Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

3. Energy, Transport, Infrastructures for development: to where does this lead?


Energy, transport and infrastructures – huge questions with decisions here having an enormous impact upon the entire society, landscape, living habits and ability to achieve or not the goals of sustainable development.


Energy used to be a word that had a social and a natural meaning at one and the same time. Thomas Kuhn in ‘Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ made that observation that with the development of the Natural Sciences, the two meanings split more and more. Nowadays the existence of nuclear energy produces a waste: something that shall never be contained as contaminated uranium cannot be treated by man any further. It marks the end of any kind of ‘sustainability’ and equally represents the greatest irresponsibility of mankind to have ever opened that Pandora’s box.

Naturally since the earliest stages of industrialisation coal and other fossils were used to power the industry. The consumption of energy went up as more and more people inhabited this globe. They cut forests and used as much wood, coal and other forms to warm their houses and to fuel the industrial drive. To this has to be added the transport sector and its reliance on oil to enhance mobility. The invention of the combustion engine made that possible.

After Second World War, besides the ever greater dependency upon oil, nuclear energy became an alternative to producing electricity not by means of water driven power stations but by this new energy.

Following Chernobly some sobering thoughts set in about the safety of these energy sources. Germany is perhaps a good indication to reflect upon the problems besetting society when it has to step out of that dependency. Negotiations are still going on when nuclear power stations are to close. The same goes for the EU negotiating with new member states not to open up new nuclear driven power stations as it has become clear neither safety standards nor a way of storage of contaminated uranium can ever be resolved at any satisfactory level. At the same time, as North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, India as newcomers to the nuclear club show, nuclear energy is still a part of the power game being played with very high stakes indeed.

There have been efforts to deescalate this tendency. America is very much concerned about nuclear scientists selling their know-how on the black market. Since 11th of September this has become a particular threat: if nuclear weapons fall into the hands of terrorists. While such threats overshadow everything else, the world has still attempted to reinforce the drive towards increasing renewable energies. Germany has supported these attempts to focus on renewable energies; especially in Eastern Germany but elsewhere this means windmills of a modern type along with solar energy have been receiving more and more attention.

This then is but a very short review of the  energy question having to do with what resources mankind uses to sustain life, industry and transportation as much as other power driven machines. The problem of awareness campaigns and other measures to bring about an economy in the use of energy has been bedevilled by many setbacks.

Topics covered at the World Summit 2002:

  1. Solar Best Practice Programmes: MSIP / Barefoot Solar Programme / Solar
  2. Cookers Programme
  3. Replicating best practice in relation to biomass and reducing indoor air pollution; micro-hydro and wind power
  4. Assessment of what best practice really means
  5. How Local Communities can benefit from oil & gas extraction in the Developing World. Possible replications of the eco-village concept of development
  6. Global Village Energy Partnership (GVEP)


Contacts at that time:

Situation 2002

Energy and Sustainable Development in Africa

Africa is the lowest consumer of modern energy in the world despite its
abundant energy resources. Most of these produced are exported.
A new strategy is hereby suggested based on experience gained from past
initiatives. Reduction of gas flaring, wider use of LPG for cooking and
improved management of the power sector are some of the components of the
new strategy.

Jayant Sathaye - Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Introduction - Sustainable Development and Energy
Ogun Davidson - Energy & Development Research Centre - University of Cape
Sustainable Development and Energy in Africa: selected case studies
Njeri Wamukonya - UNEP Centre Riso, Denmark
Lessons learnt from Sustainable Development and Energy initiatives in
Youba Sakona - ENDA Tiers, Senegal
Synthesising Sustainable Development Strategies for Africa

These studies were funded by the US EPA, Lawrence Berkeley National
Laboratory, UNOPS and the Canadian DFAIT

Pierre Mukheibir (Pr Eng)
Projects Manager
Energy & Development Research Centre
University of Cape Town
Tel: +27 21 6502824
Fax: +27 21 6502830


2. Transport

Ever since man invented the wheel, mobility changed and also the transition of energy. Parmenides in his poem left behind as a fragment mentions the friction a turning wheel is causing at the axel when starting to turn every faster. He made this observation as the Goddess came to fetch the man from the city and to drive him out of town back into nature, there were unity of perception would prevail and another order of things.

Since walking, or on horses, had been the first means by which man covered distance, things have remained very much the same, only that man has added first cars while at sea sailing ships were replaced by steam engine and other driven ocean liners until the very familiar picture of a modern age appears: helicopters swarming like bees in the air, satellites high above lunar park of the earth and everywhere space ships docking at newly constructed space stations. Planes and other flying vehicles would add to that Hieronymous Bosch like image of one eyed monsters flying through the air, in reality a view of planes covering the globe at a rapidly accelerated speed until the Concorde arrived to complete the picture of the technological wonder. On earth’s surface, cars, motorbikes, trucks have become a daily feature. They crowd out people in the street, the take away the trees, the hunt down open fields, they need the deserts to relish still rough terrains while everywhere there is by now congestion upon congestion. The exhaust fumes from cars, sport vehicles, trucks and taxi drivers using stretched gasoline have become sources of destroying the ozone layer protecting man against the most harmful sun rays. The CO2 omission was, therefore, rightly the main concern for the WSSD in Johannesburg as part of the effort to redouble and triple efforts to ensure that this emission rate was reduced in order that the protective shield of the earth would not be damaged any further.

Again, it becomes apparent that transport and energy are interrelated as is mobility of man and movement of goods a major factor of today’s world economy. By now all of this has taken on a gigantic dimension with ever larger road systems, bigger bridges, greater vehicles, bigger hauls etc. leave also any tiny place exposed to transportation problems no longer to be defined as getting from place A to place B, but what happens if left in the shadows of the freeways or else if an oil spillage ruins the life of entire fishing communities along the coast.

Ivan Illich, who died recently, said once Capitalism knows to export but one thing: transportation. Without a fleet of trucks, and motorbikes for the police, tanks and other mobile vehicles for the army, no power can show itself; the politicians need a fleet of limousines and  if the economy goes downward then because the major car producers are not doing well enough to report big profit margins. The recent environmental test of all sport vehicles shows this absurd trend towards using jeeps and the like in the daily traffic as if it is becoming an obstacle race and the street according to such image a rough path through the jungle.

As a matter of fact the less nature is left, the more the image producing messages are suggesting wildness and a rough, tough life style, cowboys to boot. All this goes with space being used up by consuming it for all sorts of transportation sweeps.

A sober analysis of transport problems would depart from a question, can the various different types of transport needs be dissociated not merely by creating a bus lane or favouring public transport over private car mobility. The city of Chicago tried to implement a Master Plan that foresaw locating heavy cargo and bulk traffic below the ground in order to free surface traffic from such heavy transportation needs. Very often a quick glance at the reasons of congestions is that different types of traffic flows interlock and then nothing moves: shopping around the corner compared to long distance transportation needs is, of course, a matter whether such differentiation can take place. One knows this if car drivers become impatient because caught behind a slow moving farming vehicle using the same road. But then this road question takes the discussion on to what is after all a matter of infrastructural requirements.


Roads, harbours, airports, cargo and bus terminals, parking spaces, bridges, channels, to name but a few elements of a vast infrastructure is but the visible and physical part. The invisible one is linked to telecommunications and all kinds of connecting one place with another in order to have supply of electricity, water, communication while in reverse sewage, disposal and other waste clearance is in need of being taken care of.

Infrastructure as concept covers that what makes things possible in a most supportive sense. It is what makes reality become ‘intelligible’, ‘readable’ and ‘reliable’, according to definitions of responsibilities and managerial capacities, e.g. control of industrial risks as production continues to expand.

This includes use of satellites to improve the GIS – Geographical Intelligence Systems – when it comes to land use and to monitoring, for example, expansion of human settlements, damages to the environment, movements of animals etc.

One of the most recent but very crucial components of the Information Society is the infrastructural element connected by Internet. This has given rise to e-cultures for business, participation, learning and information dissemination.

Naturally as new products come onto the market, the infrastructural requirements change. One important aspect of satellite is to no longer needing to dig up the ground for cables as was the case with the first trans-Atlantic one to make telephone connections.

Like road systems, infrastructures impose their own limitations with regards to access and availability over time at what costs.

System and sustainable development

If anything can be said as a first conclusion out of this overview, then that due to the discrepancy between systems being installed and what development continues to burst at the seams, sustainability takes on partial and incomplete meaning as a concept. Since the WSSD in Johannesburg more doubts have been articulated with regards to the concept of ‘sustainable development’.

Most governments are shifting away from such an ambitious equally not clarified goal and opt for a piecemeal approach, in order to make economic growth necessities remain at tolerable level when it comes to avoiding negative impacts upon the environment. The minimum is a system of doing things there were it pays to do so while continuing to neglect the real questions on how the system performs.

Many people have to rally and more decision makers must be convinced that sustainable development based on a qualitative new interrelationship between energy, transport and infrastructure before it becomes evident in everyday day life that real progress is made.



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