Choking Soot + Climate Change

8292E5AE-DAB8-4EB5-A3FE-9C920433480BTogether we confront humanmade ecological challenges. Our ecological challenges are widespread and suffocating. The clearest for those of us in Port Harcourt and the Niger Delta at large, is the visibly polluted and unhealthy air that we have been forced to breathe.

We applaud our brothers and sisters that have championed and continue to champion the Stop the Soot campaign. This is one campaign that has been backed by research, competence and high-level articulation of the health and debilitating impacts of soot, or black carbon, that citizens have been condemned to breathe. The petition that has been raised on this matter should be endorsed by all citizens of Nigerians, not just residents of the Niger Delta who breathe this toxic air.

The soot is the manifestation of insidious atrocities that have gone on unchallenged in our environment. It is one that cannot be swept under the carpet. Our creeks have been dastardly polluted, indeed coated by crude oil and we have silently continued to drink the polluted water. Our lands have been heavily contaminated, our crops have wilted, rotted and we have gone home empty handed at harvest time, yet we eat our rotted tubers and continue to fall into the grip of disease. Sixty years of gas flaring has secured huge profits for oil companies and limitless revenue for politicians to fight over, but for poor communities these have meant cancers, bronchitis, asthmas, skin diseases, birth defects and acid rain, to name a few.

Our people on the coast line are continuously losing land to coastal erosion. Inshore and offshore fishing grounds are being lost to oil pollution and ocean acidification daily. We must ask the question: what have we gained from sixty years of crude oil extraction?

Today we are gathered to examine two issues at this summit. One is soot. The other is climate change. Our determination is to stop the soot. Our plan is to tackle the climate menace. Their root cause is one. To achieve the results, we need to and must aim at the root. That root is well known: fossil fuels.

It has long been determined that for the world to have a reasonable chance of keeping to a 2 degrees Celsius temperature rise above 1750 or pre-industrial levels, at least two thirds of known fossil reserves must be left in the ground. This is a scientific fact attested to by relevant global scientific and expert bodies. We cannot wish this away. Fossil fuels must be left in the ground. We have no luxury of choice on this matter. Delay will be like the case of the emperor that was dancing shaku shaku while his domain was burning.

Some Nigerians think that if new oil or gas fields are not opened our economy will collapse. Nothing can be farther from the truth. It is not about new oil fields, it is about stopping oil theft and reckless oil pollution. It is known that industrial scale oil theft is ongoing in our nation. If we consider estimates of stolen crude that we have heard from government officials over the years and combine these with the amount of oil regularly being spilled into our environment, we can safely say that, indeed, our oil output would almost double if the stealing and the spilling are stopped.

Is it oil that is keeping our economy afloat? Now that we are pumping oil at full throttle, how many of you have public electric power supply? Our gas flares or furnaces burn without ceasing, but our people still cook with firewood. If oil is boosting our economy, how come many in the formal sector go for months without wages and over sixty per cent of Nigerians eke a living in the informal sector? Why is virtually every building having a shop at the frontage? Where is almost everyone one sort of petty trader or the other?

The soot that is choking us is from the burning of fossil fuels. The sources are well known, even though officials are shy to agree. These sources include: the aged refineries, the gas flares, the bush refineries, oil spills and stolen crude that are set on fire by security forces.

We cannot emphasise this loudly enough: the soot that is choking us is from the burning of fossil fuels. The soot is choking us and our children. The solution is for us to choke the soot. We can only choke the soot by choking all the sources of soot. Stop the gas flares. Stop the ancient refineries. Stop the burning of spilled crude as well as stolen crude and illegal refineries.

We must rise and take real climate action. This is an emergency. We cannot afford any more delay. Stop the soot. Stop the pollution. Let us think, and think hard. The old mindset will not get us out of the pit. Whether we like it or not, the petrol age is drawing to a close. We must quickly close the chapter of crass pollution. Now is the time to think. It is time to act. It is time to prepare for life after oil.

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Statement by Nnimmo Bassey, Director of the ecological think tank, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (www.homef.org) at the #RiseForClimate and #StoptheSoot Summit held at Emerald Hotel, Port Harcourt, Nigeria on 11 September 2018

We Rise for Climate Justice

We Rise for Climate Justice.

