Haiti's Energy Problems

We hear a lot about Haiti's problems with its recent earthquakes, but we don't hear much about its underlying energy problems. It seems to me that these underlying energy problems were a big part of its difficulties before the earthquake, and will make finding a long term solution difficult. In this post today, I would like to offer some energy background to the Haiti story.

Figure 1. Total Per Capita Energy Consumption for a group of selected countries, based on the EIA's International Energy Statistics.

In Figure 1, I compare Haiti's total per capita energy consumption to that of a number of other countries. I included China and India because these are large and well known. I included Jamaica and the Dominican Republic because they are other Caribbean nations, and the Dominican Republic occupies the other half of the island where Haiti is located. I included Afghanistan because it uses even less energy than Haiti. I didn't include "developed" countries, because their consumption is so high in comparison, it would be hard to read the chart.

When one looks at Figure 1, one can see that Haiti's per capita energy consumption is about one fifth as much as India's and about 1/17 as much as China's. It is about 1/22 as much as the world average. I didn't include the USA in the chart, but Haiti's per capita energy consumption is about 1/100 that of the USA. Total per capita energy consumption is relatively flat, both on a world average basis and for Haiti.

Figure 2. Per capita electrical consumption for a group of selected countries, based on EIA's International Energy Statistics

As badly as Haiti does compared to other countries on a total energy basis, it does much worse when one looks only at electricity. Haiti's electricity consumption is so closely tied with that of Afghanistan on Figure 2 that one cannot see much of the line for Haiti. In 2007, Haiti had only 1/84 as much electricity per capita as the world, 1/40 as much as the Dominican Republic, and 1/16 as much as India.

World per capita electrical consumption (Figure 2) has been growing much more rapidly than total per capita energy consumption (Figure 1)--perhaps because of energy efficiency. (It may also be that Figure 1 "undercounts" electricity.) I would expect that this growth in world electrical supply is a major contributor to world economic growth. Unlike the world, Haiti's per capita electricity consumption has not been growing. Its per capita electrical consumption is now less than half of the level it was in the mid 1980s.

There is an article in Wikipedia about the electricity sector in Haiti. These are a few quotes:

"The largely government owned electricity sector in Haiti is facing a deep, permanent crisis characterized by dramatic shortages and the lowest coverage of electricity in the Western Hemisphere with only about 12.5% of the population (25% if illegal connections are accounted for) having regular access to electricity. In addition, Haiti’s large share of thermal generation (70%) makes the country especially vulnerable to rising and unstable oil prices."

"Most of the generation infrastructure in Haiti is very old and costly to maintain and operate. In 2006, total installed capacity was only 270 MW, of which about 70% was thermal and 30% hydroelectric."

"The Haitian electricity sector has a national installed capacity that is largely insufficient to meet a demand of 157 MW in Port au Prince and of 550 MW at the national level. This electricity shortage has created a situation in which tens of thousands of households and institutions (e.g. hospitals, schools) have to rely on their own diesel generators and as a result spend large portions of their income on fuel to run those generators."

"Service quality in Haiti is very poor. Those who have access received on average 10 hours of electricity a day, with very large disparities among the areas covered."

"The public utility Electricité d’Haïti (EDH) suffers from high inefficiencies, with more than 55% estimated technical and non technical losses. This high percentage results from improper maintenance due to lack of financing; triggering incidents (e.g. fires); obsolescence of information systems, which prevents proper identification of customers, billing and accounting and in turn impacts quality of service and losses. The ratio of energy unpaid to energy produced is among the highest in the world, with 35% of the energy produced being stolen."

We have heard that environmental degradation is a major problem in Haiti, with less than 1.5% of the tree cover remaining intact. The reason for this degradation seems to be a lack of other sources of energy:

The primary cause of Haiti’s environmental degradation has been caused by Haitian’s need for energy. With an electricity sector that only covered 10% of Haiti’s population in 2006, chronic energy shortages have contributed to Haitian’s search for alternative sources of energy. Unfortunately for Haiti’s natural environment, wood became and continues to be the principal energy source in Haiti, accounting for 70 percent of energy consumption in 2006. This resulted in the steady deforestation of Haiti, with an estimated 6,000 hectares of soil lost each year to erosion.

From the CIA World Fact Book, we read that there is widespread unemployment and underemployment; more than two-thirds of the labor force do not have formal jobs. Its industries are listed as sugar refining, flour milling, textiles, cement, light assembly based on imported parts. It consumes 12,000 barrels of oil a day in 2008, all of which is imported--no natural gas or coal. It exports manufactured goods, apparel, oils, cocoa, mangoes, and coffee, with the US accounting for a little over 70% of its exports.

There is a major imbalance between export and imports. Exports amounted to $490 million in 2008; imports amounted to $2,107 million in 2008, or about 4.3 times exports. If Haiti imports 12,000 barrels a day of finished oil products, these by themselves would seem to amount to something like $450 million dollars of value, if finished oil products average something like $100 barrel in cost.

There is at least some possibility of natural gas production in the future. Recently, there have been reports that the earthquake may have exposed potential natural gas resources. According to Bloomberg:

The earthquake that killed more than 150,000 people in Haiti this month may have left clues to petroleum reservoirs that could aid economic recovery in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation, a geologist said.

The Jan. 12 earthquake was on a fault line that passes near potential gas reserves, said Stephen Pierce, a geologist who worked in the region for 30 years for companies including the former Mobil Corp. The quake may have cracked rock formations along the fault, allowing gas or oil to temporarily seep toward the surface, he said yesterday in a telephone interview.

So what are Haiti's options?

Haiti's economy was doing very badly, even before the earthquake and its aftershocks. Getting Haiti back to the state it was in before the earthquake won't really fix its problems. These would appear to be some options:

1. Develop a tourist trade. Tourist trade seems to be a principal source of income for other Caribbean nations. In the past, tourists have been willing to pay a high enough price for accommodations so that the high price of oil-generated electricity hasn't been too much of a problem. (Island nations tend to use oil for electricity generation, because it is easy to transport.) But it is hard to see Haiti getting into the tourist trade for the first time now. In a post-peak oil world, there is going to be less tourism in general, so this is not a good new business to get into. Also, with all environmental degradation and now the earthquake damage, it is hard to see tourists wanting to come to sightsee.

2. Sell more crops (mangos, sugar, cocoa, coffee) on the world market. The amount being sold is probably close to a maximum level today, at least with current energy inputs. World market prices are so low, the effort is hardly worthwhile. More fertilizer probably wouldn't be a fix--prices for crops are so low that it is hard to believe that they would pay for the higher yields. And with higher oil prices, the cost of transporting the crops makes them more expensive for buyers, likely reducing demand.

