Women, Re-sources, Peace and Matters Arising

 

Nnimmo May 24Although women are rarely those that trigger wars and the arms race, they are often the victims and bear the brunt of the harms that occur during the conflicts. Each International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament gives us a unique moment to reflect not just on what women suffer from the needless primitive conflicts raging in the world today, but on what women contribute to peace building in our world.

Whether conflicts are of the low or high intensity type, people suffer. Women suffer multiple deprivations in conflict situations. They bear the scars of injuries from weapons of war and also of being taken as trophies of war by deviant arms bearing men.

It is a common saying that peace is not necessarily the absence of war. In other words, the fact that there is no war does not mean that there is peace. Can we say there is peace when women are deprived of their rights to own or inherit land and other properties in certain nations? Is there peace when the environment is polluted and livelihoods are destroyed without any sense of responsibility? What about when citizens have no say as to what extractive activities are conducted in their territory or communities? Is there peace simply because deprived citizens do not bear arms?

These are questions that a day like this provides space for us to reflect on.

It is a day for us to pay tribute to women who have made valiant efforts to halt the reign of terror in the world. It is also a day to remember the girls and women that have survived the worst that terror and security forces have thrown at them. On this score, we remember the Chibok girls – released and in captivity. We salute the courage of women who have unashamedly stood up against oppression by adopting the naked option. Here we call to mind that the Rumuekpe Women Prayer Warriors used this method in their protest to the Rivers State Governor’s office and to the Rivers State House of Assembly in November 2010 demanding for action to restore peace to their community.  Others have done the same in protests against the despoliation of their environment by international oil companies operating with recklessness that would not be condoned anywhere in the world. And we cannot forget the Abriba women who a few days ago adopted the naked option peaceful protest in the face of brutal naked power.

These are matters that a day like this provides space for us to think about.

Our women have been outstanding Amazons as they tackle very hostile environmental realities in the Niger Delta. Oil spills, toxic wastes, and gas flares pose unique challenges to the health of our environment and peoples. Climate change adds to the growing list of woes that our women must contend with. These range from the shrinkage of Lake Chad, loss of coastal lands to erosion and unpredictable weather conditions. The impact on food production weigh heavily on the shoulders of our women. And how about the phenomenal conflict between herdsmen and farmers that often manifest in the rape and killing of women?

These are happenings that a day like this provides space for us to chew upon.

Our women have literally built peace with bare knuckles, so to speak, while governments around the world invest on the machines of war – cutting down and shedding innocent blood in their quest for power and control. With climate denialists in high political offices, investment in warfare puts women at greater risks, reduces humankind’s resilience to global warming, makes nonsense of efforts to pursue the United Nations Sustainability Goals. With almost 2 trillion dollars wasted on warfare yearly, whole cities destroyed as though in video games, there is little or no money for climate mitigation and building of resilience.

These are issues that a day like this provides space for us to act on.

In a series of community dialogues and sustainability academies, HOMEF’s instigators will examine how the concept of Re-Source Democracy can be interrogated and implemented to ensure that the rights of Mother Earth are not trampled underfoot and that conflicts related to the use of the gifts of Nature are eliminated as we all reconnect to hers. As we salute our valiant women who have done much to build peace in our part of the world, I invite you to sit back and receive the words that will be coming from the indefatigable Ambassador Nkoyo Toyo and the high achiever, Mrs Joy Akate Lale. We will also today be honouring the excellent legacy of peace built by the Rumuekpe Women Prayer Warriors. We are thankful to the Vice Chancellor, Prof Ndowa Lale, and the entire management team of the University of Port Harcourt for providing an excellent space for learning and for the contestation of ideas. We are also honoured to have a great peace activist in our midst, Alyn Ware, winner of the Right Livelihood Award 2009, all the way from New Zealand.

The issue of Re-Source Democracy is worth a peep on a day like this.

Re-Source Democracy by HOMEF is available online at http://www.homef.org/sites/default/files/pubs/resource-democracy.pdf. Let us see an excerpt:

Re-source Democracy requires that we recognise the fact that we do not have to exploit a re-source simply because we have it. Some places must be off limits to extractive activities especially when such re-sources are found in fragile ecosystems or in locations of high cultural, religious or social significance. Lack of respect for certain ecosystems lead to the over-harvesting of re-sources and habitat loss. These in turn could lead to biodiversity erosion and species extinction. There are examples of nations that have decided against the exploitation of certain natural re-source in order to support the higher objectives of clean and safe environments ensure citizen’s wellbeing. Examples include El Salvador where mining has been proscribed and Costa Rica where crude oil is le in the soil.

The benefits of re-source democracy include elimination of conflicts, community involvement in re-source governance and protection based on knowledge and assurance of access. It ensures an integrated and sustainable use of natural re- sources in a manner that is fully in consonance with socio-cultural, religious and political dictates. Re-source democracy ensures that we all join together in acts of solidarity to defend the natural re-sources on which we inevitably depend for our survival. It does this by recognizing the rights of nature to replenish itself, maintain its vital cycles and do so without destructive interventions by humans.

