Since the days of the industrial revolution, energy has been catalyst for growth as well as inequality. It has made some nations and regions powerful and given them the means to monopolize its access. This control has resulted in tremendous inequalities, which have accumulated and aggravated over time, producing poverty, poor health, exploitation, lack of education and lack of economic opportunity to name a few.
Our mitigation efforts have always been to address these outcomes rather than focus on the cause. It is this lack of understanding of the intersectionality of energy with poverty, opportunity and social inequity that our policies and actions need to resolve. A recent United Nations report published in June 2021 has highlighted that although a larger percentage of the world population acquired access to electricity in the recent decade more than ever before, the number of people without electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa rose . Not only is the access to energy unequal, but it has added to the environmental racism that has, for decades, exploited and degraded our biodiversity, depriving people and communities that traditionally depended on them. I would name fossil fuel racism – a deep rooted colonial legacy that has been exploited based on race, colour and economic status. Even in the USA, that touts itself as the world’s greatest democracy, more than two-thirds of the African American community live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant, a fact that has proven to have direct linkage to increased birth defects, heart disease, asthma, lung disease, learning difficulties, and lower property values, all of which disproportionately affect African American communities. The situation in the third world is even worse, compounded by a lack of data, absence of transparency and an abundance of corruption.
From the very beginning, our mission at Green Hope Foundation has been to empower communities impacted by fossil fuel racism across the Global South. We approach it from a human lens, that enables us to unearth the deep-seated social and economic inequalities, that have heaped produced suffering and abuses over generations. Within these Global South communities, it is the women and children who suffer the most. Women and girls suffer from a host of respiratory ailments, caused by daily exposure to polluting fumes from cooking fires. The situation is particularly severe in rural areas and amongst indigenous communities where a complete lack of healthcare, hygiene and sanitation aggravate the impact of this energy inequality.
We have been working with these rural tribal communities in Western India, in Liberia and in Bangladesh. We have distributed several hundred solar cookers to these marginalized families. More importantly, we have combined this with education and capacity building programs, to bring about substantive behavioral change. There is an ingrained suspicion of technology and any form of change is resisted by these communities, driven by superstition and in part by vested interests. Our capacity building programs commence with a pilot implementation, that is led by local youth from within these communities, whom we train as our program ambassadors. This enables us to build trust and overcome their instinctive resistance to change. Our trainings explain the benefits of solar cookstoves, its easy maintenance, the positive impact on their health as well as the savings in terms of costs and time. Successful implementation of the pilot enables us to scale up the program to cover the entire community. Our local teams monitor the usage of these cookstoves, encouraging these families to send their girls to school, now that they don’t have to spend the entire day collecting firewood or in cooking. We also engage them in replanting in areas that have been depleted as a consequence of their foraging activities in collecting wood for their fires. In this manner, we rehabilitate not just these communities but also their local environment by simultaneously reforesting and regenerating their biodiversity.
The COVID19 pandemic threatens to remove an entire generation of learners from the education system. For more than a year now, millions of children in the global south have been out of school. Majority of them are girls, who, unless remedial actions are taken quickly, will either be forced into early marriage or exploited in the oppressive labour market that exploits these inequalities. While digital technologies have been employed in developed nations to bridge this learning gap, the Global South continues to wallow and sink in the digital divide. Here again, we witness the energy inequality at play. Lack of electrification has put millions of people in the dark, both literally and figuratively.
To alleviate this inequality, Green Hope Foundation has installed solar powered street lights in these villages in Liberia and Bangladesh, as well as solar panels in their homes and in their schools. Using clean energy, we have brought light into their lives. Education remains the key driver of our advocacy as we believe that it is the single most powerful tool to empower those have been traditionally oppressed, especially the women and children in these communities. Our latest initiative is the Mobile Library project – a fleet of solar powered vans with books, operated by our local ambassadors, that travel to remote villages, bringing the library to the doorstep of children. Over a period of 12 months, this clean energy driven initiative will provide 250,000 children with the education that has so far remained elusive.
At Green Hope Foundation, we believe that each one of us has a responsibility towards our planet and our global society. It’s not enough to protest – that is the easy bit. One must go a step further and try to find solutions. We believe in empowering through Education for Sustainable Development. Only when we behave responsibly and be ready to take accountability will we witness change.
 United Nations. Rep. The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2021, 2021.
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Kehkashan Basu is the Founder-President of Green Hope Foundation. Winner of the 2016 International Children’s Peace Prize. A Forbes 30 Under 30, Kehkashan is a United Nations Human Rights Champion, one of Canada's Top25 Women of Influence and the Regional Organizing Partner for North America for the NGO Major Group. Kehkashan