3. Increase manufacturing capability. There really needs to be more electricity for more manufacturing. There doesn't seem to be an option for adding hydro-electric--the streams dry up except in the rainy season. Adding electricity generated by oil will be very expensive--not only will the oil for fuel be expensive, but building the facilities for power generation and transmission lines will be expensive. A new manufacturer might have its own diesel generator, but electricity costs based on diesel generation are likely to be prohibitively high--certainly much higher than in areas which have access to coal or natural gas generated electricity. Wind turbines might be added, if someone else would pay for the up-front costs and the cost of upgraded transmission lines. But oil backup would still need to be added, and the cost still would be very high compared to coal or natural gas.

4. Add financial services. Financial services, like those offered by Bermuda and the Cayman Islands and Dubai, really need nice resorts areas to supplement them, so that the people involved in the transactions can visit nice places while attending meetings. It is hard to see Haiti competing in this arena. It is also difficult to see financial services expanding on a world-wide basis, now that oil production has plateaued.

5. More aid on a continuing basis. Sending food and other aid on a continuing basis is a problem because then local farmers have to compete with a price of $0, so there is no point in raising food. If the aid doesn't include assistance with family planning (or perhaps even if it does), population keeps rising. According to the CIA World Factbook, an average of 3.81 children are born per woman in Haiti.

6. Develop the natural gas resources that might be available. This will take a few years, even in the best of circumstances, and won't last indefinitely. The development of natural gas resources might make lower priced electricity available for manufacturing or for other purposes. All of this is iffy at this point. Even if natural gas is available, the cost of extraction may still be quite expensive, yielding expensive natural gas, rather than cheap natural gas.

7. Attempt to build a self-sufficient economy, with no more fossil fuels than can be paid for by exports. This would seem to be one possible direction to go. Haitians would need to figure out what foods they can grow for themselves, and how much fishing in small boats that they can do. They may also want crops that can be used for clothing, and crops added to the rotation to enhance soil fertility. At least part of the forests will need to be planted back, so as to prevent further erosion, and to prevent landslides.

It seems to me that a self-sufficient economy using little fossil fuels would support some Haitians--say 2 or 3 million, but it is hard to see that it would support the whole 9 million Haitians. The issue then would be, "What happens to the rest of the Haitians?" I expect it would be difficult to get other countries to accept the large number of Haitians needing new homes. Nearly all adults would all need jobs; many would be illiterate.

8. Other supplemental approaches. Solar ovens would be great, if donation of a large number could be obtained, so as to cut back on the need for wood for charcoal for cooking. Perhaps some donations of solar PV would help provide charging capability for radios and telephones, and would provide some source of electricity besides generators for hospitals and schools.


What ideas do others have for solving the problems of Haiti? I expect that what in fact will happen is that more aid will be provided on a continuing basis--at least for a while, until other countries become too poor, or manage somehow to forget Haiti's problems. Then the people of Haiti will be left to fend for themselves, and there won't be enough to go around.

The reason I am not suggesting ramping up fossil fuel imports is because the exports generated by the use of fossil fuels (really only oil) seem not to be generating enough of a payback to pay for their cost. Without a good plan, adding more oil imports would seem only to make the out-of-balance worse. Perhaps there is a way around this issue that I don't see.

One thing that Haiti doesn't need is more loans. It needs the loans that are currently outstanding forgiven.

The world is going to run into the problem of a natural disaster hitting an already impoverished nation again and again in the next 20 years, I expect. Such countries will need to be bailed out in some way by others. When everything is sliding downhill to begin with, countries with low energy consumption, like Haiti, are especially vulnerable.

One issue I see as one gets to lower and lower energy consumption is political stability. It is one thing to govern a country which is held together by radio and television stations carrying the speeches of the leaders of the country and with roads carrying cars and trucks. It is another when there really is very little means of communication beyond word of mouth, and transportation is mostly by walking.

We are used to having rather large countries now, but I am wondering if as energy becomes less available, and portable phones become increasingly out of reach, local governments will become more important and governments for the nation as a whole will fade away. The countries I see most at risk of this are ones with very low energy use today--Somalia, Afghanistan, Haiti, Ethiopia, and Congo-Kinshasa, for example.

Trying to figure out how to deal with Haiti is a major challenge. I am hoping these thoughts will add a little background to the news stories that one sees so often.

Thanks for the non-MSM perspective, Gail.

Dmitry Orlov might remark that when a country's energy consumption is so low you have little to worry re: manmade disasters (financial & energy collapse) going forward, that's a merican cup of tea.

Unfortunately, Haiti is officially roman catholic (birth control=voodoo). So what would a non-partisan Larry Page and Sergey Brin in coordination with solar mfg. establishing a secured Google satellite in Haiti with a solar array to supply annual 100kwh to Haiti do to the half-island's population?

Catholicism notwithstanding, perhaps this is one country where you could "test" the idea that education, particularly education of women, leads to better family planning. As Gail says, so much of the foreign aid just drives down local initiative for food production and self-sufficiency, perhaps if it were focused on the building and rebuilding of schools and the training of teachers then there would be a long-term improvement in living conditions.

That's one idea, at least.

The Catholic church was against birth control. One theory was,'it prevented chidren from being born.' The church did allow abstinence, but this was not popular with some. Hatian women were reported to have as many as eight or twelve children. It was hoped the children might grow to support their parents. More children without growth in productivity resulted in inadequate energy infrastructure and less support availble for families in general.

Yes, they were and are quite actively against birth control. Its hard to see their logic, if there is any, other than the idea that more kids = more catholics, regardless of condition. In most places the official church position gets little traction; you can get birth control products everywhere in the very catholic latin america, though the typical pattern remains: lack of education follows poverty and limited access to birth control, which leads to kids whether they are wanted or not.

Its hardly a one-stop solution, but education even in Catholic countries correlates very strongly to good family planning and choices.

It seems like the original tradition came from a time when death rates were very high, so many children did not live to maturity. Also, there was no system like Social Security, so married couples needed children to care for them as they got older. There might also have been a need for children to help work in the fields.

I personally think the Bible is full of rules that may have made sense at one time, but probably don't have relevance any more. For example,

Leviticus 19:19 'You are to keep My statutes. You shall not breed together two kinds of your cattle; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor wear a garment upon you of two kinds of material mixed together.

You would think that people would use some sense in picking which rules to follow. Perhaps education helps with that.

I understand that a great many of the Biblical prohibitions are reactions against the tenets and rituals of the practices of Israel's neighboring (enemy) tribes/nations.  You see the same things here today:  "conservative" Republicans almost define themselves by being against everything Democrats are for, even if Teddy Roosevelt was a huge proponent of the same thing.

There is no "sense" involved in picking these rules.  It is all about defining an out-group and making sure one is part of the in-group.

The idea that Catholicism leads to large families isn't well supported. Sure the Vatican's stance doesn't help, but there are many Catholic-dominated countries with low birth rates (e.g. Poland) and many non-Catholic-dominated countries with high birth rates.