Re-source democracy gives us rights and also responsibilities. It is an inescapable construct in an era where human greed massively damages ecosystems, depletes re-sources and threatens to exceed the carrying capacity of the earth.


Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey at Sustainability Academy on Re-Source Democracy/Conflicts on the occasion of International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament co-hosted by the Centre for Conflict and Gender Studies, University of Port Harcourt and Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) on 24 May 2017.

 

In the Shadows of the Future (Poem)

In the Shadows of the Future

In a hide-away in Rustlers Valley

Lodged where the EarthRises to meet the mountains
Drawn by the call of caves and waterfalls
Enraptured by the pull of ancestral footsteps
Sucked into the silence of wisdom
Etched in the solidity of memories long grafted in our blood
We knew we were here thousands of years before
Humbled
We stooped
We rose
And beheld far flung horizons
Future Africa etched in a rocky vista
Global and Greengranting
Hope and solidarity
Pole pole

Things start from the bottom
Yet many prefer the summit
With eyes set at the pockets
Ladders kicked to secure lonely spots
Alone, encrusted in gold and diamond debris while
Folks at the bottom drown in acid mine drainage and still
Buffoons in power relish their tango in gilded caskets

In a hide-away in unnamed valleys
Taunted by numerous sunsets men celebrate
Burials in twisted metallic mind-sets
Dozing blinded by blinkers of exaggerated self-glory
Blind to
Soft trees
With roots tucked in stubborn soils
Split rocks
Yes, we are soft saplings
On the edges of the future
Ears pressed to the rocks we hear
Ancient rhapsodies we hear
Unspoken questions wafting in the air
Which is firmer as you ponder this mountain
Grass or rock?

Beholding solid shadows
We hear the oft whispered queries as
Hearts pump as we ponder the mountains of life
Are you ascending?
Are you descending?
What is the spiral locked in your DNA?
Standing in silence we
Untwist our minds as we
Stand at liberty at the feet of Mother Earth as we
Eliminate blinkers of exaggerated self-glory we
Know that saplings
With roots hooked in stubborn soils
Will split the most stubborn rocks
Pole pole

As we ponder the shadows and the cracks
This poem will be finished…
In the valley or
on the mount


(For Jay Naidoo & Stephen Pittam)

11 May 2017

Eco-Instigator #15 : Promoting Biosafety in Nigeria

ECO INSTIGATOR 15 coverThe heat is on, as the saying goes. As the forces of environmental harm increase the heat on the planet, ecological defenders are stepping up on mobilisations and vigorously standing up for justice.

One key trending environmental matter in Nigeria in the rst quarter of 2017 was the soot or black carbon that blanketed Port Harcourt. The visible pollution got people talking and government agencies scrambling to check the situation.

Another boiling issue was that of Biosafety or the threats of genetically modied organisms (GMOs) in Nigeria. An innocuous newspaper report relaying the ndings of an ad-hoc committee of the Nigerian Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) set up to advise the body on issues of genetic engineering has led to strenuous rebuttals and disclaimers from public agencies working on Biosafety and GMO issues. We serve you the report, the rebuttals and our own response. This is a matter that requires continuous vigilance and we promise to return to it in Eco-Instigator #16.

Always on the go? Check out the article by Sonali Narang on the need to watch our carbon footprint. And we serve excellent poetry from the pen of one of Nigeria’s acclaimed poets, Amu Nnadi.

Read, think, react, reach us. Until victory!

Read the edition here: ECO INSTIGATOR 15

What We Eat (must not eat us)

IMG_5511What We Eat (must not eat us): The key myths by which citizens are sold the idea of GMOs as being desirable include that they provide the most assured way of feeding the burgeoning population of hungry mouths in the world. The planks on which this highly seductive myth has been erected are quite flimsy. Research has shown that GMOs do not necessarily yield higher than normal crops, making the talk of producing more food by using GMOs simply fatuous. Secondly, over one third of food currently produced in the world today simply gets wasted, while most of the GMOs currently grown in the world end up as animal feed.

The need to interrogate our biosafety has become very pertinent because of the many myths around modern agricultural biotechnology. These myths are being peddled regularly by the industry promoting genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and their team players in public offices. A major plank on which biosafety, and perhaps biosecurity, rests is the precautionary principle[1]. This principle, or approach, is a safeguard against the permission or introduction of products or elements into the environment where there is no scientific consensus that such an introduction would be safe or would not have an adverse impact. In other words, the precautionary principle helps to disallow the use of citizens as guinea pigs in experimental release of products that could harm them. The argument that there is a risk in everything is hollow and an acceptance of that as an excuse to expose citizens to harm is inhuman.

In this engagement on biosafety we hope to share information on the issues of biosafety and GMOs in Nigeria and Africa. The aim is that media practitioners would be able to sift the facts from the myths, and by so doing help the public to require a sense of responsibility from our biosafety regulators, research institutions, political forces and commercial interests behind the risky genetic engineering approach to food production.

