The writing is on the wall for fossil fuels

Feature story - 30 August, 2002
Today here in Johannesburg, Greenpeace and The Body Shop presented 1,602,489 signatures to the Earth Summit in the form of an interactive mural calling upon delegates to agree to get clean, reliable, renewable energy into the hands of 2 billion of the world's poorest people by 2010.

I am African. And here we are in Africa a continent where over 500 million people have no electricity to provide the basic energy services which electricity provides.

Greenpeace and The Body Shop teamed up about a year ago to create theChoose Positive Energy Campaign, launched in January of this year. Thedemand: that governments vastly expand renewable energy for peopleacross the world - the industrialised governments should expand theirrenewable energy supplies and all governments should commit toproviding small-scale renewable solutions like solar and wind power,small-scale hydro, and biomass, to the world's poorest.

The total cost of getting renewable energy to the world's poorest 2billion people is estimated to be less than half of the $500+ billionthat is likely to be invested over the next decade in fossil fuel powerstations and infrastructure in poorer countries. For just USD 1.4billion, clean renewable energy could be supplied to 1 million schoolsand health care centres, serving some 600 million people.

Around the world, people added their voices and signatures to the call, either at the Choose Positive Energy website or on petitions at Body Shop stores in 27 countries.

The mural will be a permanent fixture in a part of centralJohannesburg identified with protests against Apartheid and now anemerging multi-cultural artistic hub of the city.

Painted by a team of local community artists, the mural incorporatesa selection of the 1.5 million signatures and allows members of thepublic to add their own signatures - so it remains a living statementof intent.

To the music of Baaba Maal and the words of UK Environment ministerMichael Meecher, people gathered in front of three huge buildingsenigmatically sheathed in hessian coverings. Baaba Maal led the entiregathering to the edges of the mural and once everyone was assembled, heloosened the cloth. The striking art work underneath represents thetransition from 'negative' fossil fuel energy to cleaner 'positive'renewable/sustainable energy sources and the represents that hopes andaspirations of millions of people for a clean and sustainable future.

"... It is not just the poorest who are suffering in their every daylives in order to survive. The poorest are the ones who will feel themajor impacts of the unfolding climate crisis being brought on byglobal warming. This is not a catastrophe waiting to hit - it isalready hitting - and it is going to get worse," said Baaba Maal.

Gordon Roddick, co-chair of The Body Shop said at the launch of theinitiave in London last January: "The use of oil, coal and gas fuelsare quite literally choking our world to death. It seems madness tokeep using polluting fossil fuels when clean green alternatives areavailable. We have a moral obligation to achieve sustainable energy notjust for ourselves, but particularly for those people in the developingworld, who are currently off-grid. We have to take a stand. Renewableenergy sources offer us the best chance we have to avoid a potentialclimate catastrophe."

Two billion people -- one-third of us on the planet -- have noaccess to electricity for basic needs such as lighting or cooking.Getting people the clean and reliable energy necessary for essentialneeds such as clean water, health care facilities, heating and lightingis one of the most pressing problems facing humanity today.

"The statistics are numbers but each number is a human life," said Baaba Maal.

Global warming, caused by burning fossilfuels, threatens people's lives around the world. While the world'spoorest people use only a fraction of the world's oil, coal and gas,they are likely to suffer most from extreme weather events such asfloods and storms if no action is taken. Rising sea levels threaten toengulf entire countries in the Indian and Pacific oceans. If we aregoing to stop the earth's climate spinning out of control, most of theworld's reserves of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas cannot beused for energy and must stay underground. We must make the switch topositive energy at home and globally.