A more important issue than religion is education for women (especially young girls) and life expectancies. I heard an interview one time with George McGovern and was impressed at how he saw multiple links in a complex system, and identified a relatively simple leverage point of providing meals for school children in poor countries (which led to parents sending girls more to school, which led to more education of young women, which led to later and more planned parenthood and reduced birth rates).


My wife is Catholic and my family is largely Anglican (none strongly religious). She finds the knee-jerk stereotyping of Catholics very tiring. Personally, I believe that such stereotyping is largely rooted in old battles between the English and the French, and perhaps also the Irish.

Don't forget the English and the Spanish, big players in their day.

Still it would be helpful if the Vatican would take a more enlightened view. They really aren't helping the situation at all and that is a shame. So many species have one mechanism or another come into play to help limit their populations as they approach the limits of their habitat's carrying capacity. It is time for the Vatican to acknowledge birth control for humans will naturally emanate from the tool use and systems manipulation methods that have given us little items such as agriculture, or has the Vatican prohibited agriculture as well? It would seem it should if it wished its reasoning to be consistent.

Back in the day my freshman year HS school theology teacher had just abandoned Vatican I to come back and teach us. When asked why he simply said 'Youth is where its at, gentlemen.' Apparently the church's hierarchy didn't impress him much if he gave up his membership in it for hormone filled classrooms full of teenage boys.

I agree completely that the Vatican could help significantly if it were to reverse its stand on birth control. The Pope has a lot of influence and could definitely do more to be part of a solution. I was glad to see him make some strong statements on environmental protection when he was in Australia. It would be nice to hear him make some practical statements based on the reality of over-population.

A Fall Guy said: The idea that Catholicism leads to large families isn't well supported.

I'm sorry, but as far I can tell, it's at least adequately supported.

One postulate of second demographic transition theory is that religious commitment predicts
higher fertility, so secularization is linked to falling fertility
rates (Surkyn and Lesthaeghe 2004; van de Kaa 1987). Other researchers confirm a link between
religiosity and fertility. Berman, Iannaccone, and Ragusa (2005), for example, employing a
pooled model for four Catholic European countries in the period 1960-2000, found that church
attendance is associated with fertility at the aggregate level but only in interaction with an
indicator for the number of nuns per head. This is attributed to the salutary effect of nuns (not
priests) in providing ancillary social services at church, which help to raise the total fertility rate
in Catholic countries. Norris and Inglehart (2004) also find a strong correlation between
religiosity and fertility that is based on an analysis of aggregate, country-level data. Their
multivariate analysis of national-level indicators (aggregated from individual responses) for
some sixty-five countries sampled in the four waves of the WVS during 1981-2001 show a
significant correlation between religious participation/prayer and proxies for fertility. Although
Norris and Inglehart did not directly test for the impact of religiosity on fertility, the strong
coefficients on religiosity for population growth and population age structure suggest that
religiosity is linked with higher fertility at the global level (Norris and Inglehart 2004: 62-63).
Other studies of the link between religiosity and fertility at the individual level reinforce the
contention that a woman's level of religiosity is an important predictor of the number of children
she will bear in her lifetime. Westoff and Jones (1979) first reported that among American
Catholics, religiosity (as measured by participating in communion) was associated with higher
fertility in the 1950s and 1960s, though not in the 1970s. A similar result was found for the late
1980s in the United States (Lehrer 1996). The work of Alicia Adsera on Spain, based on Spanish
fertility surveys, argues the reverse, pointing to the growing importance of religiosity in
predicting fertility. Whereas religious attendance had no statistical effect on fertility in 1985, this
had changed by the 1999 survey, in which practicing Catholics had significantly higher fertility.3
Adsera (2004) attributes this difference to secularization in the post-Franco era, which, in
depleting the ranks of the Catholic Church, left behind an increasingly devout remnant of
practicing, pronatalist Catholics.

Now, Catholics are not alone in this, nor are they the worst:

In addition to attendance and religiosity, measures
of theological conservatism have also been linked to high fertility. Berman (2000) and Fargues
(2000), for instance, find that Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel have fertility rates several times that
of secular Israeli Jews. Berman and Stepanyan (2003), in a study of fertility behavior among
radical Islamic sects in Indonesia, Bangladesh, India, and Cote D'lvoire confirm that in most
cases, fertility is significantly higher among families with members who attend Islamic religious
schools. Similar findings have been recorded for radical Anabaptist Protestant sects such as the
Hutterites in North America (Kraybill and Bowman 2001).

both quotes are from Human Development and the Demography of Secularization in Global Perspective (Eric Kaufmann/Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion, free download but registration required)

The same Kaufmann is quoted here:

While the overall TFR [Total Fertility Rate] is on the decline, the TFR among those on the more religious end of the spectrum remains well above replacement. American Jews have a very low TFR of 1.43, but within this group, ultra-Orthodox Jews (Haredim) stand out as exceptionally fertile: they increased their share of American Jewry from 7.2 to 9.4 percent during 2000–2006 alone. In Israel, the Haredim had a TFR of 7.61 in 1996 while other Israeli Jews' TFR stood at just 2.27. This will enable the Haredi to form a majority soon after 2050. Kaufmann hypothetically asked lecture attendees to consider the impact this could have on the peace process since the orthodox and Haredim are particularly attached to Jerusalem — where they are a majority — and to the holy places and "promised" land of the West Bank.

While demographic change will transform Judaism the fastest, both Christianity and Islam show similar patterns. Within Islam, conservative politicians like Ahmadinedjad of Iran or the Taliban in Afghanistan urge larger families and denounce birth control. Muslim governments have endorsed family planning, but at the mass level, supporters of political Islamist doctrines like sharia are significantly more fertile than other Muslims, an effect that is most pronounced in the growing cities.

This is clearly a problem long-term: It means that fertility rates are not likely to go on dropping, because the numbers of fundamentalists (of diverse stripes) will be -- are -- increasing exponentially; and it also means that, unless these people can be persuaded (or... "persuaded"...) to go forth and multiply quite a bit less, voluntary measures are not a solution. Voluntary measures will -- do -- work short-term, but it is an illusory victory; it actually makes our problems harder to solve in the end.

(I think this is the ultimate irony... this is a kind of evolution, not in the conventional biological/genetic sense, but a memetic/demographic kind (though it might have genetic components): Evolution is set to make religious fundamentalism win in the end).


Thanks for the links. I want to clarify that I was mainly referring to the singling out of Catholicism as a special case in a way that misses the larger context (mostly by Protestants, of which I technically am a member). It is indeed interesting that religious fundamentalism in general is linked with higher fertility. Doesn't look promising for a logical, least-suffering approach to population reduction.

This is the Oil Drum not the "morality drum". Reforestation and some agrarian reform would go far to increasing the carrying capacity but talking about energy, I've spent months in the DR in poor coastal areas. The bottom line is that no Caribbean island should ever import oil ever again- Trade Winds are awesome consistant potential wind generators. With power demand realatively low, this is the time to invite Suzlon and the Chinese in to provide effective and scalable generators at cost to put Haiti back on it's feet, proving that green works here now.