The key myths by which citizens are sold the idea of GMOs as being desirable include that they provide the most assured way of feeding the burgeoning population of hungry mouths in the world. The planks on which this highly seductive myth has been erected are quite flimsy. Research has shown that GMOs do not necessarily yield higher than normal crops, making the talk of producing more food by using GMOs simply fatuous. Secondly, over one third of food currently produced in the world today simply gets wasted,[2] while most of the GMOs currently grown in the world end up as animal feed.[3]

Another argument used to sell GMOs is that they require the use of less chemical in terms of pesticides and herbicides because the crops can be engineered to withstand herbicides or to act as pesticides themselves. The emergence of what have been termed super weeds and superbugs have dented that claim as farmers have had to sometimes apply stronger doses of herbicides and pesticides on farms where such weeds or pests emerge. In any case, the herbicide known as Roundup/glyphosate to which crops engineered by Monsanto are resistant, has been said to be a ‘possible’ source for cancer.[4]

Evidence is now mounting that there has been a collusion by biotech companies and regulators in the USA to conceal the fact that glyphosate is indeed a probable human carcinogen. One Environmental Protection Agency official, Marion Copely, in a 2013 email[5] stating the following ways in which glyphosate can cause cancer:

  1. Endocrine disruption
  2. Free radical formation and inhibition of free radical-scavenging enzymes
  3. Genotoxicity — which is key in cancer onset
  4. Inhibition of certain DNA repairing enzymes
  5. Inhibiting the absorption of essential nutrients
  6. Renal and pancreatic damage that may lead to cancer
  7. Destruction of gut bacteria and suppression of the immune system

The official (who has cancer and passed on in 2014) added, “Any one of these mechanisms alone listed can cause tumors, but glyphosate causes all of them simultaneously. It is essentially certain that glyphosate causes cancer. With all of the evidence listed above, the CARC category should be changed to ‘probable human carcinogen.’”[6]

A report published yesterday by Global 2000 shows that between 2012 and 2016, biotech companies sponsored a series of review articles asserting that glyphosate and its commercial formulations are not injurious to health. The Global 2000 report, “buying Science” reveals that the industry-sponsored reviews of glyphosate’s carcinogenicity and genotoxicity (ability to damage DNA) have serious scientific flaws, including assigning greater weight to unpolished studies than peer-reviewed ones. The papers are said to also have introduced irrelevant data in violation of standard guidelines for the evaluation of cancer studies in rodents. Moreover, the reviews also consistently assign greater weight to unpublished industry studies than to studies that were peer-reviewed and published in scientific journals.[7]

The National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) on 1st May 2016 approved for Monsanto/NABDA to introduce genetically engineered maize varieties that would depend on this cancer-causing weed killer. Responding to objections to the permits and the obnoxious chemical, Monsanto issued a press response claiming that the chemical would not offer any cause for worry if farmers apply them strictly according to the guidelines or labels on the packets.[8] We note that overwhelming evidence show serious health impacts of agro-chemicals on persons working on farms planted with GMOs or living in close proximity to such farms.[9]

We invite journalists to interrogate the fact that GMOs are grown as mono-cultures and consider what this would mean to our agricultural system which is anchored on mix-cropping that promotes diversity and resilience. It also pays for us to look at the woeful performance of GMO cotton in Burkina Faso where the crop is being phased out and the remarkable failure in Makhathini Flats in South Africa where it was showcased as a grand success for small scale farmers in the late 1990s. We should point out that it is the same failed GMO cotton that has been halted in Burkina Faso that has been permitted to be commercially released into Nigeria.

You will hear in this programme how our regulatory agency works in cohort with GMO promoters and where official GMO promoters are interlocked with Monsanto, as for example in the GMO maize application and approval. As one ancient philosopher said, we simply have to believe the evidence of our “eyes” before we jump unto the GMO bandwagon in the pretext that we are doing science, claiming that all is well, when there are deep wells of doubts concerning the technology.

As we speak, GMO products are already on our market shelves. And a plethora of field trails of others are ongoing, including that of GMO beans that may be introduced into the Nigerian markets by 2019, according to the promoters[10]. HOMEF and other critical observers have scrutinized the NBMA Act of 2015 and found critical clauses in it that makes its capacity to protect our environment and health very questionable. We have also proposed how this situation can be remedied: either a total repeal of the act or a drastic review of the questionable provisions.

My task is to declare this training open. I do so now. And I urge you to engage and contest any ideas you are not in agreement with. And do see our publications, including our GMO Factsheet for more information. We should be concerned about what we eat. And we should not be forced to eat what we do not want to eat.

Let the conversations proceed.

Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey, Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) at Media Training-Promoting Biosafety in Nigeria held in Benin City , Nigeria, on Friday, 24th March 2017

Notes

[1] http://www.precautionaryprinciple.eu

[2] UNEP. 2016. Food Waste: The Facts. http://www.worldfooddayusa.org/food_waste_the_facts

[3]David Johnson and Siobhan O’Connor. 2015. These Charts Show Every Genetically Modified Food People Already Eat in the US. Time Health.  http://time.com/3840073/gmo-food-charts/

[4] Roundup weedkiller ‘probably’ causes cancer, says WHO study. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/mar/21/roundup-cancer-who-glyphosate-

[5] See report on “Heartbreaking letter from dying EPA scientist begs Monsanto “moles” inside the agency to stop lying about dangers of RoundUp (glyphosate)” at http://www.naturalnews.com/2017-03-15-heartbreaking-letter-from-dying-epa-scientist-begs-monsanto-moles-inside-the-agency-to-stop-lying-about-dangers-of-roundup-glyphosate.html

[6] Vicki Batts. March 23, 2017. Thousands of people now have non-Hodgin’s Lymphoma due to glyphosate (Roundup) exposure, warns legal firm that’s suing Monsanto. http://www.naturalnews.com/2017-03-23-thousands-of-people-now-have-non-hodgkins-lymphoma-due-to-glyphosate-roundup-exposure-warns-legal-firm-thats-suing-monsanto.html

[7] GM Watch. 23 March 2017. New report shows glyphosate producers are “buying science.” http://gmwatch.org/news/latest-news/17518

[8] Ben Ezeamalu. June 11, 2016. Monsanto responds to PREMIUM TIMES’ report, says own modified crops ‘safe.’ http://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/more-news/205109-monsanto-responds-premium-times-report-says-modified-crops-safe.html

[9] Paul Koberstein. June 16, 2014. GMO companies are dousing Hawaiian island with toxic pesticides. http://grist.org/business-technology/gmo-companies-are-dousing-hawaiian-island-with-toxic-pesticides/

[10] Zakariyya Adaramola. November 29, 2016. Nigeria to get GM beans in commercial quantities by 2019- NABDA. https://www.dailytrust.com.ng/news/health/nigeria-to-get-gm-beans-in-commercial-quantity-by-2019-nabda/173748.html

Standing up for the Trees!

Monitoring-ProtestCommunities stand up for the trees! Communities are best placed to monitor their forests because they live in the forests, depend on forest resources and readily notice threat and changes that occur in such forests. When the communities, such as yours, are especially dedicated to preserve forests, monitoring becomes a top priority. It is with this understanding that Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) is engaging in the training of forest monitors in your community. This exercise is a follow up to our earlier forest dialogues and training on forest EIA. We believe that you will further train other monitors so that we build a strong network of forest watchers and defenders.

The monitoring training is developed in modules covering aspects including what forests are, the laws and regulations cover our forests, the health impacts of forest degradation, tools and methods for forest monitoring, reporting and ecological defence. In the training process, we will also stress the fact that a plantation is not a forest. This is something you know very well because a plantation is an enclave of monoculture and cannot provide the services that forests provide. Moreover, plantations are often out of bounds to communities except for individuals sometimes employed to provide cheap labour on them. The expansion of oil palm plantations in this part of the country is already impacting on the Cross River National Park (CRNP) and community forests. This monitoring training will equip communities to document changes, unauthorised entries/encroachments and duly bring such to the attention of relevant government authorities.

This effort is being conducted with the support of the Small Grants Project of the Global Environment Facility (SGP/GEF) and is targeted at ensuring that the pristine community forests of Cross River State, Nigeria, as well as the CRNP are not degraded, destroyed or converted through any action or activity inimical to the interests of the people and the planet. The immediate threat to the forests in the Cross River State is the proposed six-lanes Superhighway project that is supposed to stretch over a distance of 260 kilometres and connect a proposed sea port to Katsina Ala town in Benue State, Nigeria.

As the WCS stated in one of their reports, “the listing of the small Indian mongoose and Chinese alligator [in the EIA] is truly shocking and strongly indicates that the consultants may not be competent or qualified to undertake a project of this magnitude and importance.”

The Superhighway project met local, national and international outrage because of the threat it poses to the last tracts of rainforests in Nigeria and because the government also revoked your occupancy rights and that of individuals and other communities in the area lying within 10 km on either side of the proposed highway. The proclamation that the record-breaking land grab was for the purpose of creating a development corridor was not bought by you or by other communities and the general public. HOMEF applauds your resilience and defence of your forests and our collective heritage.

Rally 2It is salutary that the government of Cross River State has announced that the revocation order has now been annulled. This is the sort of outcome that we can expect from frontline ecological defenders such as you in the affected communities. We use this opportunity to call on CRSG to issue a gazette affirming the annulment of the revocation order and declaring that the community forests and the CRNP must not be assaulted by any act of land use changes or infrastructure development. This is the way to protect our biodiversity for our good, for future generations and for the overall good of the planet.

We also call on the CRSG to assure the world that their threat to continue with the Superhighway project without an approved EIA was a grave error that would not be carried out. A situation whereby a state government flagrantly breaks the law would spell disaster for resource governance and could lead to a breakdown of law and order as the government itself would not have the standing to demand that project proponents within the state obey any of the state’s environmental regulations.

We also note that the EIA in question has been shown to be unacceptable by the Federal Ministry of Environment and noted experts and groups including the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). As the WCS stated in one of their reports, “the listing of the small Indian mongoose and Chinese alligator [in the EIA] is truly shocking and strongly indicates that the consultants may not be competent or qualified to undertake a project of this magnitude and importance.”

