Praise for Oil Politics

full-coverPraise for Oil Politics – Echoes of Ecological Wars: This is what highly respected thinkers and writers have to say about this new book. Get a copy and share your own thoughts!

Nnimmo Bassey embodies the thinker, writer, activist in one. His latest collection of essays Oil Politics is the story of our times. And since we are all eating, drinking, thinking oil, it is a story each of us should read. Oil has caused pollution in the Niger Delta and contributed to climate change. But it has also polluted democracy. As Nnimmo puts it, the story of oil is the story of ‘The blind walk of autocrats in the vice grip of kleptocrats results in unrelenting pummelling of the grassroots.’ We need to move from Oil to Soil, from Kleptocracy to Earth Democracy. Oil Politics is a call to action to each and every Earth Citizen.— Dr VANDANA SHIVA, philosopher, environmentalist, author, professional speaker, social activist

For decades, Nnimmo Bassey has been a relentless warrior against the ravages of the oil industry, holding the Niger Delta up as both a stark warning and an inspiring model of resistance. The truths in these essays demonstrate that the climate crisis amounts to a war, one waged by global elites on the poorest and most vulnerable. In his deiance, fearlessness and lyricism, Bassey also lights the way towards a just and democratic peace. — NAOMI KLEIN, author This Changes Everything and The Shock Doctrine

Nnimmo Bassey is that rare individual—he combines solid theoretical knowledge with practice; a perceptive writer and campaigner of the inest pedigree. In this collection of essays, ranging from issues of petroleum extraction to climate justice, Bassey brings to bear these formidable talents. This book deserves reading and re-reading. It is a worthy addition to the corpus of works on Africa’s badly mauled ecology. — Dr IKE OKONTA, author When Citizens Revolt: Nigerian Elites, Big Oil and the Ogoni Struggle for Self- Determination and co-author Where Vultures Feast: 40 years of Shell in Nigeria

Very few people understand the ‘politics of oil’ and have confronted the environmental crisis in Nigeria like Nnimmo Bassey. In Oil Politics: Echoes of Ecological Wars, he not only reveals the devastating impact of our environmental indiscretions but how the incestuous relationship between the Nigerian state and multinationals like Shell has left Nigeria and Nigerians gasping for breath. If we still care about Nigeria, or what is left of it, then we can only ignore this intervention at our own risk! — CHIDO ONUMAH author, We Are All Biafrans

Oil and mineral development represents a continuous act of violence against nature and society; this violence is a prerequisite to these extractive activities. Faced with this reality, communities in diverse regions of the planet organize varied forms of resistance and construct alternatives. Nnimmo Bassey is one of the human beings most committed to ecological justice and thus, social justice. This book, a collection of the author’s essays, is an example of that commitment. — ALBERTO ACOSTA, Economist, former President of the Constitutional Assembly of Ecuador, former Minister of Energy and Mines

Nnimmo Bassey is an angry good man, aware in his bones of the socio- ecological debt from North to South. He writes brilliantly calling the world to action for climate justice and against fossil fuels extraction. He comes from Nigeria and the Niger Delta where over two million barrels of oil are exported everyday, where many people have been killed while others have resisted throughout the decades of destruction brought by Shell and other companies.— Professor JOAN MARTINEZ-ALIER, ICTA, Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona

Nnimmo Bassey is one of the best known and most respected activist/analyst of the socio-political and environmental impact of fossil fuel extraction across the planet. As part of his commitments he has played a leading role in Friends of the Earth International, Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria and Oilwatch International. For more than two decades he has directly participated and/or documented peoples’ struggles against these depredatory activities, not only in Nigeria, but also in South Africa, Equatorial Guinea, Ecuador, Brazil, the Gulf of Mexico and others. … A main focus of his attention has been the struggles of the Ogoni people against the social and environmental devastating impacts of Shell’s extractive activities in the Niger Delta. This book contains an extraordinary, thoughtful and well documented critical analysis of many of these impacts and struggles. The way in which multiple dimensions of the fossil fuel civilization are integrated into the analysis is particularly valuable: impact on people’s lives; environmental devastation: climate change: the impunity with which transnational corporations operate in the Global South; government complacency and corruption; military repression; the geopolitics of oil; the implications and unsustainability of high consumption life styles based on cheap fossil energy; as well as the multiple forms of popular resistance and struggles. Activists and communities around the planet, who not only believe that another world is possible but are willing to fight for it, have much to learn from this book.— EDGARDO LANDER, retired professor of social sciences at the Universidad Central de Venezuela in Caracas, Caracas