Nature has wiped much of the slate clean in Haiti. Once the cleanup and stabilization efforts get out of their initial phases we will see massive amounts of aid going to rebuild things to.......what?

The opportunity to demonstrate an infrastucture based around renewables is perhaps unique. It occurs to me that the current structure of things there is well suited to distributed forms of energy, as in localized micro-grids based on renewables and supported by conventional sources of electricity. It would be a shame to pour billions of dollars into a BAU infrastructure that we know will be short lived. One way to get these people out of their "funk" is to show them that they can be responsible for some of their basic requirements. This has been demonstrated in other parts of the world.

Solar Transformation: One Village at a Time

A great article about projects in Nigeria:

A village that is given the opportunity to produce their own electricity and clean water will guard that ability with pride. Without the ability to provide for even its most basic needs, a culture will wither. This is what we have seen in Haiti to this point.

This is exactely what many people have in mind. Here, in Quebec, we have close tie with Haiti. It has been suggested than Hydro-Quebec take control of the energy production there. Windmill is an option if we can make them surviving hurricane. There is a huge effort to be made to replant trees. The island is almost barren.

They have options that only need to be made available to them. Micro-hydro, wind, PV, even biogas for cooking. A micro-grid infrastucture, with each producer connected to the main grid, would allow towns and villages to sell power to consumers throughout the country. Another option may be hemp, usefull for many things. Solar ovens are cheap and a sustainable option to those currently cooking with wood or charcoal.

I see a huge value in solar ovens in Haiti. They must replant their trees, but are currently cutting them down faster than they grow back for charcoal for cooking. Solar ovens can be made with cardboard boxes and a turkey roasting bag. Cheap enough to work even in Haiti. They get plenty of sunshine.

I agree with the other commenters that population control is critical. They need to reduce their population to a sustainable level. If some aid group would provide free solar ovens in exchange for sterilizations, I'd donate. Perhaps no need to make the link - the unmet need for both solar ovens and effective birth control is vast.

People can help donate solar ovens to Haitians here:

Carl writes:

I agree with the other commenters that population control is critical. [The Haitians] need to reduce their population to a sustainable level...

A tall order. When it comes to increasing and multiplying, Haiti is almost on a par with the Gaza Strip.

Average number of children per female: 5
Population doubling time: 31 years

Even an earthquake a year would hardly make a blimp at this level of exponentiality. The four horsemen of the apocalypse will certainly have their work cut out for them.

Controling population should be the number one goal.
Depletion isn't an issue if our numbers were sustainable.

Ideally, you would like options that are truly renewable or sustainable. For example, it would be best to have micro-hydro made out of local materials, that could easily be maintained, and transmission lines from local materials. Haiti doesn't have a wide enough range of materials that it can really maintain very much with its own materials, though. The other option is donation of long-lived solar PV or whatever, but unless the world is able to supply more later, when it is gone, it is gone. If people haven't learned skills to handle the situation when the micro hydro collapses, or the solar PV wears out, it seems possible that they will be worse off than if they had learned the skills they needed early on. (Or another interpretation might be that the new technologies will buy a few years time for more of the existing population, even if they are not sustainable in any real sense. The remaining population can start later trying to learn new skills.)

It takes a culture at least one generation to turn itself around, about the expected lifespan of most renewables. It also requires education. According to UNICEF statistics on Haiti, ( http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/haiti_statistics.html#56 )
literacy rates are high, over 80% for females 15-24. Primary school attendance rates are around 50%, dropping to less than 20% at the secondary school level. Realizing that education was key to Haiti's future, in the 70s my Dad led a group to help revamp the education system there, cooperating with GA State University and the Southern Association of Schools. After several month-long trips there he said that he had never seen a population so hungry for education, and a government so dificult to work with. Lack of leadership will be an obstruction to any changes there today. Perhaps this disaster will open some doors.

It is good to get a perspective from someone who knows close to first hand about the problems. Thanks!

Ghung writes:

Realizing that education was key to Haiti's future, in the 70s my Dad led a group to help revamp the education system there ...

Sorry Ghung, but your Dad got it wrong. Education is NOT the key to Haiti's future. You could populate the moon with PhDs and New York intellectuals but the planet's carrying capacity would remain at zero: no oxygen, no water, no photosynthesis, no life. After two centuries of abuse, Haiti's landscape makes the moon look like forty shades of green. Haiti survives on foreign aid, private charity and remittances. Haiti is a basket case. It always has been -- for at least eight generations of undiluted misery since the nation's foundation.

It's only useful function as a nation is to serve as a textbook example of a Malthusian catastrophe -- perhaps a prelude to what is in store for the rest of us in the wake of peak everything. And the ghastly truth is that the more we help (in the short run), the more we harm (in the long run).
The guy to read is, of course, Garret Hardin:


It's only useful function as a nation is to serve as a textbook example of a Malthusian catastrophe

...and yet people survive, and every future is built on the past. I don't think even Malthus proposed a "poof - there goes everybody" moment.

Education is still a good way forward, for anyone looking for a way forward. I think Haiti is a model of where the rest of the world is heading, so it is still a very good thing to look for solutions; we will likely need them ourselves at some point.

The old man was an optimist. He also understood that cultures with higher levels of education, especially educated women, tend to have lower birth rates. As an educator in the deep south (U.S.) prior to the civil rights movement, he saw how important education was to reducing poverty. Some people talk, some people do.

The literacy rate in Haiti has gone up in the past decades. It's a start. Population growth rates, and infant/child mortality rates have dropped over the last 4 decades and life expectancy has increased. Small steps, yes, but progress has been made. Still a disaster, one that just got worse.

BTW, you misquoted me. I said he felt that education was key to their future, not THE key. Big difference. There is no panacea, yet without education, there is little hope.

Perfect5ly stated.

Gail, nice stats on the electricity/forestation link, but you are thinking like an economist about "solutions." In the end, we are all Haitians. You forgot Haiti's option #9, to reduce the population to a sustainable carrying capacity, which will be mighty thin.

I thought I should at least list the standard group of options. You many have read this article from the New York Times, by an economics professor, Paul Collier.

Building Haiti’s Economy, One Mango at a Time

"Some of the best mangoes in the world grow in Haiti — though too many of them rot, offshore from the world’s largest market, for want of adequate roads and well-governed ports."

"Haiti also has many qualities attractive to tourists: a warm climate; magnificent white-sand beaches and turquoise water."

" . . .light manufacturing could be much bigger in Haiti — if the Haitian government and donors would credibly commit to providing functioning roads, electrical grids and ports, and if outside private capital would invest, patiently, in Haitian businesses.

". . .production costs are high because there are too few investors, and there are too few investors because costs are so high."

I don't think Collier has any idea that electrical costs are likely never to be brought down to the level where they are when produced by coal, unless by some chance the claimed natural gas resources work out very well.

