By Michael Shank

Having just returned from Somalia last week, and after meeting with the Minister of Natural Resources, the imperative to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy is increasingly becoming a moral one, not merely an environmental or financial one.

In Somalia — where the charcoal trade, and the concomitant deforestation that results, is responsible for ongoing violence in the south of the country — a switch to renewable energy could save lives (in addition to saving the environment).

In discussing with the Natural Resources ministry the country’s not-yet-released national environmental policy, drafted in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme, it was heartening to see solar energy on the agenda. The Minister gets it and knows the country is rich with renewable energy opportunities – from wind to solar to water-based energy generation.

Throughout the world, the fight over fossil fuels continues. Resource management and violent conflict are dangerous bedfellows and too often correlated. The West, in particular, isn’t fully supporting trends to help countries, like Somalia, make the affordable and efficient switch to renewable energy, which, in turn, could help countries like Somalia reduce their levels of violent conflict.

For example, Britain’s newly established Soma Oil and Gas Company, chaired by the former leader of the conservative Tory party, Lord Michael Howard, is about to spend $20 million exploring Somalia’s oil and gas reserves – estimated to be at 100 billion barrels – onshore and offshore. US oil companies already bought blocks of Somali territory decades ago, just waiting to exploit when the time is right. Neighboring countries aren’t helping matters either, with Kenya and Norway working in concert to explore oil in Somalia’s seas in the south, an area that is increasingly contested and is escalating conflict.

Will any of this help Somalia become more self-sufficient and less violent? No. A better move would be to make mini and micro solar, wind and biomass energy production facilities as a way of undermining the violence that comes with charcoal, that will come with oil and gas exploration, and that will come with fossil fuels generally.

The answer is renewable energy, not simply because it’s a more sustainable harvest model, not merely because it’s better for environmental and human health (thus preventing the costs associated with cleanups and medical treatment), but because it can help reduce violence everywhere – and especially in Somalia.

It is time we save some lives by securing something more sustainable.