Between Truth and Falsehood

Fabulous Fake Music (or When Fake is Real).

The need to deepen the interrogation of the current tensions between truth and falsehood cannot be overemphasised. With the rise of fake news and alternative facts, reality has come to be doubted. What is real could turn out to be fake and what is true could turn out to be false. This was the thematic focus of a recent Elevate Festival held in Graz, Austria, that this writer participated in.

Strands of conversation covered music, arts and political discourse. It was at this event that I got to hear of, and experience, fake music for the first time. In the performance at the opening session of the festival, the music was jarring, arresting and unforgettable. Was this music or was it a clash of sounds, light and vocal gymnastics? This was the sort of creativity that creeps on you and leaves you wondering what you just experienced. In other sessions, participants were immersed in a clash of words, more words, concepts and yet more words. Interestingly, they were also concrete.

According to the organisers, “Elevate’ is an annual interdisciplinary festival…With its unique combination of critical political discourse and contemporary music and art, the ‘Elevate Festival’ stands out of the ‘usual’ festival circus. Amongst the guests are human rights experts, climate researchers and activists from all over the world, who gather in Graz once a year with musicians and artists, illuminating pertinent issues of our future.”

One of the highlights of my participation was a visit to a chocolate factory, Zotter Schokoladen Manufaktur, which is more than just a place for making and eating the delicious stuff. With a hands-on leadership provided by its founder, Josef Zotter, the establishment produces up to 500 varieties of chocolates and admits 270,000 visitors a year. Among the attractions on the sprawling grounds of the establishment is an Edible Zoo, restaurant and a Choco Shop Theatre. What is an edible zoo? If you are curious about this, you definitely have company. The ‘zoo’ provides the meat served in the onsite restaurant. Yes, the meat comes from the animals that roam the farm here. When visitors that visit here see the connection, they either get drawn into eating more meat or they may decide against meat.

The cocoa beans used in making chocolates here are sourced mostly from cooperatives in Ecuador, Belize and other Latin American countries. A fraction of the cocoa beans is sourced from Africa. These come from Congo DR and Madagascar. Not one cocoa bean from Nigeria. The company uses only organic cocoa beans and is strictly concerned about fair trade, good quality beans and the working conditions of the farmers and harvesters.

Back at the festival, there were important discussions on topics such as climate truth/climate lies; conspiracy theories and conspiracy facts; echo chambers and bubble breakers. Two of the conversations that grabbed my attention were the ones on the intersection or lack of it of civil society activism and politics. The second conversation was on climate refugees.

The exchange of views in the session on civil society and politics was framed around the questions: “How does progressive or ecological politics actually come about? Is it political parties and parliamentarians who have prevailed here? Or are NGOs and civil societies the ones that provide the necessary pressure? And how does the cooperation look like? Is it necessary or should too much proximity among NGOs, grassroots movements and politics be avoided?”

The lead conversation was between yours truly and Thomas Waitz, member of the Green Party of Austria and member of the European Parliament. Waitz is an organic farmer, activist and politician all rolled into one. He makes politics look so good. His positions drive home the truth that politics remains a dirty game when those that can help transform it stand aside rather than step into the fray.

While politicians tend to seek to maintain the status quo and their grip on power levers, activists tend to be more disposed to be disruptive in response to broken or iniquitous systems. The undue influence exerted by corporations force some politicians to support the pursuit of competition and exploitation rather than the building of cooperation and the common good. This has given rise to right wing politics and dominant relationships in which nations exploit other nations, then seek to wall and insulate themselves from the exploited and wounded nations.

On the other hand, civil society groups sometimes run fragmented programmes that are tailored to meet targets favoured by donors. We also see undue pressure on the youth to be apolitical, imbibe entrepreneurial spirit and expect little or nothing from the state. Self-employment and individualism are taught as the ultimate virtue. Public institutions are often encouraged to be self-financing, build watered down ethics and open themselves to privatisation. When we understand that being political is not the same as being partisan, it becomes clear why being apolitical is not an option.

The commercialisation of science is one obvious outcome of pressure of vested interests in universities around the world. This situation has sometimes pushed scientists to work for commercial or even political interests. This explains why some persons speak and act the way they do. The revolving doors between corporations, governments and research institutions continue to complicate our search for safe and just societies.

