President Obama’s Emissions Cuts: Quest for Renewable Energy in Liberia

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Last week the leader of the free world, President Barack Obama announced an unprecedented step to cut emissions of greenhouse gases emanating from U.S. power plants in an endeavor to tackle the galloping and glaring effects of Climate Change and Global Warning. The clamping down on America’s largest source of greenhouse gases reaffirms the greatest nation on Earth commitment to a healthier, safer and cleaner energy.

It is an obvious fact that no one can live without clean air, clean water and clean environment; however, on a daily basis, we are making our air polluted, our water contaminated and our environment desecrated not only for ourselves, but for generation yet unborn. Therefore, President Obama public policy pronouncement should reawaken the quest for many African countries like Liberia that already have limited electricity supply to contemplate on investment in clean and renewable energy. It is not just a Western ideology or an American concept, but a global crisis that requires immediate resolution from the comity of nations.

Although, rich and powerful nations are polluting our air, our water and destroying our environment; notwithstanding we the people of this world and as Africans who have kept the environment in tight and nature sacred must muster the courage and begin the work to solve the energy challenges through our own imagination, creativity and culture while combating the wrongdoings of depleting the ozone layer.

Already endowed with abundant resources and favorable climate for clean and renewable energy, Africa’s oldest republic should be leading the efforts to harness the requisite human and material resources to ensure access to renewable and clean energy services in an affordable, sustainable and eco-friendly manner. Sadly, Liberia is still heavily reliance on high-speed heavy fuel oil (HFO) power generators mounted in Bushrod Island, Waterside, and Paynesville supplying infinitesimal number of the population in Monrovia and its environs. In addition, a great deal of people relies on community current powered by small diesel generator which is too often expensive and irregular.

The alarming rate of impoverishment coupled with the rising energy costs and adverse health effects associated with Climate Change and Global Warming excessively affect the already poverty-stricken people of Liberia, who all too often lack the resources and capacity to recover from extreme weather pattern.

Nowadays, most coastal communities in Liberia inhabited by underprivileged and underserved segment of the population run the risk of becoming history with wreckage beneath the vast ocean floor and many people becoming homeless or displaced as a result of consistent and persistent sea level rise. For typical examples, the only public senior high school in the Borough of New Kru Town and Liberia’s only Coast Guard Base are being threatened with widespread sea erosion. The school fence has been torn apart while the Coast Guard anchorage has been disconnected.

Furthermore, a good number of rural dwellers who depend on sustenance farming are faced with sudden changes in the climatic condition. Unlike before, many farmers do not know when they will start brushing or clearing or planting. Others who have planted cannot tell when they will harvest while for some the harvest is not just possible owing to the changing temperature and weather. Certainly, there is low agricultural productivity and lots of jobless parents and guardians who use children as breadwinners.

Scores of Liberians hold to the strongest conviction that President Obama’s proposal comes at the time when Liberia energy sector is engulfed with many challenges with vast majority of the population relying on kerosene, candles, firewood, charcoal, and small gasoline and diesel generators to meet their energy needs, such as lighting, air conditioning, refrigeration, and cooking. It comes at the time when energy consumption in Liberia is dominated by woody biomass and over 95 percent of the population depending on firewood and charcoal for cooking and heating, while most rural dwellers use palm oil for lighting. And, it comes at the time when a considerable number of Liberians suffer severe health implications as a result of exposure to smoke and dirty power sources that dump pollution into the air and water while many have lost their lives and damaged their properties struggling for energy. Every so often, the most vulnerable people are displaced due to the usage of candles, mosquito coils, firewood, kerosene and small generators.

Of course, the United States of America has played a pivotal role in ensuring access to renewable energy and significantly contributed to revamping and reinvigorating the energy sector in one of Africa’s darkest countries, however, Liberia’s energy crisis cannot be resolved easily through a short span of time or with dependency on foreign investors or handout from rich and powerful nations or bailout from international financial institutions. It requires the collective efforts on the part of every Liberian alongside corporations, friendly nations and international partners working together for a sustainable future free from pollution-causing fossil fuels and environmental devastation that have for far too long increase poverty, disease and human suffering.

A shift toward alternative sources of energy like wind, solar and hydro powers could significantly assist thousands of Liberians to have access to affordable, efficient and clean energy supply that limit carbon emissions and save planet earth from Climate Change and Global Warming. With Liberia’s youthful population and huge energy crisis, the country stands a great chance of leading renewable and clean energy initiatives.

The establishment of Rural and Renewable Energy Agency (RREA) is a step in the right direction, but emphasis on the human resource capacity of young people needs to be fully supported so as to breed Liberia’s young thinkers, doers and makers in providing some of the world’s best known renewable sources of energy. RREA should be given appropriate budget allocation to enable it carry out renewable energy projects across the country as well as empower youth-led organizations in fostering the quest for renewable energy, utilize existent technology to make energy cleaner and more efficient as well as innovate in the discovery of new renewable and clean energy sources.

Luckily, organization like Youth Exploring Solutions is already engaging, educating and empowering people of all ages to establish an environmentally aware culture in Liberia through research, education and action. In Montserrado and Gbarpolu counties, we are hosting intergenerational, community-based and town hall styled ‘Energy Access Talk’ designed to raise the awareness and sensitize people on the benefits of renewable energy.

We are creating an ecosystem of innovation in the areas of energy, water, food, waste and ecology all geared towards ensuring a sustainable future for generation to come. We believe that the “New Liberia” will be sustainable, because without sustainability and nature, there can be no human rights. Hence, energy advocates should not just settle for any kind or form of energy, but instead wakeup, shakeup and standup for clean and renewable energy in Liberia.

As America leads the way alongside many countries to combat Climate Change and Global Warming in this 21st Century, it is hoped that China and India and other industrial countries would reduce carbon emissions. On the other hand, Liberia and many countries in desperate need of energy should envision investment in clean and renewable energy, because it would provide more jobs, increase commerce and industry, and better living standards as well as improve public health and save mother earth.

About the author: Mr. Stephen B. Lavalah is an advocate and the Founder & Executive Director of Youth Exploring Solutions (YES), a passionate, non-profit and voluntary grassroots youth-led development organization. For more information about YES’ work in Liberia, please visit http://www.liberiayes.org or http://www.youthexploringsolutions.com

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