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    Archive for May, 2024

    Climate literacy starts with recognising that we are part of Nature

    “I’d make this the lead story in every paper and newscast on the planet. If we don’t understand the depth of the climate crisis, we will not act in time.”

    —Bill McKibben, co-founder of

    “Half of our climate debt is hidden under the carpet of a forgiving planet. If we don’t protect it, we will cause unstoppable, permanent, and irreversible damage.” 

    Johan Rockström, joint director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research 

    Last week several days focused on our planet’s ecological wellbeing – Endangered Species Day, May 17; World Bee Day, May 20; International Day for Biological Diversity, May 22; World Turtle Day, May 23.World Environment Day follows on June 5. These days celebrate the natural world and educate the public to be more involved with it. They are there to inform all governments too: the basis for all economics is Nature. It is vital to encourage climate and biodiversity literacy. But, as an amazing and engaging website makes clear, knowing about the climate begins with the recognition that we are one with Nature:

    But who is listening? People are flying more, taking cruises to formerly off-limits places such as Antarctica, and unabashedly are demanding bigger cars, all of which is astounding in light of recent world climate catastrophes. Humans appear to be living on two parallel planets: one that supports and is interlinked with Nature, and another that is encased in a human construct that knows no self-restraint and indeed flouts the most basic communion with others. (One new condominium complex in Florida has a private lift not only for you but also for your vehicle, so you needn’t ever meet anyone…)

    As an example of this self-siloed individualism, over the last several months I have pointedly noticed an explosion of pickup trucks on our roads. Not only does their sheer size (and in particular the height of their front fenders) make these super-SUVs more dangerous to other road users in a collision, but they are also adding to an already alarming rise in emissions. Just last week global atmospheric CO2 emissions reached a disastrous 426 parts per million (ppm), the highest level since 4 million years ago. (This is 426 molecules of carbon dioxide in one million molecules of air.) Scientists have shown 350 ppm to be the highest safe level. It is as if people are no longer satisfied with having an SUV, which is destructive enough, and now they need to go for broke. I call this the “Pickup Culture,” whereby you can pick up nods of approval from other people for your status-riddled acquisition. Most people put very little in the cargo space.

    Of course, farmers and tradespeople need a vehicle that can transport heavy building materials and farm equipment, but the articles I have read on the subject point to conspicuous consumption as the main objective in having an $80,000 Tesla Cybertruck or other off-road pickup vehicle that is constantly being promoted as a crash-through-river-and-mountain anti-Nature statement. Indeed, as most countries now ban smoking advertising, those perverse car ads that proclaim omniscient power over Nature are toxic and should not be allowed either! The global north’s 10% of world population is defined by a super consumerism whose shopping sprees seems to be limitless. No wonder climate scientists are in despair.

    A few weeks ago, the $34 billion Edmonton to Burnaby Trans Mountain Expansion 980 km pipeline began filling with bitumen to be exported to all parts of the planet. Climate/biodiversity activists, including many Indigenous communities as well as other citizens across Canada grieved upon hearing this news, and with good reason. The pipeline will soon deliver 144,000 barrels a day. This amount will go up over the coming years, but for the sake of a minuscule quantity of the dirtiest and most energy-intensive oil produced on the planet, pristine terrain has been sacrificed, Indigenous territory violently expropriated, and the British Columbian coast put in jeopardy.

    Add to this oil tanker traffic polluting with more fossil fuel to get the oil to market, and the project is untenable; include, too, new Alaskan and Ugandan pipelines further adding oil to the daily world usage. Remember that the world currently burns almost 100 million barrels of oil each day! What sort of human gives the green light to build an oil pipeline in the face of accelerating climate change? Clearly there are plenty of us who would do so. Avarice is not in short supply.

    The Pickup Culture is only too happy to bleed Earth dry in order to be cool. And although the vast majority of young people want a climate action plan to be implemented now, 10% of Earth’s population is all too content to open the oil spigot. Americans and Canadians burn around ten times more fossil energy than Indians do. So-called educated people continue to fly or take cruise ships, both of which use vast amounts of oil. Amazingly, many cruises are promoted by National Geographic which receives millions in revenue when rich North Americans fly to southern Chile and take small cruise ships to see penguins and icebergs in Antarctica, along with a National Geographic wildlife photographer who accompanies them to document that they saw these animals before they disappeared because of climate breakdown. Talk about blowing your life’s complete carbon budget.

    At the same time, young people try to take their governments to court to argue that a failure to protect them from climate breakdown is unjust. Most of the time, these court hearings are stopped. One major trial in Oregon ended abruptly this last week. Meanwhile, the following website unflinchingly lays out the role banks play in funding our collective 10% global north madness:

    At the same time, in northern Ontario the Omushkego people are protecting what they call the Breathing Lands, as their lands contain vast peat bogs that hold immense quantities of carbon. They wish to protect an area five times the size of Nova Scotia.