The ‘Elevate Festival’ was a space to make dreams come to life. It was a space for confrontation of ideas and the questioning of what truth and falsehood are in a world where the lines are getting increasingly blurred. One truth that stood out in my heart is that colonialism is alive and well, but often wears different clothes and bears different names.

Dying for Pieces of Copper

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Okrika Water Front, Niger Delta

Of the ten most toxic places on earth, three are found in Africa. They are: the Niger Delta, the mining communities of Kabwe in Zambia and the Agbogbloshie dumpsite in Ghana. While Kabwe ranks as number five on the list, Agbogbloshie stands at the tenth spot.

The Niger Delta ranks as number two on the list prepared in 2013 by Pure Earth and Green Cross, Switzerland. If you think that the region may have slipped out of the list since 2013, we are sorry to disappoint you as the listing remained valid at the close of 2018.

The rampant pollution of communities in Africa has gone on unabated and mineral rich communities are the worst hit. The state of affairs has been driven by the manipulation of governments by a mix of transnational corporations, as well as national and international financial bodies. Throw into that, the wholesale adoption of neoliberal policies by governments eager to attract so-called foreign direct investment and development aid and the waters become murkier. The craze for privatisation of public goods continue on the premise that government cannot be a good manager of business and must not be caught in any enterprise that requires efficiency. Thus, janitorial tasks in public offices are contracted to private enterprises and the digging of trenches in warfronts are being privatised and contracted out in the rich economies.

In our 2012 book, To Cook a Continent: Destructive Extraction and Climate Crisis in Africa, we stated, “The conversion of public goods into private property through the privatisation of our otherwise commonly held natural environment is one [of the ways] neoliberal institutions remove the tenuous threads that hold African nations together. Politics today has been reduced to a lucrative venture where one looks out mainly for returns on investment rather than on what one can contribute to rebuild highly degraded environments, communities and a nation.” This pathway has oiled and locked in corruption of various shades in the continent.

Zambia stands out as one of the countries that ended up holding the wrong end of the stick when it comes to the pursuit of privatisation, pliant surrender to corporate interest and lax regulatory and tax regimes. Corporate tax stood at almost zero at a time when they enjoyed a tax boutique that had the biggest chunk coming from workers’ withheld taxes. At that time extractive companies generated a mere 2.2 per cent of the revenue collected by Zambian authorities.

The abuse suffered on the continent is clearly systemic and places the burden on poor communities. Unfortunately, often the struggles of the poor are overlooked and even subverted by external and internal forces. How else could the list of the top ten most toxic locations in the world be in the public realm for over a decade and we continue with business as usual and keep weakening environmental laws so as to score cheap points on the chart of nations rated for ease of doing business?

Niger Delta communities continue to fight decades of horrendous oil and gas pollutions that have heinously degraded their environment. They have resisted and continue to do so through protests, litigation, direct and political actions. Thousands of lives have been lost, or cut short due to the pollution and attendant militarisation of the region.

In Zambia, 1800 villagers have stood up to the UK-based company, Vedanta Resources, that had polluted their waters through the activities of its subsidiary Konkola Copper Mines (KCM). The villagers complain that the company’s Nchanga copper mine has turned their Kafue River into a river of acid and are suing for personal injury and loss of livelihood. Villagers from Shimulala, Hippo Pool, Hellen and Kakosa are demanding compensation for harms arising from the pollution of their primary source of water. They also complain of the impact on their agriculture and socio-economic wellbeing.

The Zambian case mirrors the Niger Delta situation and underscores the critical need for solidarity between communities impacted by mining across the continent, indeed across the world. Local and international civil society networks continue to work with the suffering communities of the Niger Delta while the impacted Zambian villagers enjoy the solidarity of groups including Foil Vedanta in the difficult efforts to secure their right to life in a battle against mining behemoths. International oil corporations operating in Nigeria are deft at utilizing loopholes in the legal system to ensure that cases are often never decided on within the short lifespan of the litigants. When they are found guilty, they can shrug the sentence off as they are sure the government would be unable to force compliance since they are literally in bed together due to the business partnerships that are rigged against the people and the environment. Litigation in the home countries of the offending companies has been the option that offers a ray of hope for justice for the poor and for Mother Earth.

When the case against Vedanta went to the High Court in the United Kingdom the company argued that the matter should be heard in Zambia and not in the UK. The court disagreed on the understanding that the villagers would not get justice in their own country because of the costs and other aspects of the adversarial legal system.  That has always been the first objection that Shell, Chevron, ENI and the others raise whenever a case is brought to a location where their shareholders may pay attention. In fact, a Zambian court had ruled in 2011 that the company should pay a $2million compensation to 2000 claimants affected by pollution of the Kafue River that occurred in 2006.

