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The Entire Debt of Africa Is Only $350 Billion

$700 billion still goes a long way.

by Eric de Place

dolla.jpg I just can't help wondering what else we could do with $700 billion.

According to the United Nations, the entire debt for the entire continent of Africa was about $320 billion in 2003. Adjusting for inflation and further accumulated debt, let's call it an even $350 billion.

You could install solar panels on 20 million American homes for $300 billion. (I'm ballparking a rather conservative $15k for full installation of enough solar infrastructure to fully power an average American house; the price would surely come down drastically at that scale.) By the way, 20 million houses is more than one-quarter of the entire stock of occupied detached houses in the U.S.

Of course, the solar panels would actually pay for themselves pretty quickly. Under this plan, lucky homeowners (or renters) would then pay nothing for their new solar electricity -- we just footed the entire bill. It might be nice to target low-income folks, who generally inhabit the least efficient buildings. Even better, because the sunniest parts of the US are also, generally speaking, some of the most coal-dependent we'd shut down coal plants across the Sun Belt. So it's a huge win for global warming to boot.

That still leaves $50 billion lying around under the couch cushions.

We could install ground source heat pumps for 5 million American homes for $50 billion. (I'm ballparking a mildly conservative $10k for enough GSP installation to fully heat an average house.) Again, this would also pay for itself pretty fast. Plus, lucky low-income folks in the colder climates would be looking at a lifetime of carbon-free (and money-free) heat for their homes. One good place to start would be in places like the northeast where expensive and inefficient oil heating is common.

Pretty sweet. I just retired every cent of Africa's crushing debt. Then using conservative estimates, I provided an eternal supply of free electricity or heat to 25 million households -- thereby drastically reducing US carbon emissions.

Alternatively, some credible analysts have suggested that paying the full cost of implementing the Kyoto Protocol for the entire world would run $716 billion. (I should mention that other credible estimates are much, much lower.) And this figure doesn't count the tremendous savings from avoiding the potential costs of climate change impacts -- estimated at trillions of dollars just for the U.S.

This piece originally appeared on The Sightline Institute's blog, The Daily Score.

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Running the numbers like that is always depressing, since it's apparent that it's never going to happen.

And that $700B figure pales in comparison to the Iraq war. If there's one way to secure our future energy independence, military might is it, obviously...

Posted by: Andrew Leinonen on 3 Oct 08

I think you set up a false choice between jumpstarting the financial system and doing more long-term world changing actions. If the world financial system "freezes up" because no one is loaning money then no amout of other really exceptional projects will improve our quality of life or the quality of the planet.

The real choice is between cointinuing to burn and blow up money and lives and the planet in Iraq and Afganistan *or* invetst that money in world changing projects which you daily describe. Another choice would be between the US taxing oil to the point that the floor price is closer to what Europeans pay, and investing that money in alternative energy sources. According to T. Boone Pickens $70 billion per year leave the US to the petro dictators, in part supporting the wars (mentioned above.) $70 billion here, $80 billion there, and pretty soon you have some real money that can be used for effectively changing the world.

All that said (about your falacy of rescue money or world changing projects) keep up the really really good work.

Bob Airhart
Springboro, OH

Posted by: Bob Airhart on 9 Oct 08



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