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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

South Africa in the dark about global warming

South Africa in the dark about global warming
by Patrick Bond
The Mercury
Columnists: Eye on Civil Society
February 12, 2008 Edition 1

It is tragic but understandable that South African society ranks - with the United States and China - at the bottom of a recent worldwide climate-consciousness survey by polling firm Global Scan: only 45% of us believe global warming is a "serious problem".

Latin Americans rank above 80%, and Europeans near 70%, while the US's consciousness is at 48% and China's is at 39%.

It is understandable that we have been kept in the dark, because even in the midst of the worst national energy crisis in South Africa's living memory, the simple act of questioning who abuses our coal-burning power generators is off the agenda. Instead, to get a meagre conservation reduction of 40MW, energy minister Buyelwa Sonjica tells us: "Switch off all lights in the home when not in use and go to sleep early so that you can grow."

Critics rightly call this a trivialising blame-the-victim game, whose broader aim appears to be distracting attention from those who are most to blame: the government and crony corporations like BHP Billiton.

In a presentation he delivered to big business on January 21, Eskom CEO Jacob Maroga bragged that at $0.03 (23c) per kiloWatt hour for industrial customers after 2007 increases, his prices still remained competitive.

That's the understatement of the year, given that US electricity is three times and Danish electricity eight times more expensive than what the average firm here pays.

South African households pay more than double the industrial rate; with BHP Billiton trying to take over Rio Tinto, which is taking over Alcan, Eskom's smelter incentive at Coega will offer even cheaper power, less than $0.02 (15c) per kWh.

So it is not surprising - though something of a secret from the public - that measured by carbon dioxide emissions per unit of per-person economic output, South Africa emits 20 times more carbon dioxide than the US. That's correct: Our economy's carbon intensivity is 20 times worse than that of that Great Climate Satan, the US.


Although most electricity consumers, the service industries, manufacturers and some gold mines have taken a hit, it appears that the foreign-owned electricity-guzzling aluminium smelters have been
untouched by the crisis. According to business journalist Mathabo le Roux: "For the duration of the power cuts, BHP Billiton's Bayside, Hillside and Mozal smelters received their full electricity complement - a formidable 2 500MW."

The smelters' consumption of electricity is hedonistic; their metals prices are 10% higher for local consumers than for international markets; they employ only a few hundred workers; their profit streams go to Melbourne; and their employees have, in the past decade, included former finance minister Derek Keys, former Eskom treasurer Mick Davis, and former national electricity regulator Xolani Mkhwanazi.

That wide a revolving door with the state tells you something about what academics term "captive regulation".....



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