Gail, thanks for the link.

Sadly, Paul Collier is high-brow cluelessness on stilts:

. . .light manufacturing could be much bigger in Haiti — if the Haitian government and donors would credibly commit to providing functioning roads, electrical grids and ports, and if outside private capital would invest, patiently, in Haitian businesses.

If the Haitian government would credibly do anything, it wouldn't be Haitian -- it would be Singaporian, or Swiss, or Israeli, or a pink flamingo or something else. 'Haiti' is to 'credibility' as 'Taliban' is to 'same-sex marriage'.

If private capitalists would invest patiently in this hellhole, they wouldn't be capitalists: they would be suckers.

If private capitalists would invest patiently in this hellhole, they wouldn't be capitalists: they would be suckers

It sounds like you despise the country. That would seem to limit the value of your input regarding the energy issues there.

I think Carolus is right. His thoughts have nothing to do with despising the country. He is just using common sense as to what would work.

I'm just loathe to deny to the group or the concept "Haitian people" the possibility of credibility, or dignity, or good intentions, or intelligence, or capacity for self government, that we allow as possible for the great majority of humanity. Its been denied to other groups in the past, usually not with good result.

on edit: of course that doesn't mean that one close to the problem can't become infuriated by the history and apply colorful criticism and so forth...its been a mess for so long and it seems good intentions and bad intentions alike have just made things worse. Close to the problem, its very difficult to put principle ahead of realism. I'll confess to being overly sensitive to careless words as well; I'm reading "Fatal Misconception" by Connelly at the moment, which spends the first half of the book covering race-based eugenics and sterilization programs, social engineering and birth control initiatives based on the dominance of one race over another, all kinds of crap like that from all over...its all based on texts and public information of the time, and is both eye-opening and infuriating. Poverty was widely viewed as a genetic defect, for example, a defect predominant in many races.

This group, The Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) at Columbia University, has been trying to reverse environmental degradation and soil depletion in Haiti for a number of years.

"Rebuilding Haiti from the Roots up"

"... they engaged in cultivation practices that resulted in significant and fast deforestation, lots of trees exported back to Europe, and then when the French were thrown out, the Haitians were left with a very large population with a very weak resource base from which any group of people would find it very hard to recover."

"LEVY: Well, I think there's a couple of elements that are going to be very worrisome. One is that the countryside is already barely able to provide minimal living standards for people. And if some of these places become flooded with an increased number of people, and then those regions become stressed through severe storms or hurricanes, they could limit the coping capacity quite a bit, or put more people at risk."


LifeNews exposes those who say that Haiti has too many people.


According to this report,


7000 babies will be born in Haiti in the next month. One report said that an organization is giving pregnant women kits so that they can deliver their own babies on the streets, DIY delivery. There are estimates of around 50,000 pregnant women in the affected area. Premature and low birth weight deliveries were high before the earthquake. HIV/Aids is a huge problem. Yet Lifenews criticizes:

....Planned Parenthood is asking for money to help it pass out condoms and birth control to children who are looking for their next meal and medical care for injuries they and their family sustained in the earthquake.

Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Ghung, spot on.
Lifenews supporter Wendy Wright even manages to play the race card:

"Planned Parenthood exhibits its racist intentions again. If successful, Haitians would be denied the joy of children and the hope that their country will live on"

Oh yeah. Birth control = infanticide = euthanasia = racism = Hitler and co = Holocaust etc. etc

Free speech at it's finest! Mention population control and watch the the fireworks. Actually promote it and you're condemned to an eternity in hell. A real hell on earth won't matter to those that have their ticket to heaven.

The ones most complaining about applying birth control aren't the ones struggling with too many mouths to feed.
It might be instructive for them to try living on one small meal of beans and rice a day, and doling out pebbles for the kids to suck on.

'beans and rice' would be a real good day for some, mud cookies have had to make due all too often.

Concrete beams are very bad news in earthquake prone areas. Lighter weight, flexible structural materials for house rebuilding is needed. Now, where did all the trees go?

Forestry provides safe constructional material and firewood from the off-cuts. Ordinary Portland Cement has to be imported and has a huge energy and CO2 emissions cost.

Are there other options? Adobe? or Straw? or Hemp? The homes wouldn't be very fancy, but they would be local materials and almost cost-free.

I don't see that sitting around and waiting for trees to grow will work, and paying to buy trees from others won't work either.



Eco-friendly- Built with the most renewable green building material and resource on Earth.
* Strong and safe- Engineered to withstand hurricanes and earthquakes.
* Invigorating- Highest indoor air quality (IAQ) standards.
* Resistant- Prevents termites, mold and weathering.
* Luxurious- Vaulted ceilings with beautiful organic green home building design.


Concrete beams are very bad news in earthquake prone areas

Must be why we use so them so much in Alaska, never any earthquakes up here, at least not bigger than 9.3. Steel reinforced and post tensionsed steel cable reinforced beams are excellent building materials in earthquake prone areas, when properly engineered and placed in structures on properly prepared dirt--that doesn't sound much like Haiti's style though.

The CO2 print, especially with all the dirt work, is the big negative. Then again concrete doesn't burn real easy, crowded wooden cities have a long history of going up in smoke. Still a different mix of building materials would serve Haiti much better than the one they had.

If remote India (my personal experience ) is anything to go by, steel reinforcement in Haiti will be conspicuous by its absence. Concrete will be adobe with just enough cement to stop the structures collapsing under their own weight plus a few locals dancing on the roof.

Among the suggestions put forth for improving Haiti, the most important one is glaringly lacking.

And that is: get rid of the corrupt, militarily-backed plutocracy that has been living high on the hog for many decades in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

It seems that the poorer the country, the more elaborate the uniforms of the military and the more outlandish the behavior of the ruling class.

One of the most egregious examples of such is when during the early 1980s the very attractive wife of 'Baby Doc' Duvalier charted a Concorde jet for her and a bunch of her girlfriends to go on a Paris shopping spree. I'm sure the mentality of entitlement was such that there wasn't even the slightest twinge of guilt over this outrageous display of decadence.

joule -- Easy to agree with your point. As much as I dislike "country building" it seems the solution is obvious: have the U.S. take over full administration of Haiti. No elections and no self-direction at any level. I know it sounds harsh and most of the world might condemn us. But thanks to the world giving more lip service to their country then actual beneficial help they just aren't able to put an effective gov't together. I know it's an old and worn out line: "Feed a man a fish today and he'll be hungry tomorrow. Teach him to fish and he'll never be hungry again." But even if we train the folks in Haiti to be self-sufficient even at a minimal level, corruption will still rob them of any acceptable quality of life. And this wouldn't be a short-term effort: at least one or two generations. I don't mean this to sound so patronizing but we need to treat them like helpless children. As I see the past we've done nothing more than this analogy: put some toddlers in a yard with a pack of pit bulls. Then we throw some meat and the ground, pat ourselves on the back for "feeding the children" and then turn a blind eye to the carnage that ensues.

