By Dr Ian Clarke
In the age of global warming, climate change, artificial intelligence and self-driving electric cars, one wonders how Africa will deal with all of this. We have to admit that global warming and climate change are upon us: I was reading that the temperatures in Kuwait were 53 degrees Celsius in the shade (which was 62 in the sun) and this summer it has been over 40 degrees in parts of Europe. Although Donald Trump may not accept climate change, it seems it is happening despite him.
The reason for global warming is the rise in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere because of our high dependence on fossil fuels as our main source of energy, namely coal and oil. Hence many car manufacturers have recently stated their intention to move away from the internal combustion to fully electric vehicles. Traditional car companies, like Volkswagen, have set themselves deadlines for when they will only be making electric vehicles.
So what about the internal combustion engine? Electric cars depend on batteries, which run electric motors that power the car, but to this point the batteries are not very efficient and the infrastructure for charging is inadequate. I heard the story of one lady in Ireland who decided to go electric. She was told that her vehicle would go 250 kilometers between charges, but this was in an idealized test track, and she found that hills, or using other gadgets in her car, drew extra charge from her battery. In the event, when she did calculate how far she could go and reached a charging point, she found it was not working and was left stranded.
This story illustrates how far developed countries still have to go to move away from the current technology that is causing pollution and global warming. But despite this Ireland has declared that it will no longer invest in the petrochemical industry and will take the necessary steps to go green. Currently Ireland has very little infrastructure for wholly electric vehicles, with the result that motorists have to settle for hybrid cars, so when the battery runs down they switch on the engine, which is not a very satisfactory solution.
Elon Musk has been the main proponent of electric cars and charging stations, which either switch the batteries for a new set of fully charged batteries, or charge them using solar power only. This is a great concept because your car is being run purely on sunlight, but sadly the infrastructure exists mainly in the state of California. Elon Musk has invested heavily in research into cheaper solar power, ever more efficient batteries and the production of electric vehicles. This simple pathway of taking energy directly from sunlight seems to be the logical next step in getting clean energy to power all our needs.
However, this leaves me wondering what will happen to the continent of Africa when the rest of the world achieves the goal of power through solar energy and all electric vehicles backed up by the necessary infrastructure. Such changes will be accompanied by driverless cars, which have already been proven to cause many fewer accidents than human beings. Africa could become the dumping ground for automobiles powered by the internal combustion engine, so we will continue to live in polluted cities and cause global warming – or will we?
We have just signed a pan-African trade deal, which could change the face of Africa. Imagine if African countries got together and agreed a trans African road infrastructure, or rail structure, that crisscrossed and linked all of Africa. If it were rail, it could be powered by electric trains, and if it were roads it could have charging stations for vehicles along the highways. One could drive or ride north to south, east to west, on such a network, using the latest electric and solar technology. Africa has the most sunshine and stands to benefit most from solar technology.
I saw a video in which the speaker was blaming colonialism for chopping up the continent into little countries, which could not stand on their own, much less stand up to western powers. She was very eloquent, but if her argument is right then I don’t know why the country in which I was born, Ireland, has survived and even prospered, or why Belgium, or the Netherlands or New Zealand all survive and do quite well. But I agree that unless African countries can have a pan African vision and sufficient unity to deal with their border and protectionist issues they will go nowhere. Ireland did exactly the opposite of Britain and embraced the European Union, thus becoming stronger by being part of a larger block. African countries would also become stronger and more adaptable for the changes of the 21st century by being part of something larger.