Flipping the Switch on the Energy Crisis: My Trip to South Africa
May 18 2012
By Alicia Criado, Policy Associate, Economic and Employment Policy Project, NCLR
What would you do if one day you came home and flipped on the light switch, but nothing happened? Assuming you paid your most recent electric bill, would the power outage alarm you? What if this happened every day? For many people in the United States, this scenario is hard to fathom. Electricity is one our mostly widely used forms of energy and heavily intertwined in our daily lives. Today, fossil fuels are the main energy source used for supplying most of our world’s needs. They are also what allow a majority of people in this country to rely on a constant supply of electricity to light up our homes, cook our food, and power our computers and other electronic devices. However, there are tradeoffs and sacrifices to this privilege that many, myself included, overlook.
Today, many nations and continents around the world are not only exploring the consequences of using nonrenewable fossil fuels or “dirty” energy sources (coal, oil, natural gas) versus renewable or “clean” energy sources (wind, solar, water, bio) to supply energy, but also how to ensure that everyone has access to energy. On May 21, I along with several of my Center for American Progress (CAP) Leadership Institute fellows will depart for Johannesburg, South Africa to discuss the “21st Century Energy Agenda for Africa” during the African Presidential Roundtable 2012, convened by Boston University’s African Presidential Archives and Research Center. I look forward to hearing former African heads of state, diplomats, industry leaders, international dignitaries, students, and faculty from the United States, Europe, and Africa discuss one of Africa’s most pressing challenges. I also hope to gain perspective on how to engage different stakeholders around the tradeoffs and sacrifices of “dirty” and “clean” energy sources, particularly leaders who are trying to ensure that energy is no longer a privilege but a right. This information will influence my energy-related work and research at NCLR, as I examine opportunities for Latinos in a clean energy economy.
While the energy issues we face in the U.S. are not identical to those that African nations face, there are similarities. No matter where you go, fossil fuels are finite, are bad for the environment, and disproportionately damage the health of impoverished communities of color. If sufficient research isn’t done to explore clean energy alternatives, the energy crisis has the potential to stagnate economic development efforts to help improve the quality of life for many, especially Latinos and other people of color. While I don’t expect to return from South Africa with a solution to our energy issues, I do expect to have many light bulbs go off, figuratively speaking, which will serve me as I work to shed light on how to best engage Latinos in the United States around clean energy opportunities and challenges.
Geography:California, Far West, Midwest, Northeast, Southeast, Texas