Given our unbalanced consumption of the world’s resources it would seem appropriate to pay the world back by taking possession of Haiti and, in 30 or 40 years, perhaps see a vibrant and self sufficient country. And as someone else eluded, we could use Haiti as a pilot project for the application of various alts. As it stands the alts in Haiti wouldn’t have to compete financially with established conventional energy sources: there are very few left in tact.

I think that there are a fair number of Haitians that object to the US "occupation" of the country. If there were Haitian leaders who could handle the situation, it seems like it would be better.

There is also the problem that the US is into too many overseas adventures already, and none of them are going very well. Even if leaders mean well (and sometimes there is real question about their motives), the results seem to reflect a lack of understanding for what would work better in a different culture.

Not trying to be flippant Gail but, to carry on my analogy, that's a little like expecting one of those pit bulls to develop maternal instincts towards those toddlers and share the meat. Not saying that there aren't patriotic and caring potential leaders in Haiti. But a bullet to the base of the brain would take care of that “problem”. I've seen such situations first hand. You may recall some of my tales about Equatorial Guinea, west Africa. One of the richest nations per capita on earth. And 90%+ of the people live in absolute poverty slowly starving to death. And you know what you call a EG citizen intent on changing the corrupt gov't and improving the lives of his fellow citizens? They are called fish food. Sound a little harsh? Note: the president of EG amended their constitution so he can execute any citizen without a trial. Just point his finger at them and they get a bullet in the base of the brain. Penalty for any citizen caught talking politics with a foreigner? You guessed it...a bullet to the base of the brain.

Yes…I do get a little over heated when talking about political corruption. But then I grew up in La. To emphasize the source of my feelings on chilly days like this I still occasionally get a little twinge of pain in my lower back from a very older vertebra facture I got from two New Orleans cops. My “crime”? I got between them and my grandfather. His crime? He refused to join the longshoreman’s union. Most folks don’t know the feeling of helplessness when trapped in such a system. Let alone having to just sit there and watch your child die of malaria. Did I mention that the previous president of EG had eliminate malaria from this island nation? But the his nephew (the current president) had a bullet put into the base of his uncle’s brain. Then he stopped the malaria spraying campaign. Found it was much easier to control the population when they were infected.

Deep subject Rockman. It might be a good Campfire discussion. What are the human costs from our addiction to fossil fuels? What is the real price of corruption, war, brutality, greed, and the power of oil over us? What are the effects on societies which have no hope of competing in a high energy world made possible by fossil fuels? Many discussions on the Drum end up discussing these things. Maybe we should visit these questions more because the story of oil is, and will continue to be the tale of the haves and the have-nots.

"the story of oil is, and will continue to be the tale of the haves and the have-nots"

And nowhere more so than in EG. I recommend Peter Maass's "Crude World" whose first chapter traces the role oil played in supporting the incredibly corrupt President Obiang.

There have been Haitian leaders that could have brought Haiti to more prosperity. But ever since their successful slave revolt they have been undermined at every turn. The French made them pay reparations for property lost - mainly for the loss of the slaves, in other words they had to pay for their own freedom. The US was not supportive because of fear their own slaves would revolt. In fact the French should have paid the Haitians for stealing their freedom. Besides multiple invasions by the US we flooded their markets with rice and so destroyed much of their agricultural base, forcing Haitians to the cities where they could be exploited as cheap labor by the US and others. We recently kidnapped Aristide and carted him off to South Africa even though he was democratically elected.

For a brief look see this interview on Democracy Now http://www.democracynow.org/2010/1/20/journalist_kim_ives_on_how_decades

For a more indepth view see

This review is from: An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, From Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President (Hardcover)
Randall Robinson again displays his towering intellect, clear-eyed vision, and grasp of history, economics and power relationships. The ugly truths regarding the unrelenting American (and French) hostility toward Haiti are truths that the overwhelming majority of Americans cannot handle, and who therefore resort to willful ignorance. This book is a fascinating review of the kind of U.S. history that is not taught in the schools, nor covered by the media.


Rockman, nation building won't work in Haiti. They made a pact with the Devil according to the good rev Robertson.

(CNN) -- Pat Robertson, the evangelical Christian who once suggested God was punishing Americans with Hurricane Katrina, says a "pact to the devil" brought on the devastating earthquake in Haiti.

No use trying to help them now.

The US helped remove the democratically elected and very popular Aristide (who was elected after the disastrous Duvalier dictators). The US and France were major players in creating the conditions in Haiti. In part, this was punishment for being the first successful slave revolt that shed colonialism (in early 1800's), well before the US and many other countries abolished slavery. To pay for the "lost profit of the slave trade", France imposed a huge debt. This has increased dramatically by the help of the IMF and World Bank, and others (and this seems to be likely to increase further, such as loans from the Inter-American Development Bank). The history of Haiti is tragic, but also shows the courage of enslaved people willing to rise and fight oppression. I don't think a take-over by the US would be very well received by the people. Restoring some of their former stolen wealth, or at least forgiving sovereign debt might help more.

I watched Haitian Ambassador to the US Raymond Joseph interviewed the first couple days after the quake. Day one he was in shock but most telling of all he said was that all of his family was in the US where they had been living for some time, only some distant cousins had been in Haiti during the earthquake. By day two he looked to be positioning himself in the best spot he could get for good cut off the sluice that would be flowing into Haiti, or at least that is what his facial expression and tone said to me. No easy solutions to this mess.

Trickle down economocs at its best.

In case you forgot, this was already done. In 1994 with "Operation Uphold Democracy" the US led a military invasion of Haiti bringing an era of prosperity and happiness. Oh, wait. It didn't quite work out that way.

Here's a piece of opinion on that particular US military adventure and how well it served the Haitians.

Haiti is a perfect example of phantom carrying capacity. That is that portion of the population that cannot be supported when temporarily available resources become unavailable. As a drawdown dependent island it is living on a minimum of four parts phantom carrying capacity for every one part of permanent (real) carrying capacity. Until population is brought in line with carrying capacity, Haiti will continue to move to a voodoo Easter Island result.

Haiti is certainly a sad case.Many very stupid and bad things have been done there by the Haitians and outsiders.

The 3+ children/female is a clue to the basic problem - overpopulation.This not unique to Haiti and we are going to see other countries getting into this sort of disaster with no way out short of a die off.

Haiti is the canary in the coal mine re population overshoot but how many of the 6.5 billion Homo Saps can see the canary let alone start to take heed.

Btw,I don't think that low energy consumption necessarily equates with a potential disaster scenario.Survival in the world which is coming will depend a good deal on the correlation of population with resources.

I know the that mantra around here is "It's all about population" and I'm not saying population isn't a large element in many problems.

But it seems to me that Hispaniola presents proof that it exactly ISN'T just "all about population" because the other half of the island from Haiti--Dominican Republic--has about the same land mass and about the same population, but (though far from being a paradise) much less of the problems associated with Haiti.