The Zambian case will be heard at the Supreme Court of the UK next week based on Vedanta’s objections. While that is coming up, the manner by which Vedanta acquired the copper mines in Zambia is a lesson that conscious citizens should pay attention to. In a sort of confessional speech captured on video, Anil Agarwal, the founder/chairman of the company at a conference, gleefully outlined how he fooled the Zambian government when they advertised the desire to privatise their mining company. The guy literally scammed/bluffed his way into acquiring the Zambian assets. The video showed the chairman of KCM boasting that the mines make him $500 million in profits a year, when he acquired the mine for only $25 million. The lame excuse by the company is that the video clip was part of a longer speech and was taken out of context.  The facts speak clearly for themselves and show a very condescending attitude towards the Zambian authorities.

The company went ahead to claim that they had invested $120 million in “local communities, providing schools, educational programmes, sustainable agricultural initiatives, critical medical programmes and funding for cultural events.” This sounds much like what we hear as corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts in Niger Delta communities where the basic right to life is clearly negated by the ecological harms orchestrated by the same companies.

Next week we shall know what the Supreme Court of the UK thinks of the cry of the Zambian communities. Whatever the outcome, it is clearly time for our communities to connect their pains, strategies and fights. Pollution respects no geographic or political boundaries and we cannot afford to allow these boundaries to short circuit our struggles.


This article was first published in The Instigator, my weekly column in The Leadership newspaper, Nigeria as Poisoned for Pieces of Copper

The Instigator debuts

C92BB6E8-8B89-40B5-9D8C-F870F446CC6FMy weekly column, The Instigator,  commenced on Friday 9 November 2018 in The Leadership newspaper.  You can join the weekly conversation by getting the hard copies on by looking it up online. We will be sharing the pieces here after they had been published in The Friday Leadership. Enter your weekends with thoughts on socio-ecological transformations 😂

Meanwhile, here is first piece The Instigator offered: Draining the Mine Pits

This column will always seek to instigate thoughts, conversations and actions using mostly political ecological lens. Your participation through comments and questions will instigate further responses and hopefully actions. Let us begin with a look at the mine pits in Nigeria.

The abandoned tin mines of Jos and the coal mines of Enugu are grave metaphors of the ecological harm that the advent of cheap petrodollars brought to Nigeria. It is scarcely remembered that Jos and Enugu were once prized mining locations and that their products were major contributors to the colonial and post colonial economies of Nigeria.

The mines provided jobs to thousands of Nigerians and gave birth to towns or camps – such as Coal Camp at Enugu. They were also sites of horrendous exploitation of labour, with particularly obnoxious levels reached during the colonial era. It is on record that 23,000 Africans had to carry tonnes of the tin ore on their heads over a distance of 320km before a railway line was built to the mines in Jos.

With the ascendancy of oil as the prime revenue earner for Nigeria, and with a poor record of environmental management, the mines that ought to have been decommissioned and some level of environmental remediation and restoration carried out, were simply abandoned. Government after government simply followed the oil, or money.

At Jos, mine pits, some with toxic slurries, were left as open craters in the landscape. Over time, the mine pits turned into vast ponds that essentially turned into death traps for man and beasts alike.

The abandoned coal mines in Enugu did not quite become as deadly as the mine pits of Jos. One reason for this was that whereas tin was extracted through open cast mines, at Enugu, coal extraction was a subterranean affair. Nevertheless, the residents of the Coal City found that the mines could be turned into refuse dumps. And they did.

We should remind ourselves that every mine pit or oil well has a lifespan because mining is not a renewable process but a subtraction or amputation as one analyst once stated. This is so irrespective of whether the pit or well is for the mining of gold or for the extraction of crude oil. This is one reason why mining regulations require that environmental impact assessment must be carried out before any mining activity is conducted; and that there must be an environmental management plan, including plans for closure of the mine – even before its opening.

Article 61 (d) of the Solid Minerals and Mining Act, 2007, stipulates that a miner must maintain and restore, the land that is the subject of the license to a safe state from any disturbance resulting from exploration activities, including, but not limited to filling up shafts, wells, holes or trenches made by the title holder, and in compliance with applicable environmental laws and regulations.

A cursory look at the state of mining in Nigeria today shows that miners are carrying on in any manner that seems right to them. Unregulated artisanal mining has been going on in the area now known as Zamfara State for decades. However, in August 2010 there was a catastrophic loss of about 300 children due to lead poisoning. Others suffered brain damage while women recorded high incidents of miscarriages. Such reckless mining is ongoing elsewhere.

The mining of granite for building construction in the Federal Capital is a clearly worrisome phenomenon playing out before our eyes. Everywhere you look, hills are being blown apart so that building materials merchants can do brisk business and do not have to go far for the material. Beautiful cultural and landscape place markers are being destroyed. The city is being scarified and the scars of exploitation of the rocks dot the landscape from the outskirts to the heart of the city. One would not be surprised if Zuma Rock, or even Aso Rock, get earmarked for destruction. Again, the remains of the mined rocks in Abuja communities are not in any way remediated and pose grave dangers to citizens that live near them.

Although government agencies claim that the recent earth tremors experienced in Abuja are nothing to worry about, or that the tremors are caused by indiscriminate water mining (boreholes), many of us finger the continuous blasting of rocks in the area. The fracturing of rocks above ground could have impacts on structures beneath the Earth’s surface.

Back to Jos, the sad story of the abandoned tin mines of Jos deepened with the recovery of cars in one of them. It is clear that none of the cars recovered from the deadly pond was driven by the owner into the pond. The case of the recovery of the car belonging to a retired General of the Nigerian Army is shocking, to say the least. The finding of his body somewhere else indicates that the death of the general and the burial of his car in the pond left by mining activities should demand an urgent decommissioning of the tin mines of Jos. The recovery of other cars from the yawning mine pit shows that plenty of criminal activities have been going on around the mine pits.

Now is the time to drain the mine pits of Jos and elsewhere, decommission them and fully restore the territory. It is time to carry out detailed and exhaustive forensic examination of the pits to ensure that historical and current crimes around them do not go unpunished.

https://leadership.ng/2018/11/09/draining-the-mine-pits/amp/leadershpnga/
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Follow me on Twitter at @NnimmoB

Eco-Instigator #21

64855DF9-C8DA-4448-85FF-E7150FAEF43EWe are glad to serve you a feisty edition of your informative Eco-Instigator. In it you will find articles and reports from our projects and our continuous struggles for ecological justice.
Due to the focus of extractive industry on offshore exploration and exploitation actions, the need for fishers to step up to the challenge has never been more urgent. Fishers stand at the frontline of the struggle against deep sea mining as well as offshore pursuit of oil and gas resources.
We serve you reports from our Fish Not Oil community dialogues where fishers review the state of our water bodies, note the changes, map the culprits and chart the course of action to protect our marine ecosystems. These spaces are also used to create linkages between fishing associations and for the expansion of an emerging FishNet Alliance.
We also bring you the reports from our School of Ecology focusing on Life After Oil. We held the maiden session of this exciting school in our Oronto Douglas Board Room, Benin City 30- 31 July 2018. The second session was hosted by We The People in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, on 29 August 2018. Participants had two additional days during which they joined in the Right Livelihood Lecture as well as Sustainability Academy, both held at the University of Port Harcourt. Reports of these will be brought to you in our December edition. While the maiden edition was exclusively for youths, the second session extended the age bracket and admitted community persons with a bias to women. Life After Oil campaign is an offshoot of our Beyond Oil research that drove for a reimagining of development in the Niger Delta and Nigeria as a whole.
Our fight for food sovereignty continues in an atmosphere of absolute disregard for the dangers posed by the introduction of genetically modified crops into our environment. Nigerian Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), gleefully announced the release of Bt cotton into the market while our case on their permit to Monsanto was awaiting decision in court. We considered this a disregard of due process and a crass display of the arrogance of the industry and their allies. The court eventually decided against us, but on the technical grounds that the case was statute barred and that we filed the suit outside the stipulated time boundary. The struggle continues.
As usual, we bring you poems, book review and books that you should read as well as indications of our forthcoming events. We will be glad to hear from you.

Download and read the full issue Eco-Instigator #21.

Until Victory!

Lessons from my Father

C92BB6E8-8B89-40B5-9D8C-F870F446CC6FMy father, Nnimmo Bassey, is the greatest man I know. A legit superhero in my eyes. Two days ago, it was his birthday. His 60th. A milestone. This year is a milestone year for me too. Tomorrow, I’ll be half his age.

I don’t know what my earliest memory of my dad is. I just know my initial perception of him was fear. I was scared of my dad in the same way most African kids are scared of their fathers. Dad is usually the disciplinarian, the booming voice, the quick glare that can shut whatever mischief you are up to down. That’s just the honest truth, I was scared of my dad. But being an adult now, and dealing with kids too, I get it. Kids are annoying. And as a young man dealing with young children, these things would happen.

That fear transformed as I grew over the years into deep respect. He became committed to Christ when I was very young, maybe around 5-7. And that marked the bulk of my childhood and teen years. Our lives revolved around 3 places – home, my parents office and the church. Well, there was school too, but that was the bulk of my universe.

I remember the day he came home with a friend, I think it was the late professor Wangboje. I had to draw something to show him, and afterwards, I attended art lessons down the road from our house every Saturday. It was in those lessons, I learned to draw. Funny the moment I learned to draw was instantaneous. I was watching an older kid draw and all of a sudden, my perception shifted, and I understood how to draw in a perception-based way as opposed to a symbol based way. Anyway, I digress.

Watching my father serve at church and become more recognized and called to deeper and higher levels of service was inspiring. There are the pressures of being the child of ministers, but there are also the benefits. Part of that is the air of respectability that is passed on from the parents to the children, and we are blessed to be a part of a loving community. I used to joke that all I needed was to say who my Dad was and feel the energy in the room change.

My dad is an early bird, I take after my mum personally. We can both rise early, but I’m sure given the choice she would rather work to the late hours of the night than wake up at the hours my dad does. I remember the many Sundays he was out the house by 6am to join the beginning of first service at church. The rest of the Bassey Clan would get there at 10-11 for the second service.

My dad is always the one to lead by example and go harder and further than anyone else. I can see him in my mind’s eye now, on the days I woke up and went with him on those early Sundays, standing on the pulpit, sometimes leading the first prayers. I see his selfless service in the outreach to the leper colony in Oshiomo, and his tireless campaigning against environmental degradation by oil companies.

I loved to hear him speak. He is always so articulate and thoughtful in his delivery. My dad is incredibly wise. As a family, we gather in the morning and evening for devotion, we pray together, read scripture and discuss, and those were always powerful times, with guidance and words of wisdom. I remember some of the things he said in those times, such as, ‘you don’t go to school to learn, you go to school to learn how to learn’ and ‘just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should do it’, a statement I go against a lot lol. But the words echo in my mind often.

One thing I really picked up from him was the love of books. Our house was always filled with books, I was reading novels before I was 10, dabbling in play writing, poetry, and stories. In a way, he’s the reason I blog now. My favorite thing to do as a teen was to raid his stash. I would go to the study and his bookshelves and pick out whatever looked interesting to me and take a stack back to my room and pore over them. He’s always asked me when I was going to write a book, and I would shrug and smile. I always thought I would write when I felt I had something important to say.

Even when I made decisions he didn’t agree with, especially in my early 20s, even when he was disappointed, he allowed me to fail on my own terms. Somehow, he trusted me to figure it out, and do what I loved. Which I think is the biggest thing I learned from him. See my dad is an architect and practiced for about a decade, until his work in human and environmental rights activism pulled him in full time. In watching him do what he does, I built the conviction that it didn’t matter what you did, it mattered more that it mattered to you. You have to do what you love, you have to burn with a sense of mission. It was watching him do him, that has given me the drive to do me. To not merely do something respectable or applaudable, but to do something that matters.

My dad is a humble, simple man. He is kind, he is generous. I see the way people interact with him, I have seen the work he does, and the many ways he tries to help. His heart is pure, and bleeds to see the people around him uplifted, and he will speak truth to power from the dusty roads of Benin City to the hallowed halls of Washington. He is a man of true dignity and integrity, and an immense inspiration to me.

I love you Dad. Happy Birthday.

From Oto’s blog

My note: Happy birthday, Son. You are an awesome guy & you bring me much joy.

In the Belly of the Plastic Whale

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Inside the Plastic Whale

Inside the Belly of the Plastic Whale. It was a surreal feeling for me to literally step into the belly of a whale in December 2017. It was an unforgettable experience, to say the least. One could not but imagine what would have been the fate of biblical Jonah if he had found himself in the belly of a whale like the one I encountered.

My encounter was with a Cuvier’s beaked whale. An adult male Cuvier’s beaked whale can weigh up to 3000 kilogrammes and measure 5-7 metres in length. These whales usually have just two visible teeth at the tip of their short beak. Lacking much in terms of teeth, they feed by suction. They hunt by echolocation and can be injured or confused by noises generated by humans, including noise from seismic exploration for fossil fuel resources.

Encountering them is not easy, so Jonah would probably not have been given a hike by this specie. Why? They live where there is no light, at about 2000 metres way down in the ocean. Plus, they feed on fish, crustaceans and mostly deep-sea squid. This appetite for squid may be one of the key problems that modern man now poses to these deep-sea creatures.

Scientists suspect that the Cuvier’s beaked whales get attracted to floating plastics, mistaking them for squids or ingest them while hunting for other species that may seek hiding places in floating plastics materials. Plastics in the seas are a huge threat to the Cuvier whales and other sea creatures.

Ending a Plastic Civilisation

The World Environment Day 2018 presents a challenge and an instigation. The theme, Beat Plastic Pollution, challenges us to take action and the notion that plastics pollution can be beaten should inspire actions. The World Oceans Day equally urges action against plastic pollution.

Beating plastics pollution is a huge challenge when we consider the perverse culture of current disposable economy. Fifty percent of plastics in use are disposable or single-use type. Globally, we buy one million plastic bottles every minute and use up to 5 trillion plastic bags every year. The least anyone can do is to pause and think before grabbing that plastic bottle of so-called soft drinks. We should learn to refuse plastics and not just aim to reduce, reuse or recycle them. It is time to tackle this menace at source. Packaging is said to account for 40 percent of all plastics in use. It is time to terminate this plastic civilisation.

Tissue papers decompose in 2 to 4 weeks. Cigarettes decompose in 5 years. The plastic cups in which coffee is served at cafes and fast food shops float around for 50 years. Plastic bottles will swirl about for 450 years. And, wait for it, the plastic in baby diapers will equally hang around for 450 years – long after the babies who wore them would have become ancestors.

Sadly, many folks think that the story of their plastic bags or wraps end once they toss them into the trash bin. In a bid to appear hygienic, we cover or wrap foods with plastics – in both restaurants and homes. However, plastics out of sight is not plastics out of life. Tons of these materials end up in the gutters, rivers and the oceans. 15 tons of plastics are said to end up in the ocean every minute with more than 8 million tons being dumped into the oceans every year. An incredible 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals lose their lives to plastic pollution every year

Reports by Ocean Conservancy, suggest that there will be more plastics than fish in the oceans by 2050. Already, plastics have been found in over 60 percent of all seabirds and in all sea turtles species that mistake plastic for food. We must beat plastics, for our survival and for the survival of other species. We need fish, not plastics.

Floating on the waves

Plastics from one whale

All these plastics from the belly of one whale

It is interesting when we consider how long it takes for some of the plastics that end up in the oceans to decompose. Tissue papers decompose in 2 to 4 weeks. Cigarettes decompose in 5 years. The plastic cups in which coffee is served at cafes and fast food shops float around for 50 years. Plastic bottles will swirl about for 450 years. And, wait for it, the plastic in baby diapers will equally hang around for 450 years – long after the babies who wore them would have become ancestors. Even the balloons that are used as decorative items – when released to float around for a few minutes or hours, end up taking years to degrade in the oceans and water ways.

The Cuvier whale at Bergen

Unfortunate ending for this Cuvier’s beaked whale

And, so, there was I in the belly of the Plastic Whale Museum, a museum set up at the University of Bergen, Norway, to serve as a poignant reminder of the harm that plastics pose to our oceans and to marine life in particular. This museum hosts displays of the plastics recovered from the belly of the whale that was stranded on the Sotra Island, west of Bergen, on 28th January 2017. The whale had more than 30 plastic bags and a large quantity of microplastics in its belly.

I was in the Plastic Whale Museum at the invitation of Rafto Foundation for Human Rights to discuss plastics, oil pollution and the threats to our communities as well as to marine ecosystems, the plastic backdrop was a haunting reminder of the harm that we are doing to our environment. When we eat fish that feeds on plastics, it is reasonable to say that we are actually eating plastics.

On that day, I ended my talk with a rendition of my poem, We Thought it Was Oil, but It Was Blood. Perhaps I should have changed that to read We Thought it Was Fish, but It Was Plastic. We simply have to beat plastic pollution.

 

 

*This blog was written to mark the World Environment Day and the World Oceans Day 2018

 

Talanoa Dialogues in Climate Negotiations

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The innovative Talanoa Dialogues in Climate Negotiations took place on Sunday 6 May 2018 in Bonn, sandwiched between the first and second weeks of the climate negotiations.  After the dialogue everyone was somewhat upbeat about how useful the experience was. Indeed, a delegate said that the Talanoa Dialogue (TD) offered representatives of countries the space to sit without tables and national flags, speak like humans and not as parties (to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – UNFCCC). Another delegate said that the TD was an inclusive and open process creating a new space for international diplomacy. Some said the process should continue beyond COP24.

The TD was a facilitative dialogue proposed by the Fijian President of COP23 to reflect the ‘Pacific spirit’ of sharing stories, problem solving and wise decision-making for the collective good. The Dialogue encouraged parties to speak freely to each other on three questions about the global climate crisis: Where are we? Where do we want to go? How do we get there?

Parties and non-state actors including businesses, youths, indigenous peoples, labour, women, and other civil society organisations gathered in three spaces for storytelling, echoing the Pacific processes for building empathy, conflict resolution and building consensus.

At the report back session from the Dialogue on Tuesday 8 May, the leader of the Nigerian delegation, Dr Peter Tarfa, stated that the TD had a positive outcome and that Nigeria will plan to replicate it at the national level. He stressed that the answer to the question of How do we get there can only be fashioned on trust and transparency.

A Dream Dialogue

On the whole, the fact remained that the dialogue aimed to prepare the hearts of the parties to the hard tasks of negotiations – to bring everyone to the point of hearing one another and understanding that we can only go far when we walk together. It reminds us of the saying by Martin Luther King Jnr that “It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless.” Hopefully the TD could soften some hearts.

While moderating a side event that took place before the TD, Meenakshi Raman of Third World Network, spoke the mind of many observers with regard to the blind side of the TD. She pointed out that a critical question was not on the table and that is how did we get here? That is the question that some parties are unwilling to talk about. It has to do with historical responsibility, with the core principles of the climate convention – that of equity and the common but differentiated responsibility and respective capacities.

Meenakshi Rama further stated that “Asking this question will point to historical emissions responsible for global warming. However, historical responsibility seems like a dirty word that is not being allowed to be mentioned in this space. We cannot ignore the historical perspective.”

The first week of the negotiations had already raised concerns among some delegates with regard to aspects of the Paris Agreement such as:  loss and damage, climate finance and the levels of ambition among the industrialised nations. Discussions on the matter of finance were testy as parties looked at how to identify information to be provided by Parties in accordance with Article 9.5. The Article provides that developed countries “shall biennially communicate indicative quantitative and qualitative information” related to the provision and mobilisation of financial resources “including as available, projected levels of public financial resources” to be provided to developing countries.

Talanoa

The Wake of the Dialogue

The report back session from the TD had plenty of bright as well as poignantly dark spots. The bright spots were the many stories of hope, trust, readiness to offer political support and commitment to be fair and to comply. It was also said that indigenous peoples and their knowledge would not be ignored. It was also interesting to hear the presentation of the TD as a storification of the Paris Agreement, with an emphasis on the fact that the story has just started. That makes a lot of sense when it is considered that most of what is being negotiated will only come into effect in 2020, two years down the stormy road.

The dark sports of the Dialogue etched in running conclusions from the various rapporteurs who brought word back from the dialogues. The dialogue on where we are complained that too much attention was paid to technicalities and too little to human values. However, it could actually be said that since voluntary emissions reduction pledges took the place of required emissions reduction based on science, technicalities are actually taking the back seat, except if we are talking of technicalities of semantics.

The TD brought up over 700 stories, but there were running threads in the summaries that should catch our attention. The first was that by 2050 the world should have negative or zero emissions achieved through technologies and forests as carbon sinks. Negative emissions through technologies and forests as carbon sinks imply carrying on with polluting technologies and merely ‘eliminating’ the pollution through sinks. It also suggests that forest dependent communities would be compelled to bear the burden of climate action and get dislocated from Nature’s gifts to them. The second statement said that the question of how do we get there will be answered by technology which was presented as the ultimate solution to tackle global warming.

If those are the takeaways from the Talanoa Dialogue, and if the technologies include geoengineering and the like, it does appear that the stories from the grassroots and from the streets are yet to be heard.