No. 257 – A Return to Normal Post-COVID Does Nothing for Black Folks

Source: amfAR

COVID-19 Racial Disparities in U.S. Counties – The way COVID-19 is a perfect storm for the systemic issues that make it harder for black people to keep healthy is disturbing. A group of researchers who are in the process of publishing a paper looking at the impact of COVID-19 put out some frustrating data. They weren’t able to get granular data because the race of 78% of individuals with cases of COVID-19 are unknown, as of April 15. Is that normal? To get around that, the researchers looked at COVID-19 cases by county. Essentially, nearly 22 percent of the counties in the US are disproportionally black. Yet, nearly half of COVID-19 cases and 58% of deaths across the country are in these counties. There cannot be a return to normal as we emerge from this. We have to reimagine this society we live in.

U.S. International Trade in Goods and Services, March 2020 – The extent to which trade put on the brakes in March is pretty stark. Exports fell $20B and imports $15.4B. Around $20.7B of the total drop in exports and imports came from travel and transport slowing to a trickle. That’s over half of the decline in exports and imports. This brings more color to why Warren Buffett decided to shed all his airline holdings. It’s going to be really interesting to see what travel looks like coming out of this pandemic. People aren’t going to be traveling for quite some time, and when we do start moving around again, how much of these losses will be reversed?

A Message from Co-Founder and CEO Brian Chesky – This letter from Airbnb’s CEO to employees explaining the company’s pending layoffs is very thoughtful and one to file away in case you may have to layoff employees soon. Notable parts of the letter include his outlining the framework the company used to determine who to layoff, the explanation of the 14-week severance, and the elimination of the one-year to make everyone leaving the company a shareholder for whenever Airbnb goes public. These are hard times that are amplifying who people and what companies really are, sometimes in disappointing ways. It’s nice to see people and companies show what good leadership looks like.

One billion people will live in insufferable heat within 50 years – It was incredibly hot in Accra during the Christmas holiday, something I completed underestimated. Fortunately, my lady packed some extra handkerchiefs for me. According to a set of researchers, parts of the world are going to be experiencing increasingly Sahara-like weather over the next several decades. What impact will this have on migration? Will coastal cities like Lagos and Accra see big influxes of people from the northern parts of their countries? How will they ensure everyone has space to live and get along? Considering how dense these cities are and the rates at which they are already growing, urban planners and policymakers have their work cut out for them in finding new design technologies to create space for folks in such a way that keeps them as cool as possible.

Malaria ‘completely stopped’ by microbe – Researchers in Kenya and the UK have found a microbe that prevents mosquitoes from carrying malaria. This could be a real boon for malaria eradication across Africa if the researchers are able to understand the microbe better and figure out how to propagate it across other parts of the continent. They may find themselves in a race with Alphabet’s Verily which has found its own microbe that sterilizes male mosquitoes and causes pretty rapid mosquito population declines. I guess the question for both of these research teams is, what are we trading for eradicating malaria? It’s definitely exciting to be finding a path forward on ridding ourselves of malaria. We just don’t want to find another disease blocking the way.

No. 20: African Countries Drive Geothermal Development Amid US-China Brinksmanship

A geothermal well at the Menengai crater. Credit: Suleiman Mbatiah

United Nations climate talks end today in South Africa and the United States and China are playing chicken on who will take the lead in stewarding the environment well while also driving economic development. Quietly, Kenya has signed major deals just this year that will see the opening of at least three plants that will grow Kenya’s geothermal capacity to 514 megawatts (MW) by 2014. By 2030, Kenya aims for geothermal energy to make up 5000 MW of the total 15,000 MW of power the country will produce to meet growing demand – an estimated $16 billion investment. Imagine that, an African country driving the uptake of clean and renewable energy.

Experts estimate that Kenya has the potential to generate 7,000 MW to 10,000 MW. The country began developing geothermal in the 1980s and currently produces about 209 MW. In 2008, the country set its geothermal power goal in the Vision 2030 strategic plan. Since that time Kenya has aggressively grown geothermal with the 36 MW expansion of the 48 MW Olkaria III, the construction of the 280 MW Olkaria IV, and the drilling of the 1,600 MW Menengai field.

Contrary to what the Wall Street Journal reported on December 6, Kenya is not the only African country developing geothermal energy. Kenya lies within the East African Rift System that runs 6,500km from Tunisia to Mozambique. In a recent conversation with Dr. Meseret Zemedkun of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), she explained that some countries in the East African region are looking to complement their current hydropower capacity, while others like Eritrea and Djibouti are looking for primary renewable energy sources. Ethiopia has drilled a pilot 7 MW plant. Eritrea is conducting detailed exploration. Djibouti is drilling wells, and Uganda and Rwanda are conducting semi-detailed and detailed exploration.

According to Dr. Zemedkun, “[African] countries are very keen to develop their resources.” She cited the high availability rate of geothermal compared to hydropower – 90-95 percent versus 50-55 percent. Changes in weather impact the availability of hydropower whereas geothermal energy is not impacted by changes in weather. Furthermore, enhanced technology is reducing the unit price of geothermal energy, increasing its accessibility to African countries.

Dr. Zemedkun is currently driving the African Rift Geothermal Project, an initiative that brings together several African countries in working to build their geothermal capacity. It also helps reduce the risks of exploration through exploration studies, site selection, and surface exploration. UNEP partners with the World Bank in this work, leveraging its risk mitigation fund to further the exploration of geothermal energy.

I am excited about the work Kenya is doing to develop its geothermal energy capacity. Its leadership has also kickstarted the exploration of geothermal energy in other countries along the East African Rift System. Hopefully, the US and China will figure out a way to do their part and contribute to the preservation of this earth while meeting the economic needs of their citizens.