We reiterate the call that the Superhighway should be realigned away from forests or, better still, the government should simply repair and expand the existing dilapidated highway. Above all, it is your commitment as forest dependent community people that can decisively stem the forces of forest degradation.

You are welcome to this training. We will have more of trainings and dialogues here and in other communities. We pledge to stand with you at all times to ensure that our heritage is not abused or destroyed for any reason.

Until victory!


Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey, Director, HOMEF, at the Community Forests Training held at Old Ekuri, Cross River State, Nigeria on Saturday 11 March 2017

System Change Will Not be Negotiated

nbSystem Change will not be Negotiated[1] — We frequently hear calls for system change at public mobilisations, in conference halls and even in negotiation halls. The calls come as slogans, they come in anger and they come as a strong rebuke to the systemic scaffold on which our pains, exploitation and denial of voice and rights are hung.

Sometimes one gets the impression that this system that must be changed is chameleonic and could stand for any system that one may be grinding against. In other words, it lends itself to being used as a broad slogan that could swing in any direction. We can understand this in the sense of a manipulator and beneficiary of a crooked system presenting himself or herself as an agent of anti-establishment. Obviously, this is not what we are concerned about.

The necessity of system change is inescapable because the present system is dependent on the extreme exploitation and enslavement of nature and labour while denying its inherently unjust core. We are in the dying days of a civilisation driven by fossil fuels. This end is not coming merely because of the recorded and predicted severe species extinction, or by peak oil. No.  Its end is being heralded by a looming climatic catastrophe and by the reawakening of social forces realising that slavery persists as long as the enslaved is unaware of his state. Our urgent task is to reclaim the future and this will not be attainable if the current system persists.

We borrow the words of Oilwatch International to further highlight the unacceptable realities that necessitate system change: There are similarities in the current pattern of resource exploitation in countries of the Global South, and affected peoples in the rest of the world which reflects historical legacy of disempowerment of peoples, plunder of natural resources and destruction of environment, [we] considers the recognition of the right of peoples to self-determination and cultural integrity as primary in the resolution of environmental problems.[2]

Green Capitalism

Green was once a colour. Now it is a market tool! Today it has turned into an anaesthetic or a silencing code that ensures that harmful market mechanisms are foisted on Nature and we are generally lulled to accept that Nature cannot be protected unless financial value is placed on her. Market environmentalism has thrown up a plethora of instruments such of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD), REDD plus, emissions trading schemes (ETS), clean development mechanisms (CDM) and the like.

The Rio + 20 summit of 2012 served as a platform for the elevation of the concept of Green Economy as a major plank for global environmental governance, especially including with regard to climate change. The concept permits the financialization of everything including very basic cycles of Nature such as pollination. With climate change action boxed as a matter of means of handling carbon emissions, the world conveniently ignores the root cause of the crises: the origins of the emission. And so, all focus has been on symptoms rather than the cause. This is why anyone would accept that “a tonne of CO2 not only equals any other tonne of CO2 no matter where it was emitted but that other greenhouse gases can be counted in CO2-equivalents.”[3]

Climate change negotiations offer us a clear lens of seeing that market environmentalism approaches are merely means of escape from responsibility and measureable action. They push the duty for climate action into the realm of bad fiction. A look at the Paris Agreement reached at COP21 reveals that the major cause of global warming, fossil fuels utilisation in production and transportation is not recognised in the process of tackling global warming. And as noted above, the notion that any carbon emitted anywhere can be offset by carbon absorbed anywhere else has led to the rise of the concept of net emissions and may offer polluting nations the ultimate escape hatch through which they would keep their levels of pollution and consumption, while grabbing lands, forests and water bodies elsewhere to compensate for their bad behaviour.

Green economy is a neo-liberal idea that hoists the financialization of Nature and carbon offsetting as ideal tools for nature protection. Truth is that it has been cooked up to entrench current capitalist production modes and power relations where might is right. Poor, vulnerable and cash strapped nations that contribute little or nothing to global warming are made to see the trickles that drop into their empty bowls from market mechanisms, while citizens are displaced from their territories and are literally forced to bear a disproportionate level of real climate actions. This entrenched unjust situation is neo-colonial and imperialist. It upturns every notion of justice, including the very basic common but differentiated responsibilities anchor of earlier climate negotiations such as the ones that threw up the Kyoto Protocol that is now literally on tenuous life-support.

A just climate regime ought not to scratch for funds to tackle the emergencies already throwing up climate refugees. A clear solution for climate finance based on the overall premise of social engineering for system change was agreed to by peoples of the world at the Peoples Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth.