Flying on Lake Turkana to Turkana

Photo: Joyce (from FB)

Flying on Lake Turkana to Turkana – Interconnectivity of struggles – part 2


Sometime in 2017 Kenya will begin to pump crude oil in commercial quantities. For some years now prospecting companies have been poking holes around Turkana, Kenya, looking for the so-called black gold.  One of the places the oil companies planned to seek their treasure is Lake Turkana, a UNESCO heritage site and the largest desert lake in the world. Many writers have written about this lake – famous for appearing blue from the sky, but greenish when viewed from the ground. I once read an article in which the writer compared the Lake Turkana environment to a lunar landscape. I always wanted to dip my feet in that lake.

It was a fortuitous coincidence that the Kenya Airways plane that would take me from Lagos to Nairobi was named Lake Turkana. As we fastened our safety belts, the pilot spoke briefly about the lake and what a significant water body it is in Kenya, in Africa, in the world. And that was where someone wishes to drill for crude oil? Well, the good news is that the government of Kenya has agreed that oil exploration and exploitation will not happen in this national treasure. As we winged our way towards Kenya I struck a conversation with one of the cabin attendants, mentioning how interesting it was that I was flying on Lake Turkana to visit Lake Turkana. She was thrilled. She knew of the lake, but she has never been there.

I later found out that most Kenyans have not been to Turkana. When I returned from Turkana to Nairobi at the end of my visit, a friend there asked to know how my time up there was. And then the million Shillings question came: do they wear clothes there? Perhaps the question could have been framed differently: did you wear clothes there? If that had been the question my answer would have been, ‘yes, whenever outdoors.’ The nights were so warm it did not make sense dressing up to sleep. And I noticed, as I travelled in the region, that the houses had louvered fenestrations that ensured a steady inflow of air/breeze into the houses even when all doors were shut.

I was in Kenya on the invitation of Friends of Lake Turkana (FoLT). How appropriate. On arrival in Nairobi at night I checked into a hotel on Mombasa Road. Early next morning I dashed to Wilson airport where I was met by Andrew Orina of FoLT, who soon provided me with more information about the trip and what to expect. From now onwards I was in the hands of FoLT. Breakfast at the airport, check in formalities and it was time to jump on board a light aircraft for the 90 minutes hop to Lodwar, the capital of Turkana County. Sitting next to me on the flight was Doris Okenwa, Nigerian journalist and PhD researcher whose thesis is examining negotiations of entitlements and the ways diverse actors/stakeholders lay claims to state resources in the context of oil exploitation. She has been living in Lokichar, the oil city of Turkana, about 3-4 hours away from Lodwar. Deeply respectful of the culture, she had plenty of good things to say about the hospitable Turkana people. As we took to the sky I saw that Wilson Airport is actually sitting on the edge of a games reserve. I could not help thinking how traumatic it must be for the animals.

The modest airport at Lodwar has become rather busy as the status of the county as an extractive Eldorado increases. What the airport lacks for grandeur is made up for by a huge statue of Jesus Christ atop the nearby hill, mimicking the famous Rio de Janeiro iconic statue.

Thanks to activists like Ikal Angelei, director of FoLT, the challenges of petroleum extraction in a fragile ecosystem such as Turkana has not been swept under the carpet. When two opportunities to share experiences of communities in the Niger Delta on live radio programmes came, numerous listeners called in to express deep fears about what would befall their beautiful land.

On arrival in Lodwar I was quickly checked into the St Teresa Pastoral Centre before heading to the offices of FoLT. Ikal was busy at work, as expected, and I loathed having to be a distraction. But how could that be avoided. We hadn’t met for years, so a quick catch up was in order. There after we had a short meeting with some civil society folks and a media officer from Tullow, the oil company sinking its drilling claws into the soil here. The Tullow guy spoke on how environmentally conscious they were and to illustrate that he mentioned that their enterprise had the endorsement of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World bank. At that point we reminded him that the IFC and the World Bank are notorious for supporting fossil fuel extraction and dirty energy projects and could not, by any means, be the measure of good environmental practice.

