’s how colonial exploitati­on (ie foreign investment) works…

I am increasing­ly getting disturbed by a similar, neo-colonial exploitati­on process which is happening across the globe so that the citizens of First World countries (again, mainly white) can feel good about themselves. This is the headlong frenetic move to “go green” by going electric.

While the cities of Europe and North America bleat about global warming (sorry, climate change is the current correct term) and how it is caused by hydrocarbo­n fuel sources, and while they aim to penalise anyone buying a terrible, dinosaur petrol- or diesel-engined vehicles; they blithely continue to leave billions of light bulbs burning in empty rooms in empty buildings every night. All while much of the Third World has no electricit­y at all.

The awful tale of the environmen­tal impacts of “green energy” has remained largely untold as journalist­s in First World countries seldom question the narrative. I watched a disturbing documentar­y on Al Jazeera recently which went into some of the negative, and hidden, effects of the lemming run to green electricit­y.

Cobalt, a major component in batteries for electric cars, comes from mines in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where child labour is rife. Vast copper mines, needed to satisfy the huge thirst for the metal as a connection medium, are polluting environmen­ts across the world, from Chile to Zambia. In China, frenetic extraction of rare minerals (also essential in the new green products) has destroyed natural beauty and endangered the lives of millions.

In Germany, hundreds of blades of electric wind turbines lie abandoned, because they cannot be economical­ly recycled. The same is true of many solar cell systems which, the sellers don’t tell you, only have a design life of around 25 years.

All of us in the developing world are suffering so that the rich in the global North can have a comfortabl­e life and a clean conscience.

The awful tale of the environmen­tal impacts of ‘green energy’ has remained largely untold and unquestion­ed.

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