The Peoples Agreement reached at the Cochabamba conference demanded that countries cut their emissions by at least 50 per cent at source in the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (2013–17), without recourse to offsets and other carbon trading schemes. In terms of finance, the Peoples Agreement demanded that developed countries commit 6 per cent of their GDP to finance adaptation and mitigation needs. It was also affirmed that there is a climate debt that must be recognised and paid. The payment of climate debt is not seen as a mere demand for reparations, but principally as a means of decolonising the atmospheric space and redistributing what meagre space or carbon budget is left as industrialised nations have already colonised 80 per cent of that space. It is also a means towards obligating humans to take actions to restore disrupted natural cycles of Nature[4]

It is now general knowledge that to keep temperature increase to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels at least 80 per cent of currently known fossil fuels reserves must be left untapped and unburned. The troubling issue is not only that this is not being discussed at the climate negotiations, but that new reserves are being hunted for and extreme extraction methods such as hydraulic fracturing (fracking) are being intensified. This is a clear throwback to fiddling while the city burns.

The system is so locked in on its fossil path that the mention of crude oil, coal or fossil fuels in general is a taboo to be avoided at all costs. The insistence that fossil fuels will remain a major part of the energy mix of the world for the foreseeable future appears to some of us a confirmation of wilful myopia among negotiating nations.

The fact that fossil fuels are not renewable does not deter the fossil addicts. In order to remove the cloud of dust (and doubt) over fossil fixations, the industry came up with the term clean coal. They also came up with the notion that carbon pollution can be tackled through carbon capture and storage or sequestration. The other array of options includes types of geo-engineering that could either shield the earth from the sun or get the oceans to absorb more carbon. These are all ways of resisting the need for change and ensuring business as usual while selling unproven technologies. The best outcome of this scenario is to postpone the evil day and build an uncertain future for our children. Unfortunately, that day cannot be postponed much longer except the world wishes to take a plunge back into more brazen levels of barbarism.

Centrality of Nature

The call for system change is a call to a common-sense path that would secure the survival of the human race. It is also a call for humans to recognise their humanity as just one of the species on planet earth. Studies and observations have shown that species stand better chances of survival when they cooperate, live and work in solidarity. This is the kind of benefit humans derive when we work in solidarity rather than in competition. This is the way to build an equitable future when we build bridges and not walls; when we give up some space and allow others to breath. Clearly, the current system of explanation does not support cooperation and cannot offer an acceptable future.

The Earth speaks. The sky speaks. The trees speak. All of Nature speak. Communication is a vital tool for survival. Let us take one example of how certain trees in the African savannah communicate in order to avoid having their leaves eaten up. Researchers found that when giraffes start to eat the leaves of umbrella thorn acacias, the trees released some toxic substances that offended the taste buds of the giraffes. That was direct defence line. Beyond this, the researchers noticed that the giraffes would skip the next umbrella thorn acacia trees, move by about 100 metres before resuming their dinner.

Why did they move over such a distance before resuming their feast? This is the explanation (Wohlleben, 2015): “The acacia trees that were being eaten gave off warning gas (specifically, ethylene) that signalled to neighbouring trees of the same species that a crisis was at hand. Right away, all the forewarned trees also pumped toxins into their leaves to prepare themselves. The giraffes were wise to this game and therefore moved farther away to a part of the savannah where they could find trees that were oblivious to what was going on.”[5] Trees communicate by a variety of other ways, including through their roots systems, affirming metaphorically that indeed, it takes roots to weather the storm. It also validates the old saying that a tree does not make a forest even though this is falsely claimed to be possible through monocultures and plantations.

Re-Source Democracy

We speak of the gifts of Nature as re-sources. Yes, re-sources, intentionally hyphenated because we are not speaking of commodities, but of the vital need for humans to return to source, to reconnect to Nature, to think of the source before lifting the chisel, hammer, shovel, drill or rig. We have to stand in humility before Nature, recognise our finite place in her and affirm that the harm that we have inflicted on Mother Earth has been driven mostly by the creed of market fundamentalism that has grossly alienated us from Nature.

Re-source democracy is a call for the recognition of the rights of Nature, including her right to regenerate and maintain her cycles. It is built on a clear understanding of the uses and intrinsic values of the gifts of Nature. It calls for our understanding of the harmful impacts of human activities to the climate, the planet and all the beings inhabiting her. Re-source democracy demands the interrogation of the meaning of progress and development towards the end of helping us draw the line between what we can accept or reject in our environment.[6] Navdanya further gives clarity to this idea: ‘We need a new paradigm to respond to the fragmentation caused by various forms of fundamentalism. We need a new movement, which allows us to move from the dominant and pervasive culture of violence, destruction and death to a culture of non-violence, creative peace and life…the Earth democracy movement…provides an alternative worldview in which humans are embedded in the Earth Family, we are connected to each other through love, compassion, not hatred and violence and ecological responsibility and economic justice replaces greed, consumerism and competition as objectives of human life.’[7]

Current dominant development modes are energy intensive and require more and more re-sources to generate that energy to keep the machines rolling and to feed the appetite of humankind for consumption and for cash. The ‘resource’ conflicts and wars we see today in the world can be grouped as fights to grab resources or to keep others from grabbing the resources. Some are also wars to attenuate efforts of certain nations to build up their societies and peoples. There appears to be a struggle to have a monopoly over what development means, who can aspire to it, who should be developed and who should not. This warped prepositions have led to the manifestation of extremely primitive warfare being conducted with highly sophisticated hardware, including drones, underscoring the paradox of what civilisation really means.