After the meeting it was time to see Lake Turkana. Fifty-five Kilometres away it took all of two hours of driving along the road to get there. The road to the lake had once been tarred, but it is now in such a bad shape that it was much smoother to drive alongside the road, meandering on sandy paths rather to hobble along on the crater-filled road. Reminded me of many roads I know in Nigeria- except that you would not have the luxury of driving along the road as is possible in this semi-arid environment.

Arriving at Lake Turkana was a sacred moment for me. With me were Daudi Emase – a brilliant young activist, and Joyce Lukwiya – a media officer with FoLT. We waded into the water, drank in the views and soon headed back. Along the way we came to a collection of sculpted rocks, some sort of stone monoliths, that legend says were humans who heard a sound from heaven and turned into stones. Be careful what sounds you listen to!

I had to see the Turkana Cultural Festival that was ongoing at Lodwar. Joyce took me there and it was quite a fair. Exhibitions, music, dancing and plenty of food. Politicians also used the festival as a veritable platform to sell their ideas. I was stuck by the dressing of the Turkana men. Their armbands are sharp metal rings that serve as ornaments and as weapons. Most men invariable carried their stools and staffs as you would probably tot a handbag. The stools are so low that when you sit on it you appear to be squatting on your hunches. Interesting thing is that wherever a man goes he has his seat with him.

Driving to Lokichar the next day was another stint of driving along or off the road. It was a four solid hours ride on a beautiful landscape dotted with shrubbery, hills and mountains. Towering anthills in the landscape presented a different design from what we have in the Savannah region of Nigeria, indicating that the termites of Turkana were of a different architectural school. Fascinating.

The meeting Lokichar took place at a community centre built and donated to the Lokichar community by Tullow, but located in Tullow’s gated compound where details of every visitor must be carefully documented before entry is granted. Calling that building a community centre requires a peculiar understanding of what that name means. It also indicates the corporate social responsibility concept of the oil company. Once inside the building, it was clear that this was, to all intent and purposes, Tullow’s seminar or training room, with laptops locked on the tables and multimedia projector handing from the ceiling. Some Tullow officials attended the meeting.

After brief introductions, the video documentary, Nowhere to Run- Nigeria’s Environmental and Climate Crises produced by Yar’Adua Centre, Nigeria, was screened. Thereafter we had an interactive session with the community folks. The documentary had many points of intersection with the realities of Turkana – the semi-arid environment, pastoralism, agricultural challenges. They were particularly interested in what may become the impacts of petroleum extraction in their land.

Among the key questions raised was how pastoralists would be compensated when their lands are taken over for oil extraction, pipelines or other facilities. Ikal explained that this worry was very acute because oil companies tend to think that lands with no human settlements or farms were empty or no-man’s lands. She explained the deep connection of nomads to their lands and the careful ways they manage such lands, returning to them from time to time to graze their goats, sheep, camels and cattle.

A case of toxic water left in an abandoned Tullow camp site was mentioned by a community person who stated that livestock became sick on drinking the water. A Tullow official explained that the camp in question had been properly decommissioned and that the pit with the toxic water was fenced off and with warning signs posted. According to him it was the people’s fault to allow their livestock access to the facility. He also added when they throw away plastic used to line the toxic waste pits some community people ‘steal’ them from the bush thereby exposing themselves to danger. This specious transfer of responsibility to the victims was roundly rejected by participants. It raised a spectre of more corporate carelessness and dangers to come.

That night, sitting under the clear stars-filled Lokichar sky, Doris treated us to a sumptuous dinner that included my much beloved ugali. Thereafter we retired to our hotel – Another Chance Guest House. This hotel has a story behind it which I may relate at a future date.

My interpreter at the community meeting in Lokichar, Hosea Gogong, was introduced as a school teacher. However, when I went to the Maranatha Faith Assemblies church, a shouting distance from Another Chance Guest House, the following day (Sunday), it turned out that he was also a pastor. I noted the intersection of faith and activism.

