Canary in the Coal Mine

written by: Mark Swilling on Saturday, 29 May 2010. Posted in Footprints Blog

Prof Matthew Heun, a friend of the Sustainability Institute and the Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies presented a paper recently on what the world can learn from South Africa's energy crisis - hence the idea of South Africa as the 'canary in the coalmine'.

The paper, Learnable Lessons on Sustainability from the Provision of Electricity in South Africa was written by a group from the SI and CRSES - M.K. Heun, J.L. Van Niekerk, M. Swilling, A.J. Meyer, A. Brent and T. Fluri. The paper was presented at proceedings of the American Society for Mechanical Engineering's 2010 4th international Conference on Energy Sustainability (ES2010),  17-22 May 2010, Phoenix, Arizona. (See: http://www.solar2010.org/program/es2010.htm)

This paper reviews the crisis of electricity provision in South Africa amidst the global 'polycrisis' and suggests a way forward for South Africa's electricity policy that uses ecological constraints to develop new industries and value chains created by innovating for sustainability.  These new industries and value chains could result in new forms of economic growth that decouple poverty alleviation from resource depletion and environmental impacts.

The conference session, entitled "Foreign Perspectives of Energy and Policy," was the only session that allowed ES2010 to be called "International."  Matthew Heun wrote: "Our presentation provided an update to the paper, including information on the April 2010 World Bank loan to South Africa to complete Eskom's Medupi power station.  (See: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/07/AR2010040703421.html)  Although the session was sparsely attended, we had a very interesting and passionate discussion during Q&A that focused mostly on the World Bank loan.  The session chair said we should win an award for the longest discussion following a presentation at an ASME conference.  One of the audience members said it was the best presentation at the conference.  Not surprisingly, another attendee said she wants to travel to South Africa after seeing the photos in the presentation."