    Please read the UN Emissions Gap Report 2020 to better understand the “the role of equitable low-carbon lifestyles.”

    Not sure of all the information you need to be climate literate? A fantastic booklet, Atlas of Climate Change: Changes in the Atmosphere and Risks of Warming enhances our climate/biodiversity literacy. It was written by scientists for the general public to have an informed and strong foundation to make Earth-friendly decisions.

    We know that conservation actions make a huge difference. A new report points out that great success has come by doggedly pursuing biodiversity goals., and a recent meeting attended by all countries connected to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity made headway to protect Nature at the upcoming conference in Colombia this autumn.

    Finally, a world symposium on climate literacy will take place online this September. The organizers say: “The many challenges posed by climate change outline the need for climate change literacy… As climate change affects all sectors of society, climate literacy is necessary for everyone, from policy-makers and scientists to students and the general public, ensuring a well-informed community ready to tackle these challenges effectively.” 

    We dance round in a ring and suppose,
    But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.

    —Robert Frost

    Giving young people a public voice: a conversation with Ugandan climate/biodiversity activist Nicholas Omonuk

    This is a conversation featuring a dedicated young man who has worked tirelessly to bring climate/biodiversity awareness to many schools and communities in Uganda. I first spoke with Nicholas in a global online meeting of people who were discussing climate breakdown. 

    Nicholas, please tell us a little about your life when you were growing up.

    I grew up in a rural community of Pallisa in Eastern Uganda in a pastoralist family. My family heavily relied on livestock as a critical source of food, labour and milk.

    In our tribe the boys are meant to take livestock for grazing, and the girls fetch water for home use. Through this combined effort there is equal delegation of tasks and in such a way we would be able to have water at home and keep our livestock healthy. My father would sell milk, livestock and cash crops like cotton so that he could pay our school fees and handle the basic needs at home.

    As I grew up we faced severe droughts, which dried up most of the seasonal wells that provided water in the village and to livestock in the community. The droughts not only depleted our water wells and grazing lands but also resulted in food scarcity. Together with my brothers, I embarked on extensive journeys with livestock in search of accessible water and grassy areas located kilometres away from their residence. We would leave at about 9am after  breakfast and come back at around 2 or 3pm.

    Simultaneously, my sisters also had to walk longer distances to fetch water from the nearest available water wells and boreholes that still had some water. Although the water was not clean enough, they did not have a choice but to fetch that water. Our livestock grew malnourished and it became difficult to sell them at a fair market price. Fruits and crops also dried up. Since my father could not get enough money to fend for us, he resorted to rearing chickens to raise extra income. He would sell a tray of eggs for roughly US$2.5, which was below the market price.

    In 2017, I graduated from high school and because I performed well I was given a scholarship to Kyambogo University, a glimmer of hope for me because it enabled me to study for a bachelor’s in surveying in the School of Built Environment, graduating in 2023.

    Did you embrace your connection with Nature as a young child, or was it through your education that you slowly felt such an affinity for Nature and the need to protect it?

    I think for me the connection with Nature was already there. I loved climbing the trees to pick fresh mangoes, and I would climb tamarind trees in my grandfather’s compound to pick and taste the fruits. We also had jackfruit, passion fruits, banana plantations, cotton, cassava and sweet potatoes. Getting these fruits fresh from the garden was exciting for me and was an exercise in trying to explore each one. We also had many trees around our compound and I noticed that some would shed leaves during droughts.

    I didn’t really know as a teen that I had to protect all that we had until I reached the university. Things are different now. I no longer see so many bees in the compound, and it’s difficult to find even a single snake there, yet back in the day you would encounter a snake at almost every tree you climbed. I don’t see squirrels any more, and I don’t see any fireflies at night. So much has changed.

    When did you become an activist? 

    I found out about climate change from the university in 2021. Discovering that the droughts that I had faced as a teen were a result of climate change, I decided to do research and take steps to fight it so that communities like mine don’t have to face the same issues that ours faced. I knew I couldn’t do much at the time, so I decided to become a climate and biodiversity activist to spread more awareness about how climate change is affecting East African communities.

    Do you and your fellow activists think you have made a difference in opposing ecocide?

    I think we are making a difference. One thing we have done is educate communities about climate change. We have also planted trees in over 100 schools, and we have received a good success report of those trees surviving. Besides doing community work, we have organized campaigns on the protection of forests in Uganda like Bugoma Forest and Mabira Forest, which have been threatened by deforestation due to human activity. We have also been campaigning against the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) to protect human rights, ecosystems and our climate.