Three hours on a gravelly road that had never been surfaced and we arrived at Lokori, Ikal’s hometown. As we went along it occurred to me that most of the pastoralists had herds of goats rather than those of cattle that are prevalent in Nigeria. Why? Goats are more adapted to the tough semi-arid conditions here. Then closer to Lokori there were more camels. To my shame I could not bring myself to be excited about a dish of camel meat that was being proposed for the following day. The camel, and the donkey, appear to be as animals that provide assistance for transportation and do not hit me as items on a dish. If you wish to know, please don’t serve me a giraffe, zebra, rhino, hippo, elephant, lion, tiger, jackal and the like either.

The meeting here was held at a school hall with discussions following the screening of Nowhere to Run. The interactive sessions ranged from the situation in the Niger Delta and the challenges they were already facing in the area from the arrival of the oil men. The youths bemoaned a lack of jobs, poor access road and fears that their community may turn into another Niger Delta. They all resolved to train themselves in environmental monitoring and to set up teams of ecological defenders. They will not be taken by surprise by oil.

Driving back to Lodwar was a huge experience. The journey should have been accomplished in four hours, but with the night setting in and with no signage and with endless forks on the road we lost our way a couple of times but managed to return somewhere, somehow.

A few days in Turkana and I was absolutely enraptured by the place and the people. I felt at one with a people about to feel the routine disappointment that communities routinely experience when oil extraction takes its toll on their territory. I heard that politicians have promised access roads before crude oil flows out of the region. Would that happen? I invited my friends to visit the Niger Delta to see the evidences with their own eyes.

Soon before I left Lodwar, Ikal met with me at the airport and handed me a great treasure – a Turkana stool. What a gift! When you see that I don’t rush to take a seat at any forum do not be surprised that I may have my own seat tucked under my armpit.

Deconsecrated for Coal

Deconsecrated for Coal: Interconnectivity of struggles – part 1img_2326

One of the most jolting statements I have heard in recent times was at a Climate Camp, and Summer School on Skills for System Change, in Rhineland, when someone said, ‘anyone that accepts authority is at same intellectual level as a horse.’ I know you may be saying that was an insult to horses! But let us ponder on that statement for a while. Horses accept human authority to work or to go where the driver decides it should go. Is that all we do when we accept authority? Whatever the basis for the formulation of that statement maybe, one thing is clear, whether horse or human, when we accept authority we surrender our sovereignty to such authority. This surrender can be voluntary or it could be extracted by force. It can lead to the gains of the common good or it could lead to deprivation of liberties.

We could call that a form of resistance, a registration of disgust over extractivism without boundaries. It registers that extraction defies life and notions of the sacred.

The climate camp was held literally on the lips of the insatiable jaws of a coal mine that is dislocating communities and emptying out others to make way for the gigantic teeth of metal excavators. One poignant information was about a church that was earmarked for demolition along with other building and infrastructure at Immerath. The town turned a ghost town as thousands of people were moved and the dead got relocated to a new cemetery. The church had been consecrated for use at the time that it was built. Now that it is to be put into disuse and demolished so that coal may be extracted from the rocks beneath it, the community had to hold a solemn deconsecration service to, for want of a better word, desecrate it so that a holy structure should not be torn down. If that concern for the sacred had been orchestrated by the mining company one would have decried its hypocrisy. As it were, this was the desire of the people, to make the building unholy so that an unholy act could be perpetrated. We could call that a form of resistance, a registration of disgust over extractivism without boundaries. It registers that extraction defies life and notions of the sacred.

Still at the climate camp, I attended a workshop on anarchism. The key points I came away with was that anarchism is not an absence of organisation, but rather that anarchists work with nature and take part in social movements with the aim of bringing about transformation. That is revolution. The anarchist may well be ready to take action when others are far from ready. At one level, the anarchist could be engaged in insurrectionism. A significant point in anarchists toeing the eco-communism part is to overturn the Darwinian concept of survival of the strongest. How is that? Simple: when the weak come together, the can defeat the strong. Coming away from that workshop got me wondering how many folks aren’t anarchists.

