Distributed power could have saved us some serious pain over there
Earlier this year, it was reported that residents of Baghdad could count on about five or six hours of electricity a day. Last week, it was reported that they could now count on about … one.
The Bush administration’s response to this trend is paradigmatically Bushian: it’s going to stop reporting. Seriously:
But that piece of data has not been sent to lawmakers for months because the State Department, which prepares a weekly “status report” for Congress on conditions in Iraq, stopped estimating in May how many hours of electricity Baghdad residents typically receive each day.
Instead, the department now reports on the electricity generated nationwide, a measurement that does not indicate how much power Iraqis in Baghdad or elsewhere actually receive.
Electricity is an under-reported aspect of the Iraq debacle. It’s an absolutely central indicator of quality of life, and its absence is a sure indicator of violence and unrest. Creating a resilient, reliable electrical power system is probably the No. 1 thing we could have done to reduce turmoil in that country.
This story got a good bit of coverage last week, so it’s worth revisiting a bit of my recent Amory Lovins interview:
Some of us have made three attempts at [bringing decentralized power to Iraq] and there’s a fourth now under discussion. The first three attempts, the third of which was backed by the Iraqi power minister, were vetoed by the U.S. political authorities on the grounds that they’d already given big contracts to Bechtel, Halliburton, et. al to rebuild the old centralized system, which of course the bad guys are knocking down faster than it can be put back up.
If you build an efficient, diverse, dispersed, renewable electricity system, major failures — whether by accident or malice — become impossible by design rather than inevitable by design, an attractive nuisance for terrorists and insurgents. There’s a pretty good correlation between neighborhoods with better electrical supply and those that are inhospitable to insurgents. This is well known in military circles. There’s still probably just time to do this in Afghanistan.
This is important for greens to remember: the benefits of distributed, renewable power are not merely environmental. It is inherently more resilient than the centralized hub-and-spoke alternative, though not as profitable for Halliburton. And while the need for resilience is obvious in Iraq, it’s no less important in the U.S. and elsewhere, particularly as climate stresses grow more and more severe.
Another parallel to the domestic energy debate: it’s collusion between large corporations and governments that insure that the brittle old power paradigm remains dominant, even in places where it is grotesquely and manifestly inadequate.