There are few places on earth where the wealth and luxuries of the First World stand side-by-side with the poverty and deprivation of the Third World more than in the nation of South Africa.  There, modern malls, cellular networks, and high-tech industry all abound, right next to villagers who have never seen a refrigerator, computer or television.  Thus, it was with great insight and understanding that CFACT’s official South African spokesman and scientific advisor Dr. Kelvin Kemm was able to speak first-hand about the issues of sustainable development during a recent two-week whirlwind tour of the U.S.

As a nuclear physicist, business strategy consultant, and head of a public-policy organization in South Africa called the Green and Gold Forum that speaks to industry, the media and government about issues of technology and environment, Dr. Kemm’s visit was eagerly anticipated, and proved to be highly informative. 

He began his U.S. tour in Washington, D.C. where he delivered private talks to interested parties about the encouraging progress of his nation’s new Pebble Bed Modular Reactor – the world’s first Generation IV nuclear reactor that is scheduled to go on-line in 2010.  With its small, modular design, its ability to be located anywhere it is needed (since it is cooled by gas, and not water), and its unique fuel supply of baseball-sized graphite balls each containing several grams of uranium (rather than long metal assemblies), many believe the PBMR has the potential to literally revolutionize the nuclear power industry.  This is particularly important for a continent like Africa, where hundreds of millions still lack access to reliable and affordable supplies of electricity. 

Another major part of Dr. Kemm’s Washington visit took place when he participated as one of the featured speakers at a jam-packed luncheon briefing at the U.S. Senate during Earth Week sponsored by the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance.  The goal of the meeting was to explain how the principles of the “Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship” can be applied to public policies dealing with environment and development.  So it was with much enthusiasm that the audience heard Dr. Kemm eloquently detail the circumstances of life for many on the African continent, and forcefully call for energy and environmental policies that are based on sound science and economics, and provide hope and opportunity for “the least among us.”

Following his trip to our nation’s capitol, it was off for a tour of numerous college campuses where CFACT Collegians chapters sponsored public speeches by Dr. Kemm.  He began at the Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota, followed by a trip to the flagship CFACT chapter at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.  It was then on to the Empire State of New York, where Kemm spoke at two campuses including the State University of New York (SUNY) at Albany and later at SUNY Binghamton.  Finally, he wrapped up his U.S. visit with another well-attended speech at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

In each of his CFACT Collegian speeches, Dr. Kemm challenged the conventional “Green” thinking that often dominates the environmental debate on campus, and argued that these views are often seen as “terribly patronizing” among those in Africa who have to deal with the daily issues of disease and poverty.  Pointing out that “one African dies every 40 seconds from malaria,” Kemm again called for more balanced and positive approaches to environment and development which promote safe technologies, and recognize that environmental progress is always linked to economic progress.

The interest in his 75-90 minute formal presentations was only exceeded by the question and answer sessions, which in some cases went on for two hours, with students anxiously discussing these issues of global significance.

Hopefully, it won’t be long before Dr. Kemm will again be able to bring his wealth of technical expertise and personal wisdom to the U.S. for more such outstanding presentations.