Graphic recording by Jakob Kohlbrenne

My input to the battery of conversations across the camp came in a session where I shared the platform with Sheila Menon who was part of the Plane Stupid struggle against the expansion of Heathrow airport runways. We stressed the fact that the global nature of the environmental and climate changes require a recognition that we must work to bring about the consolidation of movements across obviously interconnected struggles. We stressed the need to reframe the climate narrative, build resilience in diversity and the truth that adapting to a crisis cannot be a solution to that crisis. We also stressed that in our various struggles, although targets may differ, the overall objectives remain broadly the same. From that perspective we underscored the fact that local resistances to bads are valid starting points, as they expose injustices and focusses the analyses of traumatised citizenry facing diffused dictatorships of various kinds – corporate and political. However, these need to be connected to others in order to overturn the rapacious system of exploitation, expropriation and consumption.

Following the climate camp, I was privileged to meet with and learn from activists and friends engaged in diverse sites of struggles on climate and extractive issues – from Kenya to Mozambique and Uganda. These experiences will come up in the next couple of blogs. Stay connected.

Time for Real Climate Action

the panel at the UNGA side event. President Buhari (Middle), President Mahamoudu Issoufou of Niger Republic,  sits 4th left, Nigerian Minister of Environment (3rd left)

Time for real climate action. Polluting countries must do their fair share of emissions reduction and that should be at source, not through carbon markets.

I thank President Muhammadu Buhari and the Minister of Environment (Amina Mohammed) for providing this August space to outline the efforts Nigeria is making on tackling climate as well as overall environmental change.

The Niger Delta clean up based on the UNEP Report on the Assessment of the Ogoni Environment is an excellent example of government concern for the health of the peoples and the environment as opposed to corporate focus on only profit. Coupled with the plans to end routine gas flaring, we can say that these will add up to reduce green house emissions, tackle global warming and allow the people a chance to breathe fresh air after decades of ecological despoliation. This task requires the support of the global community. Thank you Mr President.

It is good that Nigeria spent time studying the Paris Agreement before signing it. The importance of taking such steps makes deep reflections a necessity. The big questions now are with regard to the implications at a global level of contributions determined at national levels. Overall, such contributions are largely shots in the dark since they are not predicated on some scientifically allotted quantities towards meeting global emissions reduction targets.

Mechanisms should be put in place to encourage countries to urgently review their NDCs, on the basis of historical responsibility and on equitably assigned targets based on a fair sharing of the global carbon budget. The aggregate commitments currently on the table simply do not measure up to what is needed.

Considering the number of climate refugees meeting their deaths in the Sahara and in the Mediterranean Sea, no effort should be spared to get polluters to step up to the plate and do their fair share in tackling global warming.

Currently, we see countries like ours setting targets that would see them doing more than their fair share in terms of emissions cuts – than the powerful nations that are also the most polluting whose NDCs do not generally rise to much more than 20 percent of what they ought to do.

Nigeria proposes to stop routine gas flaring, invest more on solar and other renewable energy sources. She also plans to ensure efficient resource utilization, including through mass transit. Reforestation and “climate smart” agriculture are also on the cards. On that point we believe that what is needed are culture smart, ecologically sound agriculture devoid of genetic engineering or gene drives.

But who will fund the lofty NDCs that Nigeria has committed to? We submit that it is time to robustly enthrone climate justice in the climate negotiations. It is time to elevate the principles of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) beyond being a mere notion as it now is in the Paris Agreement. It is also time to to support the vulnerable on the critical issue of loss and damage caused by climate impacts.

nb-speakingPermit us to repeat the crucial issue of historical responsibility. Historical responsibility cannot be denied for ever. Someone has eaten up the climate budget. I’m sure our president could characterize this as climate corruption. If someone has polluted through the years and somebody else is condemned to suffer the impacts, the call for payment of the ecological or climate debt should not be denied or delayed. This will pay for the technology and finance much needed for the transition to clean energy far more than what their national incomes could hope to do in the near term. Climate debt trumps the current Green Climate Fund (GCF) plans.

Considering the number of climate refugees meeting their deaths in the Sahara and in the Mediterranean Sea, no effort should be spared to get polluters to step up to the plate and do their fair share in tackling global warming.

Thank you for your attention, excellences, ministers, ladies and gentlemen

Talking Points used by Nnimmo Bassey at the Nigerian event – Taking Climate Action for Sustainable Development on 22nd September 2016 at the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA)

Only tests can assure Nigerians there is no GMO rice in Nigeria, says HOMEF

NABMA ogaOnly tests can assure Nigerians there is no GMO rice in Nigeria, says HOMEF 

HOMEF and other concerned groups are concerned that our regulatory agencies, such as NBMA and the NationalAgency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) may use the cover of “non official release of GMOs” to avoid monitoring the markets and thus allowing illegal flooding of our markets with risky and unhealthy GMOs.

