Clean Energy: Saving the Mountain Gorilla

The March issue of National Geographic Adventure magazine has a fascinating article about the mountain gorillas of Virunga National Park in the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo.


virunga national park mountain gorilla.

The majority of the article is spent discussing the head ranger, Emmanuel de Merode, and his efforts to work with rebel forces to protect the gorilla. While Emmanuel’s efforts to work with the rebels are admirable and heroic (while making for an exciting story), the most revealing part comes in the last three paragraphs. You see, it is not the rebels that are the true danger to the gorillas; it is the deforestation surrounding the gorilla’s habitat that threatens them.

There are two million people who surround Virunga park, and they cut down the old-growth trees to make charcoal for cooking fuel. So while de Merode’s exciting efforts revolve around meeting with gun wielding rebel leaders, it is his work in creating an alternative energy program to switch inhabitants from charcoal to briquettes made from grass and leaves that will make the biggest difference.

Emmanuel’s efforts remind me of one of my favorite Amory Lovin’s quotes: “People don’t want raw kilowatt-hours or lumps of coal or barrels of sticky black goo. They want hot showers, cold beer, comfort, mobility, illumination. It’s like when you go to the hardware store looking for a drill. What you really want is not a drill but a hole. And why do you want the hole?” Asking such questions, Lovins says, is the first step in good design.

The Congolese didn't want to destroy the gorilla’s habitat and lead them down the path to extinction. They just wanted to cook their food and charcoal was the fuel that they knew. It was de Merode who realized they just needed to be shown a new way to make a hole.

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