These conflicts and the harm will intensify as the non-renewable re-sources run out and as habitable environment for the reproduction of renewable re-sources reduce. Toss into that volatile mix the rise of authoritarian governments with peculiar notions of national sovereignties and we will have a wild world devoid of rules. Wars powered by greed and faulty relationships with Nature’s gifts do not end easily and nations never really win such wars and conflicts. The winners invariably are mercenaries, war contractors, other multinational extractive companies and weapons makers/dealers.

Convergence of Movements

System change will be birthed by a convergence of movements. It will not be a matter of either or, it will be a matter for all. The silos delineated, owned and protected by environmental, political, social, religious and sundry movements must be broken down. We have to continually remind ourselves that we do not lead one-dimensional lives but that our lives and realities are formed by a web of relationships, issues and realities. As these issues are never one-dimensional we require diversity of approaches to effectively confront and overcome them – with the diversity of movements coalescing around common organizing principles. For example, in the case of ecological resurgence, movements can come together using the Precautionary Principle as a pivot. Another basic impulse will be the recognition of the leadership of communities of peoples – especially indigenous women – on the frontlines of ecological defense and system change struggles. These brave souls are engrossed in building webs of struggles and laying down their lives in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. We pause in honour of their spilt blood and undying memories.

System Change will not be Negotiated

The present fossil-based civilization is running out of gas and its terminal point is imminent – whether planned or not. Our task is to hasten the demise of this destructive system where unjust relations are seen as opportunities for amassing profit and where life means nothing before the altar of capital. This is the time for drastic actions to bring about ecological health for all our communities and relatives on planet Earth. It is a time when we urgently need to change the narrative that we can measure well-being by aggregating gross (mark that term) domestic products. The struggles of First Nation brothers and sisters in North America, the Ogoni in Nigeria’s Niger Delta, the Yasunidos of Ecuador and many others show that the battle can be tough and abrasive. But we have no options. Industrial growth societies have been built on the platforms of gross injustice – including by slavery, colonialism and disruption of thriving socio-economic systems through structural adjustment dictates of international financial institutions and undemocratic, self-appointed, groupings such as the G8 (or 7) and G20 and others like them.

In the words of legendary Wangari Maathai, “For decades, Africa has been urged to emulate this financial system and practices acquired from the industrialized world. While this structure enriched the West, practicing it without caution has only impoverished Africa.”[8] For the preservation of humankind on planet Earth, systems like these and their power-relations cannot continue to exist.

We are conscious of the fact that those who benefit from the unjust, disruptive and unsustainable system will not listen to logical needs for system change. They have heard it over and over again. They simply cannot bear to think of anything other than their privileges and acquired levels of comforts. It is a system that throws up a handful of men that have more financial means than billions of men and women. It is a system where the poor, no matter how wise, cannot sit on the official negotiation tables. It is a system that believes that with financial means one can make a dash for safety on another planet or meteorite if apocalypse happens. It would have been a make-belief world, where its  horrors were not rooted in reality.

History will judge the present generation very harshly if a transition is not urgently made to a Life-Sustaining Society – a society that is not hierarchical, but one in which humans and the environment are linked, not ranked. This society will come about only if we stand together with Earth Protectors and denounce the criminalisation of dissent and the constriction of democratic space that is fast becoming the norm.

A cardinal hurdle that must be crossed for needed radical change is the great shift in perception, a shift of values and narratives. It is time to speak up and let a thousand solutions bloom. It is no time to be silent, because, as Frantz Fanon stated in his resignation letter to the French colonial government, “There comes a time when silence becomes dishonesty”[9] and, if you permit me to add, cowardice and accommodation of injustice. We need to “redefine our wealth and our worth. The reorganisation of our perceptions liberates us from illusions about what we need to own and what our place is in the order of things. Moving us beyond tired old notions of competitive individualism, we come home to each other and our mutual belonging in the living body of Earth.”[10]

System change will not be negotiated. A ravenous capitalist system in its twisted struggles to stave off imminent implosion will not give up its powers of control and parasitic existence. System change will come about when the power of We the People becomes a rallying call and a pivot f action. We the People can redefine energy and own our clean, localised, energy generation and production systems. We the People can reclaim our streams, creeks and rivers and deny industry their privatisation and use as sewers.

As the saying goes: freedom is not something that is given, it is taken. System change will either be intentionally engineered or it will erupt through a global revolutionary moment. Change will come as fists burst through the cracks in the pavements just like saplings —spring from hardened soils.

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Notes

[1] Nnimmo Bassey is Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (www.homef.org), the ecological think tank and advocacy organisation with head office in Benin City, Nigeria. These were the talking the points used in the Keynote address given on February 15, 2017 at Ecological Challenges Conference (Academia meets Activism) 2017, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway.