    Uganda calls itself a parliamentary democracy, but one party, whose leader, Yoweri Museveni, is president of Uganda, has oppressed the opposition to such a degree that there really is only one political group. Human Rights Watch has documented human rights abuses. What is your vision for Uganda’s democracy and its ecological heritage?

    I envision our democracy as one where communities are involved in most of the decision-making processes. One thing about our country is that the minority in power make decisions for their own selfish benefit without involving the community. There is a lot of corruption, tribalism and nepotism. At the same time, the opposition is prone to oppression and the risk of loss of life.

    I would love to see a country where there is freedom of speech, where communities have a right to say no if they are not involved in any decision-making processes, and where there is a balance between the opposition and the ruling party.

    Nicholas has shown great courage and dedication in climate/biodiversity action. Here he tells me of the impacts of a major oil pipeline that, if built, would run through Uganda and Tanzania. 

    The East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) is a 1443-kilometre pipeline being built by TotalEnergies, China National Offshore Oil Company and the state-owned Uganda National Oil Company with the Tanzania National Oil Company to transport oil produced from Uganda’s Lake Albert oilfields to the port of Tanga in Tanzania. Nicholas, please tell our readers why you and other activists in Uganda are adamantly opposed to this pipeline.

    We are against the pipeline for a number of reasons:

    • Displacement and loss of livelihoods

    The construction of the EACOP has resulted in the forced displacement of local communities, who have lost their lands and properties. People have been relocated without fair compensation. The project has left these people without farms, money for education, adequate shelter, and a sense of belonging, leading to increased food insecurity for those affected.

    • Environmental consequences

    The pipeline’s route crosses more than 200 water bodies, which are vital sources of food, provide habitat for diverse animal species, and support biodiversity. The project endangers life both underwater and on land, jeopardizing ecosystems and the livelihoods of people dependent on these resources.

    Besides that, some of the oil wells for the pipeline are located in the middle of Murchison Falls National Park, which is home to threatened wildlife.

    • Human–animal conflicts

    The noise from the oil drilling has driven animals out of their usual territories and onto people’s land, leading to conflict between wild animals and humans. Local people’s lives are at risk, and as of today at least six people have been killed by elephants in villages around Murchison Falls National Park.

    • Climate change impact

    One of the most significant global challenges we face is climate change. It is estimated that the EACOP project will emit over 34 million tonnes of CO2 every year, contributing to global warming. The consequences of this will include more frequent floods, heatwaves, droughts, landslides and heavy rains. While Uganda and Africa as a whole emit a fraction of global carbon emissions, they bear the brunt of the climate crisis. This raises critical questions about fairness in addressing climate change.

    • Oppression and restrictions 

    Climate activists and others who have tried to oppose the project have faced severe oppression from Oil Taskforce police and the army. In addition, people are not allowed to fish or farm in areas close to the site, evidenced by the capture of fishing boats from locals who try to fish around there.

    Climate activists have faced illegal detention, beatings, arrests and blackmail.

    Various pro-Nature groups have accused TotalEnergies of being perpetrators of “climaticide.” Do you agree with them?

    Yes. TotalEnergies is responsible for over 40 million tonnes of CO2 emissions. This means that it has made an immense contribution to the climate crisis. Besides that, most of the TotalEnergies projects have had appalling effects on human rights, ecosystems, and the health and livelihoods of people in the global south.

    In your opinion, can the global south, of which Uganda is a part, prevail in its insistence on social and ecological justice as a prerequisite for an equitable relationship with a post-colonial global north that can finally bring colonialism to an end?

    I believe the global south can prevail in instilling social and ecological justice. Most people in the global south are very much connected with Nature and ecosystems. To them land means food for their children, it means cultural heritage, it’s their home, it’s their source of income, and it’s also where they seek medication when they fall sick.

    If global north countries do not tamper with our land, with our resources, I believe we can have social and ecological justice. Before colonialism and the scramble for and partition of Africa, people used to live in harmony with each other and with Nature.

    I think if local communities are allowed to decide on their own what they do with their land, and whether they favour any specific fossil fuel project, it will be easy to have social justice. I think that before any project is set up in any global south country the different risks should be analyzed, and if they are great then the project has to be stopped without causing any damage. But with corruption and capitalism it has been easy to set up such disastrous projects that affect our climate and biodiversity.

    Nicholas plans to attend the next UN climate conference with other young people from the global south. As a result of his direct experience of UN climate conferences in Egypt and the UAE, he feels strongly that the meetings offer young people an important opportunity to exchange ideas about how to protect our planet. He also hopes to study for a master’s degree in climate and society. 

    Please visit to better understand how disastrous the oil pipeline is for the people of Uganda, Tanzania and the rest of the world. You can also help by signing petitions mentioned on the website.

    The proposed route looks almost as if it were drawn to endanger as many animals as possible.”

    Bill McKibben, climate/biodiversity activist