While Nigeria Is Turning To Renewable Energy, What Does It Matter If The Population Continues To Grow?

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If the human population continues to grow for numerous decades more, then what does it matter if a slowly increasing portion of the world’s energy mix is comprised of renewable energy capacity?

As it stands, the world’s human population is now rapidly approaching the ~7.5 billion mark, and there are no clear signs that population growth will be ceasing anytime soon. While some people may want to point to slightly falling birth rates in some regions, the reality is that birth rates are still well above the replacement rate (~2 offspring per two parents) throughout most of the world.

That being the case, no amount of education and/or rising incomes (processes which don’t look likely to hold true for much longer in many parts of the world) will put a definite stop to continued human population growth.

Usually when I talk about the realities that follow from constant human expansion and exploitation I’m referred to as a fascist, a right wing propagandist, an advocate for genocide, and/or a Luddite. That being the case, I’ll give those inclined to take such a view a forewarning here: my views, based as they are on actual history and experience, are likely to be offensive to you.

Now that that’s out of the way I want to talk about the article that I read that spurred this line of thought: one concerning Nigeria’s (slow) move in recent times towards the adoption of renewable energy technologies.

Nigeria is a country that is now home to ~200 million people — which means that the country’s population has grown near exponentially over the last half century (not quite, but close). Most of this population growth has been on the back of increasingly cheap food (made possible by fossil fuel extraction/refining, deforestation, topsoil erosion); on fossil fuel revenues (Nigeria is a major oil exporter); and on the breakdown of traditional ways of life (and thus increasing urbanization).

As the country’s population has grown so has its consumption rates — mostly due to a desire by the relatively affluent to imitate western lifestyles (as is true in many former colonial areas of various European empires). Electricity usage rates, plastic garbage, fossil fuel burning, etc., have all become far more common in recent decades than they had been before in the country.

To illustrate the situation in perhaps blunter terms: recent decades have seen Nigeria become more populous, dirtier, more chaotic societally, and more affluent. More or less the same situation has played out in other portions of the world as well, and all more or less in imitation of the initial industrialization of the UK and the mass deforestation of Western Europe in the centuries just previous.

To go back to the point of the article, due to its status as oil exporter and its growing population, the country in recent times has begun working towards the adoption of renewable energy technologies (such as solar power, wind power, etc.).

While that’s commendable in its way, does it even matter when taken as part of a broader situation where the population and energy use continue growing? More broadly, does it matter if renewable energy usage increases if total energy use and population numbers continue increasing as well?

As noted in a recent piece published by Reuters: “Africa’s most populous country needs more than 10 times its current electricity output to guarantee supply for its 198 million people — nearly half of whom have no access at all, according to power minister Babatunde Fashola.”

“Campaigners welcome the shift to renewables as an efficient way to bring power to rural communities and help clean up a country with some of the world’s worst urban pollution rates…Nigeria has set a target of expanding electricity access to 75% of the population by 2020 and 90% by 2030.”

“It aims to generate 30% of its total energy from renewable sources by 2030, Fashola said in a recent speech in London, a major commitment for an economy that depends heavily on fossil fuels.”

Related to that, the government has invested over $20 billion into solar energy projects over the last year (in conjunction with China in some cases), reportedly. The plan is to greatly increase electricity access to rural areas where such access is highly limited — with the aim being to reduce unemployment and thus or possibly stem growing migration to the cities.

All of that is understandable, but from the perspective of the looming climate, topsoil depletion, and pollution crises, further growth of any kind comes across as death-seeking behavior (in my opinion).

Most current projections show that Nigeria’s population will grow to over 400 million by 2050 (up from ~200 million today). While it’s debatable if that figure will actually end up being surpassed, it’s less of a debate that the country already has a population problem and that it seems likely to continue growing for quite awhile more.

That considered, how much a difference do the plans related to renewable energy amount to? I’m not faulting them per se, but the reality is that the funds for such a buildout are coming almost entirely from fossil fuel sales and from China (in exchange for resource contracts, essentially).

Can something be considered renewable when it is being funded almost entirely by fossil fuels and concentrated mineral ore extraction? (Around 90% of Nigeria’s total exports revenue relates to oil and gas production.) That’s the question that I’ll leave you with.

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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