[2] Oilwatch Africa. Oilwatch principles. http://oilwatchafrica.org/about-us/

[3] Thomas Fatheuer, Lili Fuhr and Barbara Unmubig (2016) Inside the Green Economy – Promises and Pitfalls, Munchen, green books P16

[4] Nnimmo Bassey (2012) To Cook a Continent – Destructive Extraction and the Climate Crisis in Africa. Oxford: Pambazuka Press. P.109-110

[5] Peter Wohlleeben (2016) The Hidden Life of Trees – What they feel, how they communicate. Vancouver: Greystone Books. P7

[6] See more at http://www.homef.org/publication/re-source-democracy

[7] Earth Democracy http://www.navdanya.org/earth-democracy

[8] Wangari Maathai (2009)The Challenge for Africa. London: Arrow Books. P.7

[9] Frantz Fanon (1967) Toward The African Revolution- Political Essays (translated by Haakon Chevalier). New York: Grove Press. P.54

[10] Joanna Macy and Molly Brown (2016) Coming Back to Life – the updated guide to The Work That Reconnects. Gabriola Island: New Society Publishers. P.14

The Long, winding Superhighway

The Long, winding Superhighway. The controversy surrounding the 260 km Superhighway proposed by the Cross River State government (CRSG) of Nigeria will not go away. Notably, the bulldozing of forests, farmlands and sundry properties commenced last year without an approved Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Curiously, the government issued an edict dispossessing individuals and communities of lands lying within an incredible 10 km width on either side of the proposed superhighway.

The proposed for this land grab covers 5200 square kilometres or an astonishing 25 percent of the landmass of Cross River State. The best argument presented by defenders of the proposal is that the massive land uptake of 10 km on either side of the superhighway is essential for the protection of the superhighway. If that argument is interpreted to mean that the government plans to keep the people away from the superhighway so as to protect it, we would like to know for whom the highway is meant.

To many observers, the fact that the highway starts from a proposed deep seaport and ends in a small Sahellian town suggests that the main intent may be the harvesting of timber from community and National Forests for export.

The promise by the government that it would replace each mowed tree with two or up to five saplings and that no one should worry about any deforestation ensuing from the bulldozing of existing forests is a brilliant narrative that is anchored on fiction. First, what species of trees would be planted? Secondly, what replaces the ecosystems that would be destroyed including the threatened endemic species in the five protected areas to be impacted by the project? The five protected areas to be directly damaged by the project include Cross River National Park, Ukpon River Forest Reserve and the Cross River South Forest Reserve, the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary and the Afi River Forest Reserve.

It is possible that the CRSG is not aware of what would be lost if the pristine forests are destroyed. We say so because the EIA presented by the State government to the Federal Ministry of Environment has a curious list of animals that are not found in the region in question, with some not even being found in Nigeria or Africa. This anomaly suggests that the EIA is a copy-and-paste document that is not site-specific and should be rejected outright.

The women demand that the superhighway should be rerouted and that the wishy-washy EIA being presented to the Federal Ministry of Environment should not be approved. We could not agree more. 

In particular, the EIA lists small Indian and Chinese alligators among the species found in the Cross River forests. Other species that may have been created by the writers of the EIA include, black and white colobus monkey, Dent’s monkey, blue monkey and the roloway monkey. This is mind-boggling by any measure. The EIA lists 17 bird species whereas there are up to 400 species in the threatened forests.  The consultants also repeatedly refer to the Cross River National Park as the Oban Group of Forests even though a name change took place in 1991.

Communities threatened by the project have repeatedly said that there was no free prior informed consent of the people to this project. They insist that they need access roads and are not averse to such access being provided. What they cannot fathom is why a State that prides itself as being environment friendly and climate conscious would plan to decimate the last remaining pristine rainforests in Nigeria.

The latest protest has come from women and girls of Etara, Eyeyeng, Edondon, Okokori, Old Ekuri and New Ekuri, Iko Esai and Owai communities in Etung, Obubra and Akamkpa Local Government Areas in the state, under the aegis of the Wanel-Aedon Development Association (WANELDON).

In a protest letter dated 30th January 2017 tagged “Our Opposition to the Revocation of our Lands for a Superhighway” and sent by WALNELDON to President Buhari, the women proclaimed their “total opposition against Governor Ben Ayade’s revocation of swathe of all our lands for a superhighway.” They claim among other things, that they were excluded from all decision-making processes related to the project and that the project as an affront to their social and economic rights. The women also insist that the project would negate key Sustainability Development Goals (SDG) 1 to 5: No Poverty; No Hunger; Good Health and Well-being; Quality Education and Gender Equality.

The women note that they are ethnic minorities that are being made to suffer multiple discrimination and deprivation including by being rendered internally displaced persons (IDPs) and subjected to heightened vulnerability in other ways. For this and many other reasons, the request President Buhari to governor to “de-revoke” [ownership] of all their “lands including settlements, farmlands and forests.”

The women also demand that the superhighway should be rerouted and that the wishy-washy EIA being presented to the Federal Ministry of Environment should not be approved. We could not agree more. If the 10km land grab has been reversed, as claimed by the State’s commissioner for Climate Change at the 18th Bassey Andah Memorial Lecture held in Calabar recently, the CSRG should publish such a “de-revoking order” for avoidance of doubt.