The attention of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) has been drawn to the response of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), through its Director General (DG) at a recent press conference, to the fears of Nigerians as to the presence of genetically modified (GMO) rice in the markets here. While trying to allay the fears of Nigerians, the DG was reported as stating that “there was no iota of truth in the report” and that no GM rice has either been imported or released officially into the country.

“The DG missed the point,” says Nnimmo Bassey, Director of HOMEF in reaction to the NBMA response. “The clarification the agency should make is whether there is GMO rice in Nigeria even if such were brought in illegally. It is also not enough to say that since there are no known commercially grown GMO rice in the world and no legally released GMO rice in Nigeria, or since there is a ban on the importation of rice, therefore there is no imported rice in Nigeria. That argument cannot stand. The job of NBMA is not only to approve GMOs or to track only approved products. The Biosafety Agency has to oversee everything biosafety in Nigeria, illegal or not.”

On whether GMO rice has been commercially released anywhere in the world, we wish to recall that illegal LibertyLink variety 601 GMO rice was tested for and found in the Nigerian market by Friends of the Earth Nigeria in 2006 as well as in 2007. 

“I was part of the team that collected rice samples and we tested rice from Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Cameroon,” says Mariann Bassey Orovwuje, Food Sovereignty campaigner of Friends of the Earth Africa/International. “That illegal rice variety was approved for release in the USA in November 2006 after complaints of its contamination was raised around the world. Indeed, at that time, the illegal rice was pulled off the shelves in some countries in Europe. Unless, and until, tests are conducted the assurances are mere talks.”

According to Gbadebo Vivour-Rhodes, ” the matter of GMO contamination of our foods cannot be waived off by hosting a press conference. NBMA should talk less and get to work on addressing fundamental deficiencies manifest in the regulatory system and ensuring that risky technologies are not allowed into Nigeria.”

HOMEF and other concerned groups are concerned that our regulatory agencies, such as NBMA and the NationalAgency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) may use the cover of “non official release of GMOs” to avoid monitoring the markets and thus allowing illegal flooding of our markets with risky and unhealthy GMOs.

“If NBMA has the laboratories and capacities it prides itself to have it should immediately audit all suspected food products in the Nigerian market, including those distributed to IDPs. Once suspicion is raised, it is results from laboratories that we want to hear about. The risk of contamination is always there and cannot be wished away,” Bassey added.

HOMEF reiterates its call for the urgent repeal or drastic review of the highly permissive NBMA Act 2015 to assure Nigerians of protection of our biodiversity and safety of our food systems. We also repeat our call for the withdrawal of permits hastily granted to Monsanto to conduct field trials of GMO maize and to grow GMO cotton in Zaria and neighbouring areas.


Cadmus Atake

Project officer



For more information contact: and

A Vote Against Genetic Extinction Technologies

Open letterGovernments and NGOs Vote Against Genetic Extinction TechnologiesPotentially Dangerous Genetic Engineering Tool Rejected by International Group of Scientists, Conservationists, and Leading Environmental Advocates

OAHU, HAWAI’I — As thousands of government representatives and conservationists convene in Oahu this week for the 2016 World Conservation Congress, international conservation and environmental leaders are sounding the alarm about the use of gene drives — a controversial new synthetic biology technology intended to intentionally cause species to become extinct. In a digital vote release August 26 by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, scientists and government representatives voted overwhelmingly for IUCN and its commissions to adopt a de facto moratorium on support or endorsement of research into gene drives for conservation or other purposes. News of the vote comes as an important open letter is published on the topic.

Scientists and environmental experts and organizations from around the globe  have advocated for a halt to proposals for the use of gene drive technologies in conservation. Announced today, a long list of environmental leaders, including Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE, genetics professor and broadcaster Dr. David Suzuki, Dr. Fritjof Capra, entomologist Dr. Angelika Hilbeck, Indian environmental activist Dr. Vandana Shiva, environmental justice advocate Nnimmo Bassey and organic pioneer and biologist Nell Newman, have lent their support to an open letter, “A Call for Conservation with a Conscience: No Place for Gene Drives in Conservation.” The letter states, in part: “Gene drives, which have not been tested for unintended consequences, nor fully evaluated for ethical and social impacts, should not be promoted as conservation tools.”