Clearly, history of repression from within and without, corruption, undermining of democracy, level of debt to foreign entities, level of deforestation...all these and more must play an enormous role in the creation of this ongoing disaster.

In fact, one could argue that if they had a "sustainable" population of say 200,000 people in the country, this one earthquake might have wiped out every last Haitian!

"because the other half of the island from Haiti--Dominican Republic--has about the same land mass and about the same population"

Please see my response below. This is not correct.

THe Dominical Republic has a lot more land mass. It also gets a lot better rainfall, so crops are better.

Depends on what you call "a lot." 48 thousand k^2 (versus 28 for Haiti) is still a pretty small area to hold ten million people (versus 9 some million for Haiti).
Clearly the whole island is overpopulated. I'm just saying that the difference between the two halves cannot reasonably be reduced to differences in pop per hectare.

But if you are convinced that population, and only population, is destiny, don't let me rain on your parade.

You are right that it isn't just low energy use that is a problem. If there were adequate arable land and water, and people who could make use of them, certainly there is evidence from years ago that many societies functioned well without fossil fuels. It just seems like it is the low energy societies that seem to be doing very badly in today's world--they don't fit in very well.

Haiti's problems are many, but it does have some advantages. Haiti's cost of labor and proximity to the US mean that it would be cheaper to manufacture just about anything there, even in comparison with China!

The trouble for Haiti is that low cost labor and location may be its only comparative advantages, set against so many disadvantages - lack of infrastructure, no functioning government, 50% literacy, no domestic natural resources, high population density, etc.

But if even Zimbabwe can manage positive economic growth after Mugabe's destructive rule was slowed (imagine how they'd do if Mugabe were out!), then surely Haiti can. It won't come from aid agencies though. If an enterprise can't turn a profit, it's often not sustainable.

Haiti's population is less dense than India's, and India produces surplus food for export (this would be the case even if some were redistributed to India's poor). So I don't think Haiti is doomed on a population basis alone, though curbing growth would certainly be of great benefit.

But will they be able to build a functioning nation? Time will tell - if peak oil hits hard in the next two decades, that will make the effort that much harder.

it would be cheaper to manufacture just about anything there

...the chief problem with that being the lack of a reliable energy infrastructure. Other than handcrafts perhaps, you would first need substantial and reliable energy inputs to fuel a competitive manufacturing sector.

The price of electricity would be a lot higher in Haiti than in China. In Haiti, electricity is from oil; in China it is mostly from coal. You may have seen the cost differences shown for 1 million BTUs of energy in Robert Rapier's post yesterday:

Coal - Powder River Basin - $0.56
Coal - Northern Appalachia1 - $2.08
Petroleum - $13.43

There will be some difference in efficiency between a coal and oil powered electric plant, but when there is this big a difference in the price of the fuel going in, the price of the electricity coming out will be quite different.

I think of coal generated electricity retailing for 7 to 10 cents per kWh. Petroleum generated electricity seems to retail for about 30 cents per kWh, depending on the price of oil. It is hard for a manufacturer to make up this cost difference just because Haiti is closer.

We cannot assume that energy is the principle cost in the manufacture of quite a few goods. If that were the case, then Boeing would keep its aircraft plants in the Pacific Northwest - they were originally located there for the cheap hydroelectric power. But higher wages seem to have outbalanced that equation.

Moreover, coal is a commodity quite easily and cheaply shipped - just ask China, as they source a huge volume of it from Australia.

I'm not implying that Haiti can overnight become a manufacturer of anything, as the capital investment and infrastructure required are significant. I'm simply noting that Haiti does have some comparative advantages, and those should be examined when looking to the future.

Comparing apples and oranges?
Why do you assume India or China should support similar populatgion densities as Haiti? India and China are more industrrialised for now and can thus sustain greater numbers. Plus they don't have the same climate or geography and geology.

I assume that China and India can now, and always will be able to support greater numbers on similar resources because China and India have better regions to support higher desnities.

Haiti is over popluated.

Since I am basically a lurker here and not a regular poster, it may be okay to bring up neo-colonism and resource exploitation/acquisition reasons for Haiti's problems.

This web site: http://www.margueritelaurent.com/pressclips/oil_sites.html#Haitigold has multiple links to research claiming that Haiti has extensive undeveloped petroleum resources as well as huge copper/gold resources. The site and articles are quite political alleging that U.S. and Western policies toward Haiti are motivated by the covert goals of acquiring and controlling these resources.

If so, this information certainly adds dimension to our current, military controlled relief efforts.

There is evidence that the United States found oil in Haiti decades ago and due to the geopolitical circumstances and big business interests of that era made the decision to keep Haitian oil in reserve for when Middle Eastern oil had dried up. This is detailed by Dr. Georges Michel in an article dated March 27, 2004 outlining the history of oil explorations and oil reserves in Haiti and in the research of Dr. Ginette and Daniel Mathurin.

How credible is this?

There are also allegations that there are uranium deposits there:

Moreover, Daniel et Ginette Mathurin show that uranium 238 and 235 and the deposit zyconium exist in several regions including in Jacmel


Keep lurking Joe!

Thanks for the links. If true, this explains a lot. As a basket-case, Haiti has been unable to develop these resources and so has been sidelined in globalization. Push pause (and ignore rising human and ecological misery). Reminds me of the discussion on what national governments are doing about peak oil. In the the case of the US - lots, just not what an ethical person might agree with. But then, empire has its costs...

Ghung, good question, but I'd put credibility at almost zero. If something valuable was discovered in Haiti, in any world shaking quantity, it would be long gone, shucks, Smedley Butler, USMC talked about this issue 80 years ago. We replaced regimes for bananas, which are much less valuable than oil or hot rocks.

What you suggest regarding oil did occur in the middle east when the world was awash with oil. But not for the past 30 years. For an oil major to sit on a giant that long is crazy.

As a reference, I use Alaska'a ANWR. I say that if there was oil in ANWR, we would have drilled. Instead, ANWR is much more valuable as a bargaining tool. As in, "We'll drill NPR-A, but not ANWR." And, "We'll drill off the East Coast, but not ANWR." Notice the pattern?

But I like your lateral thinking. Something is fishy with Haiti.

Cold Camel

Wouldn't bet ANWR is quite as empty as you imply. The proposal to directional drill into 10-02 should shake the jar a little. Remember that AK wants the 90-10 royalty split that was promised when it got statehood while the Fed is looking to give AK 50-50 or less. The Trans Alaska Pipeline System can function with maybe half today's flow without significant additional operational problems so the oil supply issue isn't urgent yet. Natural gas liquids from potential gas projects may well get separated out on the slope and added to the line. Beaufort Sea projects also may slow the decline. ANWR will be tapped before the pipeline is shutdown, at least that is my bet. Besides whats the rush, oil will be worth more later.

North Slope production is declining at 7%/yr, so in 10 years production will be half. I'd call that urgent. All major NS fields are declining in tandem, I'd call that planned. Problems are popping up all over. The natural gas is standed without the Prudhoe cap, pop the cap and there goes 1/2 the oil. Beaufort Sea, what you mean Gull Island? Dude, Alaska is a dinosaur. This isn't Texas, itsy-bitsy fields are uneconomic. I've been paying attention for 20 years and ANWR is still a myth. Stranded oil will be worth squat without pipe. The battle rages in Alaska, oil compainies are desperate for lower taxes, because declining royalties should make the state desparate, but it is a red herring, the oil companies are making gobs in Alaska (see COP filings). They want lower taxes so they can make another killing on the natural gas pipeline. I know the oil compainies are playing chicken, because eventually they will have to build a gas pipeline, but when they do, Alaska will have them by the short hairs. I'd also bet that the oil companies will win, 'cause most AK politicians are fed and watered. Say one thing for Palin, the oil companies hated her guts.

Me? You want my opinion? I say Alaska should prohibit the export of raw materials, including oil, gas, coal, fish, and gold, and prohibit immigration. Make gold the currency, provide every resident with a one-way ticket to Seattle any time. Shut off free trade of everything but information. We have the resources and are surely not overpopulated. Do it in a gentle way so the rest of the world would feel sorry for us, and the lower 48 would let us go.

Yeah, I know it would never work. Alaska's economy would crash and every politician would be booted. But we'd miss the world oil crash. That's gotta be worth something.

Cold Camel

Cuba, which is a fairly modern country has a per capita energy of 31 MBtu/ person per year, 10 x Haiti's which is doable. Both countries are poor in fossil fuels.
The biggest problem is probably the mess of Port-au-Prince, a city 7.4 times as densely populated as London.

21st century megacities are death traps.

I think we're seeing "Peak Haiti" or perhaps "Plateau Haiti." Or maybe Peak Haiti actually occurred in the early 20th Century, and the earthquake merely accelerated what had been a long gradual decline of Haiti and Haitian society.

I agree with several commenters above regarding Haiti's population being far into overshoot beyond the carrying capacity of their ecosystem. Not that I'm opposed to helping out the unfortunate victims, but the real tragedy is that the population reached 9 million in the first place.

Also, given that Haiti is ~80% Catholic (and I assume that means Roman Catholic), has anyone else been puzzled as to what seems to be the total lack of any involvement from The Vatican? Did I miss the compassionate speech that the Pontiff gave on behalf of his Haitian flock? Did I miss the stirring address that Pope Benedict gave from the balcony in which he urged Catholics and others to help out Haiti. Did I miss the media coverage of the Pope's visit to Haiti in the days after the earthquake, when he inspired his loyal followers to help each other out now and in the coming weeks and months? Maybe I missed all that and more in the past 2+ weeks.

Precious little comes up when you Google Benedict and Haiti that's for sure.

This article entirely misses the point. Haiti doesn’t necessarily need more energy. What Haiti needs more than anything else is to manage its POPULATION. The average person in Haiti is malnourished. Some of them eat clay mixed with oil for food. They are going down the road of Easter Island, faster then the rest of us. 98% of Haiti’s forests are gone. So when a hurricane passes by, what holds down their top soil…, what’s left?

If the world’s population were one or two billion people, Peak Oil would be an inconvenience, not a potential nightmare.
If Haiti’s population were 75% lower, living in the modern world would not be an issue. They could live perfectly decent lives living off the land like their ancestors did for hundreds of years. The reason Haiti can’t go back to that world is because there are just too many of them.

Haiti’s problems can’t truly be dealt with, as long as they and the rest of the world continue to ignore population dynamics.

On the other half of the island, the population is equally dense but the standard of living...is much higher.

Population is important, but it just is not everything, people.

Population is about 2/3 as dense in the Dominican Republic (Area = 70% larger, population = 7% larger)

Source: CIA world factbook


Thanks for the stats. The point is that they are both very densely populated, yet one side has been world famous as a basket case for centuries and the other half is just another poor-ish country. Excuse me if I find it hard to accept that population density is the sole determining factor between the two. If it were, presumably the island of Manhattan, with over a million and a half people living on less than 23 square miles would be much, much worse off than Haiti.

In other words, smaller populations, allow people power, ox, mules and horses to provide adequate energy to live decent lives. Providing Haiti the modern world would not solve any long term problems for them, they need to focus on reversing their growth in population.

If Homo sapiens were smart enough to determine and maintain a sustainable existence then I would consider the species to be highly evolved. I don't believe that Homo sapiens have that capacity. I do think that further evolution that favors greater intelligence is possible, maybe even probable, and that path forward is going to be brutal. That possible future species will view us as we view neantherdals. There is also a slight possibility that Homo sapiens is a deadend in it's evolutionary branch.

Their are two energy solutions for Haiti. Plasma arc power plants could be used to convert refuse into electricity in every city and town in Haiti. Eventually, small Russian floating nuclear power plants could gradually be placed near every coastal city and town in Haiti for the production of electricity and freshwater. The CO2 from the biomass power plants could also be combined with hydrogen produced from the floating nuclear power plants to produce gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, methanol, and methane.

Marcel F. Williams

So what are Haiti's options?...
1. Develop a tourist trade...

How about:
9. Piracy.

Great and insightful comment. Haiti/Hispaniola has a long history as a pirate haven. With the desperate throng of hungry, young, poor males ashore with access to small arms how long before fishing boats get turned into pirate vessels?

We see the weakness of the response from Western navies to the Somalia/Puntland pirates, who have scored outstanding successes against passing shipping. The further Haiti descends into anarchy, the more attractive piracy as a source of income for the island becomes. The proximity to the US is not necessarily a deterrence to pirates, as nowadays they need only take hostages for ransom rather than whole ships which would be easier to track and recover. There are a whole lot of cruise ships to loot out there....

Maybe they would start by capturing Johnny Depp for some lessons?

Jamaica's graphs look interesting. Maybe their graphs can be looked at. I t looks like they have been growing steadily, but then in the last couple of years the growth has been tailing off. This suggests that the society will be running into serious problems soon.

I wonder if you can do an analysis.

The author mentioned radios, etc. What about the use of wind-up/solar type devices, such as for example those developed by http://www.freeplayenergy.com/ and others? Does anyone know if they are used much in Haiti? These at least would give people access to lighting and radio and hence information without having to rely on power lines.

Although the earthquake has been a terrible event for Haiti, the chance of having to re-build their energy infrastructure may actual come as a positive. As stated above, Haiti has primarily relied on electricity and has a very low per capita energy consumption; there is now an opportunity to change their energy set-up and the article mentions both wind and solar energy as alternatives. Looking to the future they could take advantage of the varying types of energy and with oil “unlikely to become cheap again” (Leo Roodhart: http://www.futureagenda.org/?cat=5), it will be interesting to see what alternatives they choose.