Together 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.
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