“Gene drives are basically a technology that aims for a targeted species to go extinct,” explains ecologist and entomologist Dr. Angelika Hilbeck, President of the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER). “While this may appear to some conservationist professionals to be a ‘good’ thing and a ‘silver bullet’ to handle complicated problems, there are high risks of unintended consequences that could be worse than the problems they are trying to fix.”

Both the leading developers of the technology and also those concerned about gene drives will be attending this week’s congress and holding events to raise awareness, hype promises or highlight the potential hazards of gene drives. One near-term gene drive proposal, promoted by U.S.-based non-governmental organization Island Conservation, intends to release gene drive mice on islands to eradicate them. Another led by the University of Hawai’i would develop gene drive mosquitoes for use in Hawaii to combat avian malaria which affects honeycreeper birds. The debate around gene drives is likely to resurface later this year at the negotiations of the United Nations Biodiversity Convention in Cancun Mexico in December.

“Gene drives, also known as ‘mutagenic chain reactions,’ aims to alter DNA so an organism always passes down a desired trait, hoping to change over time the genetic makeup of an entire species,” explains Dr Vandana Shiva of Navdanya. “This technology would give biotech developers an unprecedented ability to directly intervene in evolution, to dramatically modify ecosystems, or even crash a targeted species to extinction.”

“To lose sight of the problem of biodiversity loss in favor of false solutions and short-term techno-fixes such as gene drives is a dangerous path,” said Erich Pica, President of Friends of the Earth. “There are real community-based conservation efforts that are truly sustainable and should be scaled up and supported. We are very concerned gene drives will drive forward destructive agricultural practices or be used for military purposes — speculative conservation claims are at best an unfounded diversion or smokescreen.”

Signatories of the letter, which include indigenous organizations and legal experts, raised legal and moral questions, citing an “ethical threshold that must not be crossed without great restraint.”

“From military testing to GMO crops, and now gene drives, Hawai’i should not be treated as a test zone for risky and experimental technologies,” said Walter Ritte, Native Hawaiian activist and hunter. “What happens in Hawai’i must be discussed with residents, not decided from a lab on the other side of the continent. Hawaiians should decide what is best for Hawai’i.”

Some of the signing organizations will be holding a Knowledge Café event as part of the IUCN World Conservation Congress at 8:30 am (HST) on Monday, September 5. The event will be live streamed at

In response to upcoming proposals to release gene drive organisms in Hawaii, the local organization Hawai’i SEED will be hosting an educational session on gene drives in the evening on Tuesday, September 6.  See for details.


Note to editors:

  1. A short briefing outlining concerns about gene drives prepared by the Civil Society Working Group on Gene Drives is available at A copy of the letter “A Call for Conservation with a Conscience: No Place for Gene Drives in Conservation” and a complete list of signatories is available at
  2. The organizers of the letter are inviting other organizations to join as signatories. Additional organizational signatures can be sent to:
  3. More details about the Island Conservation Project to release gene drive mice are available in this article: Plans to develop gene drives for Hawaii are being developed by the lab of Dr. Floyd A, Reed of Hawaii University:
  4. The IUCN Motion on Synthetic Biology and Conservation (motion no 95) was supported by 71 Governments and 355 NGO’s (out of a total of 544 votes cast). It includes the following amendment on Gene Drives: “CALLS UPON the Director General and Commissions with urgency to assess the implications of Gene Drives and related techniques and their potential impacts on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity as well as equitable sharing of benefits arising from genetic resources, in order to develop IUCN guidance on this topic, while refraining from supporting or endorsing research, including field trials, into the use of gene drives for conservation or other purposes until this assessment has been undertaken”. A breakdown of the vote was today made available to IUCN members.

Expert contacts: Dana Perls, (925) 705-1074,; Jim Thomas, (514) 516-5759

Communications contacts: Kate Colwell, (202) 222-0744,; Trudi Zundel, (266) 979-0993,

Further contact: You can also reach us at for more information