The floods are coming. Our coastlines are receding. Our creeks, streams and rivers are polluted by oil spills, produced water, toxic wastes and an assortment of wastes including plastics. Deforestation continues. Desertification is not slowing down. No water to drink. No fish in our waters. Our farmlands are barren. Violent conflicts everywhere resulting from shrinking access to the gifts of nature. Our people are sick! Life has become a mist!

It is time to Rise for Climate. It is time to stand for justice.

Nigeria continues to allow routine gas flaring. Deadlines are set and goal posts are shifted continually. 62 years of unconscionable pumping of harmful elements into the atmosphere. 62 years of pretending we do not know that the diseases we see around us are not strange but are manufactured by our lack of conscience and our refusal to stop the continuous poisoning of our peoples.

It is time to open our eyes, shake off the pretense and Rise for Climate! It is time to stand for justice.

Changed weather patterns. The climate crisis is here and now. Failing agriculture. Many tragic events underscore these realities, yet rather than act and, whereas we should stop digging for and burning crude oil, we give room for false solutions like carbon marketing and dream we can solve the problem with carbon capture and burial and even through geoengineering.

Together we Rise for Climate. Together we stand for climate justice.

As the Lagdo dam in Cameroon and the Kainji dam in Nigeria send huge quantities of water down stream, our agencies raise the alarm and do little else. In 2012 we lost over 300 persons and over 2 million persons were displaced. As we speak, the scenario is repeating itself. Already over sixty communities have been submerged and at least one death has been recorded.

It is time to wake up, see the horrors and Rise for Climate! It is time to stand for justice.

Ogoni remains polluted. Oil spills are going on across the Niger Delta. Soot hangs like a blanket over Port Harcourt. We cannot wait until we perish before we rise? We shall not wait until we cannot breathe before we speak up? We cannot be silent until all our lands disappear in the ocean or are covered by the desert? The labour of our heroes past shall not be in vain? No!

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Ken Saro-Wiwa said “to be silent is treason.” He also urged action, adding “We shall do this peacefully, and we shall win!” Today we pledge to take real Climate action wherever we are. Today we pledge to stand with our peoples and fight climate criminals. Today we rise for climate and demand action. Today we rise for climate and demand justice.
— Solidarity message by Nnimmo Bassey
Director of the ecological think tank, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF)
#RiseforClimate rally at Ken Saro-Wiwa Peace Centre, Bori, Ogoni
08 September 2018

Extractives and the Privatization of Oceans

A6AB7AA6-8945-46AE-B599-F679D205DEF3Extractives and the Privatizing the Oceans. It has become common knowledge that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish. That is quite alarming. More alarming, however, should be the fact that we are already consuming a lot of plastic through the fish that still swim in our waters. Besides health impacts, the economy of fishers and their dependents is receiving crushing blows from this trend as our oceans literally get turned into dumpsites.

The oceans present pictures of limitless resources begging to be dragged out into the markets and kitchens of this world. This sense of the ocean as an inexhaustible storehouse has empowered some unscrupulous persons to throw caution to the winds as they trawl the seas, oceans and lakes catching everything from the fingerlings to mature fish. Sadly, some of these rogue fishers do not respect national boundaries and behave no better than sea bandits. Besides the stealing of sea resources, there is the alarming harvesting of fish on the West African coastline for the production of fish meal for use in industrial aquaculture production in Europe and Asia. This harvesting of fish for fish meal has raised the price of fish beyond the reach of the people who depend on them as a key source protein.

The oceans and our lakes have also become zones of interest for the extractive industries – miners and oil companies. Their activities present special dangers to the health of our creeks, rivers, lakes and oceans. The efforts to keep up profits has triggered a rush to mine the seabed in ways that should attract serious attention.

Dead Whales, Red Flags

Our coast lines are dotted with oil rigs, oil platforms and armadas of seismic vessels. Lakes Chad, Albert, Victoria, Kivu, Tanganyika, Malawi and Turkana have all attracted the claws of the oil and gas industry. These activities if not checked portend grave dangers for national security and, more urgently, for fishers and the health of our peoples.

The epidemic of dead whales washing onshore is just one indicator that all is not well. In recent months we have had reports of dead whales off the coasts of South Africa, Nigeria, Australia, Ireland, Germany and the United States of America, to mention just a few. In the case of the eight Cuvier’s beaked whales that washed up on the west coast of Ireland, scientists believe that they died of impacts of British military sonar. Of course, the British Navy denied any link between their maneuvers and the dead whales. However, naval sonars are known to have deadly impacts on whales.

