Francis and the Light Bulb
How can we harness the dynamism of business, the convening power of social networking, the insights of biology, the creative energy of design, and countless other planetary leverage points to ensure people and the planet thrive simultaneously? Augustus Goanue, Director of The Center for Sustainable Energy Technology (CSET) in Liberia, has his own bright green idea: change the law, and you change everything. I met Augustus while working for the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, as a legal adviser in her administration's efforts to catalyze sustainable investment.
Augustus doesn't know Francis, but his world-changing vision touches his life. Francis is one of the two billion people living in the vice grip of energy poverty -- without light, without heat, without a single electron of power. He was 7-years-old when he was ripped from his family, school, and community to fight in Liberia's diamond-fueled armed conflict.When I met him, five years had passed since the end of the civil war, and Francis was now my appointed security guard in Monrovia, Liberia.
My friend Katie, who lives in Monrovia, recently told me two fascinating bits of news about Francis. First, he has a girlfriend. Second, he has a light bulb. She added that the city of Monrovia now has street lights, too. The good: light stimulates energy and enterprise, learning and more dynamic livelihoods. The bad: Francis' light bulb and Monrovia's street lights -- both powered by coal -- form a piece of the seventy-million tons of global-warming pollution that are collectively dumped into our atmosphere. We live on a young and urbanizing planet. What if every Francis (and Francoise) had a light bulb?
Economist Nicholas Stern estimates the Global South will need $100 billion per year by 2030 to meet the challenges of ecological and social restoration. We need laws to unleash this investment; to drive reality-bending models of zero-emission communities across the Global South. Al Gore, Jonathan Lash (President of the World Resources Institute), and others have pressed the case for a "unified earth theory": an approach that links solutions to extreme poverty and the environmental crisis. Augustus put this grand theory into national action. His radical thinking spurred the creation of the Liberian Renewable Energy and Efficiency Policy. His world-changing vision: a thriving Liberia will not only provide clean electrons to Francis' light bulb -- it'll give him a green job, too.
In post-conflict Liberia, success in trade, as in life, requires using creativity by extracting the most out of an extremely limited pool of resources. For CSET, leveraging the law to fuel disruptive clean technologies, tap community capital, and stimulate leapfrog innovation is not part of a wider array of strategic options -- it is the only option. Why? Liberia's "hard" infrastructure -- transmissions lines, national power grid, generation facilities -- was decimated by decades of rebel bombardments. The "soft" infrastructure of energy policy is even harder to come by. What exists of the legal and regulatory framework is fragmented and uncoordinated. But starting from zero has its benefits.
The Policy, which calls for a bold slate of tax reductions for green infrastructure, investment incentives for green jobs, and clean-energy technology transfer accelerators, holds the potential to help Liberia leapfrog its hard infrastructure handicap by turning itself into a clean-energy investment magnet. Its provisions would establish a native market for clean technologies through sharing tools, technology, and know-how -- a critical mix to triggering an ecosystem of green, open innovation.
As Augustus relentlessly told me: "Law is a critical piece to stimulating a distributed, clean-energy system in Liberia. We need a clean planet and millions of jobs for our country." CSET's message of job creation through distributed clean-energy generation is resonating in unexpected ways. As the President's Chief of Staff emphasized during a meeting: "Eighty-percent of our population is unemployed. Our citizens need to see a tangible path to a peaceful future. Jobs through renewable energy is not just an economic and environmental issue -- it is a security and stability issue for us."
We need the bold, restorative policies that CSET is championing in Liberia replicated across the Global South. For Francis and the millions like him, policy development has never been so enlightening.
Josh has led a United Nations social and environmental program in Kenya, worked for the President of Liberia to attract international investment, taught and organized street children in Nigeria and South Africa, and led a sustainability initiative with a Fortune 500 company. Colleges and universities frequently invite Josh to speak about how some of the world's biggest needs align with incredible career opportunities for young people to engage their strengths, find meaning -- and make money at the same time.