Tag Archives: Environmentalism

Renewable Energy ≠ Afghan Right

With the reconstruction of Afghanistan in progress, there are countless Good Idea Fairies circulating renewable energy as the solution to peace and harmony for Afghanistan and the Middle East at large.

Unlike the satellites that support the video phones NTM-A is buying, at least Afghans can feel the wind and see the sun, so solar and wind power would seem logical possibilities to the enthusiastic do-gooder.  Enter the solution:  a combination windmill and solar panel built within the past year.

Set against the idyllic Little Ghar, the energy farm looks like a picture of environmentally responsible modernity.  Closer inspection reveals that the solar panel is caked with dust preventing even a small amount of electrical generation.  What you cannot see is that, in spite of the breezy day, the windmill was frozen.

But someone was able to get a generator installed and running!  Afghans practice the time-honored method of break-down maintenance.  With U.S. funding, that usually means repair-by-replacement.  The one renewable energy solution the Afghans implemented themselves–other than the U.S. dollar–was working quite effectively (a formerly common American fixture–the clothes line).  In a dusty environment with equipment that requires regular attention, renewable energy is not a great solution for the technologically dearth Afghanistan.  Ultimately, Afghans resort to what they know and trust–clothes lines and generators.

Assuming a 30kw generator, the nearly $1,000,000 ‘renewable energy farm’ could have purchased enough fuel to power the generator at full load for 4 years. . . and pay for the generator!

The reality is that,  if/when Afghanistan becomes self-sufficient, their growing affluence will be able to afford and sustain advanced technologies that are better for the environment.  While academics may discount Kuznets curves (because of the belief that ‘dirty’ industries are just exported by richer countries to the poorer), as society at-large has progressed it has moved to cleaner forms of energy; free markets incentivize the reduction of waste in delivering any product, including power (at least in free-market societies), as it makes that product more affordable and attractive over a dirty, wasteful option. 

On the bright side, renewable energy does make us feel good about ourselves while enhancing a great corporate welfare program.

It ain’t easy being green.

Polar bears hibernating in Afghanistan

You didn’t know there were polar bears in Afghanistan?  Well, from the “can’t make this stuff up” pile comes this recent afront to Polar Bear Clubs everywhere:

“The Polar Bear Run scheduled [this week] has been cancelled.  Snow showers are expected to begin at 0600 hours.”

BREAKING NEWS:  The International Surfing Championships have been cancelled because of sunshine.

Kabul air — Quality you can taste

Nothing says “ambiance” on Camp Eggers like walking by a “suck-truck” pumping sewage holding tanks on your way to the DFAC.  It’s something like Pavlov’s Dogs–but no one is really sure whether the hunger pangs or the stench comes first.

"Okay air" versus "not-so Okay air"

So poor is the air quality in Afghanistan that the urban legend is that you get an automatic 10% disability rating for a year in theater (you don’t).  NTM-A recently declared that, “If you can see, taste, or smell the air, or you cannot see the mountains during daylight hours, then you should exercise indoors.”

Another revelation from NTM-A is that, “During exercise, breathing becomes faster and deeper through the mouth, which allows more particle matter to reach deep into the lungs.”

Call off the war, I have a 5k to run.

The Economy is Going to Pot

In my first few months in Afghanistan, I have been in multiple regions.  Even though Afghanistan is mostly desert (12-13% arable), the Afghans love plants and typically, after taking over an installation, will plant thousands of trees and try to green up their new bases.

Keeping the most important plants healthy


As you’ve heard in the news, the US and coalition forces are actively trying to elimnate the poppy-trade in Afghanistan and replace it with more legitimate sources of economic development.  I don’t think General Petraeus ever thought that would mean substituting for another illicit cash crop! 

I'm not a horticulturalist, but that is a healthy looking plant

The Kabul Military Training Center, the premier ANA training center in Afghanistan, has been a case study for wasting water and they continue to amaze. 

While no one wants to see water wasted, at least the Afghans have demonstrated their acumen for poppy cultivation is transferrable to another cash crop–marijuana.

Happy Fourth of July!

Toilet Rocks

Paper is a luxury in Afghanistan in part because there are so few trees. So instead of paper in the bathrooms, Afghans use rocks. Out in the villages and farms, the rocks just go right down the hole after business is completed. With a tip of the hat to environmentalism, they sometimes recycle the rocks by just leaving them on the floor near the toilet.

The Americans (me and you, the taxpayer) built a facility in northern Afghanistan with indoor plumbing, eastern-style toilets, and all the fixtures. Within the past year, we discovered the building had been destroyed by the foundation settling and splitting the building in half. A little research revealed that the Afghans had been putting their rocks down the toilets. When the toilets backed-up, they used rebar (reinforcing steel rods) as plungers to clear the rocks out. This broke the pipes which allowed the effluent to erode the subgrade foundation and sink the building!