Some navies use these low frequency active sonar (LFA) systems in scouring the sea bed for obstructions, mines and other elements. They use a number of underwater speakers to pulse low-frequency sounds at about 215 decibels for roughly 60 seconds a pop. The sounds travel over hundreds of kilometres and can interrupt the lives and activities of marine mammals, breaking up their communications, causing disorientation and other problems. These sonars are found in approximately 70 per cent of the world’s oceans.

The seismic exploratory activities of oil, gas and mining companies are carried out using techniques that are comparable to the naval sonars. These seismic surveys use sound energy (at decibels higher than levels that normally occur in the oceans) to map geological structures deep beneath the seabed.

Some apologists of the extractive sector continue to argue that having dead sea mammals wash up onshore is normal and is to be expected. What they do not say is that the carcasses that we see are only of those that washed to inhabited shorelines. How many dead whales and other large aquatic species die and are buried in the deep or are simply out of sight?

Threats to Our Common Heritage

In a recent letter to the International Seabed Authority (ISA), global citizens demanded that the seabed should be off limits to mining. They stated, “Moreover, a global public knowledge that deep sea extraction is under discussion is still extremely limited, as is public understanding of the implications of such a move. As deep sea mining would impact the common heritage of (human)kind in ways that are not yet scientifically well-understood, time should be taken to initiate a wider public discussion and to carry out additional scientific research.” The letter further stated, “The common heritage of (human)kind is a significant equity principle in international law. This principle was formally applied to the deep seabed through a 1970 UN resolution declaring that the ocean floor in international waters – called the ‘Area’ in international law – be employed for peaceful purposes.” It added that, “It is our view that this must not proceed without a more transparent and thorough global assessment of the ecological risks associated with deep-sea mining, as well as a more rigorous consideration of a benefit-sharing mechanism via which the common heritage principle will be upheld.”

Water Grab Through Pollution

Water pollution from oil spills and mine tailings are sources for great concern about the quality of our waters and the overall health of the marine ecosystem. The same can be said of factories and industrial installations along our coastlines, including oil refineries that use the ocean as their rubbish dump, pumping toxic loads into them and deeply compromising the health of the aquatic lives in the process.

Researchers believe that by 2035 some 40 per cent of the world population will live in areas having water scarcity. It is also said that industries account for a fifth of global water use compared with 5 per cent for humans while agriculture uses the rest. We believe that industry uses much more water than estimated because these estimates do not include the waters that industry have polluted and rendered useless for other purposes.

The creeks, rivers and swamps of the Niger delta, for example, have all be privatized by the oil companies through pollution. Our continental shelf and deep waters have been partitioned and are effectively owned by the oil companies because of the security zone ( often up to 5 km radius) around their installations that are cordoned and closed to fishers, including areas with endemic fish species. So, our waters are also privatized through security cordons for unhindered extractive activities. This is a clearly objectionable privatizing of the commons.

Fishers Unite!

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The double jeopardy for our fishers is that with polluted coastlines, the option they have to secure good catches is to go into the deep offshore, but most of them do not have boats that can venture far off the coastlines. This is the tragic economic predicament of our fishers: disrupted by pollution, stopped by the military and blocked by economics. These will remain and self-reinforce until, and unless, fishers unite and declare that fish is more valuable than oil, coal or gold. The FishNet Alliance presents a strong platform to push for water bodies devoid of extractives.

It is time to challenge activities to pose danger to our marine resources. Citizens can win when we stand together and build webs of resistance. Resolute activists in New Zealand just won an inspiring case rejecting the mining of 50 million tonnes of ironsand from a 66 square kilometres area off the South Taranaki Bight that was to be done over a period of 35 years. More victories are possible.

Today we have an instigator with deep knowledge of the deep issues pertaining to Extractives, Oceans and Fisheries. We have scholars, fishers, processors and sellers in the house. This is a good mix for sharing and contesting ideas.

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Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey, Director of the ecological think tank, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) at the Sustainability Academy with the theme, Extractives, Oceans and Fisheries, held on Friday 31 August 2018 at the Centre for Conflict and Gender Studies, University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria