Offloading climate responsibility onto the victims of climate change

In this interview, Nnimmo Bassey, Nigerian architect and award-winning environmentalist, author and poet, talks about the history of exploitation of the African continent, the failure of the international community to recognize the climate debt owed to countries in the South and the United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in Egypt in November 2022.

Bassey wrote (as in his book cooking a continent) and spoke about the economic exploitation of nature and the oppression of people based on his first-hand experience. Although he did not often write or speak about his personal experiences, his early years were punctuated by a civil war motivated in part by “a fight over oil, or who controls the oil”.

Bassey took aim squarely at the military-oil complex in the fight against gas flaring in the Niger Delta. This dangerous undertaking claimed the life of fellow activist and poet Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1995.

Seeing deep connections that lead to what he calls “simple solutions” to complex problems like climate change, Bassey emphasizes nature’s right to exist on its own and the importance of living in balance with nature, and rejects the proposition of false climate solutions. that would advance the exploitation and financialization of nature that threatens our existence on a “planet that can do without us”.

Bassey chaired Friends of the Earth International from 2008 to 2012 and served as executive director of Environmental Rights Action for two decades. He was a co-recipient of the 2010 Right Livelihood Award, the recipient of the 2012 Rafto Prize, a human rights award, and in 2009 was named one of Time Magazine’s Environment Heroes. Bassey is the director of Mother Earth Health Foundationan ecological think tank and board member of the Global Justice Ecology Project.

This interview is based on the author’s conversation with Nnimmo Bassey on October 7, 2022. To access the full audio and transcript of the interview, you can stream this episode on break the greenthe website of. Steve Taylor is the press officer for Global Justice Ecology Project and podcast host break the green.

Steve Taylor (ST): Climate change is a complex problem, but there may be a simple solution. What might that look like?

Nnimmo Bassey (NB): Simple solutions are avoided in today’s world because they do not support capital. And capital dominates the world. Life is simpler than people think. So the complex problems that we have today – they’re all man-made, out of our love of complexities. But the idea of ​​capital accumulation has led to massive losses and massive destruction and has brought the world to the brink. The simple solution we need, if we’re talking about warming, is this: leave the carbon in the ground, leave the oil in the ground, [and] leave the charcoal in the hole. As simple as that. When people leave fossils in the ground, they are seen as anti-progress and anti-development, yet they are the real climate champions: people like the Ogoni people in the Niger Delta, the land where Ken Saro- Wiwa was assassinated by the Nigerian state in 1995. Today, the Ogoni people have kept the oil of their territory in the ground since 1993. It’s millions and millions of tons of carbon locked in the ground. This is climate action. This is real carbon sequestration.

ST: Could you talk about the climate debt owed to the countries of the South in general, and to African nations in particular?

NB: There is no doubt that there is a climate debt, even an ecological debt, towards the countries of the South, and Africa in particular. It has become clear that the type of exploitation and consumption that has continued over the years has become a big problem, not just for the areas that have been exploited, but for the whole world. The argument we hear is that if financial value is not placed on nature, no one will respect or protect nature. Now, why was no financial cost imposed on the damaged territories? Why have they been exploited and sacrificed without any consideration or reflection on their value for those who live in the territory and those who use these resources? So if we’re going to go all the way with this argument of putting price tags on nature so that nature can be respected, then you also have to look at the historical harm and damage that has been done, put a tag price on it, acknowledge that it is a debt owed and have it paid.

ST: You discussed in our interview how some policies aimed at tackling climate change are ‘false solutions’, especially those aimed at resolving the climate debt owed to countries in the South and to Africa in particular. Could you talk a bit about the misnomer of the Global North proposals of so-called “nature-based solutionsto the climate crisis that purport to emulate the practices and wisdom of Indigenous communities in ecological stewardship, but actually appear to be an extension of colonial exploitation – rationalizations to allow the wealthier nations responsible for the pollution to continue to pollute.

NB: The narrative has been so cleverly constructed that when you hear, for example, Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD), everyone says, “Yes, we want to do that”. And now we are moving towards “nature-based solutions”. Who doesn’t want nature-based solutions? Nature has provided the solution to the challenges [that Indigenous people have] for centuries, millennia. And now some smart people are appropriating the terminology. So when Indigenous communities say they want nature-based solutions, smart people will say, “Well, that’s what we’re talking about. While they don’t talk about that at all. It’s all about generating value chains and income, completely forgetting who we are as part of nature. So the whole scheme was one insult after another. The very idea of ​​putting a price on the services of Mother Earth and appropriating the financial capital of these resources, of this process, is another horrible way in which people are exploited.

ST: How is REDD negatively impacting local communities on the African continent?

NB: REDD is a great idea, which should be supported by anyone who just looks at this label. But the devil is in the detail. This is done by securing or appropriating or seizing forest land and then declaring it as a REDD forest. And now once that’s done, what becomes essential is that it’s no longer a forest of trees. It is now a carbon forest, a carbon sink. So if you look at trees, you don’t see them as ecosystems. You don’t see them as living communities. You see them as a carbon stock. And that immediately establishes another kind of relationship between those who live in the forest, those who need the forest and those who now own the forest. And so, it is because of this logic that [some] communities in Africa have lost access to their forests, or have lost access to the use of their forests, the way they used [them] for centuries.

ST: As an activist, you have done dangerous work opposing gas flaring. Could you tell us about gas flaring and its impact on the Niger Delta?

NB: Gas flaring, simply put, ignites gas in oilfields. Because when crude oil is extracted in certain places, it can come out of the ground along with natural gas, water, and other chemicals. The gas that comes out of the well with the oil can easily be re-injected into the well. And it’s almost like carbon capture and storage. It goes into the well and also helps extract more oil from the well. So you have more carbon released into the atmosphere. Second, the gas can be collected and used for industrial purposes or for cooking, or transformed into liquefied natural gas. Or the gas could just be set on fire. And that’s what we have, in many places – probably over 120 locations in the Niger Delta. So you have these giant ovens. They pump a terrible cocktail of dangerous elements into the atmosphere, sometimes in the midst of communities [reside]and sometimes horizontally, no [with] vertical stacks. So you have birth defects, [and] all sorts of illnesses imaginable, caused by gas flaring. It also reduces agricultural productivity, up to a kilometer from the kiln location.

ST: The UN climate conference COP27 is approaching in Egypt. Is there hope for real change here?

NB: The only hope I see with COP is hope for what people can do outside of COP. The mobilizations COPs generate at meetings around the world – people talking about climate change, people taking action, and indigenous groups organizing and choosing different farming methods that help cool the planet. People are just doing what they can – that’s what gives me hope. The COP itself is a rigged process that works in a very colonial way, shifting climate responsibility onto the victims of climate change. •

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Lifea project of Independent Media Institute.

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