Time to interrupt the climate denialists among us

First published Sunday Standard, February 5, 2017. Kindly reproduced here with permission from Standard Group 

To my shame, I realize I might just have grown up a climate change denialist. Sitting in the presence of 40 climate and energy specialists this week, I was left with another shocking thought. My denialism could have cost my children in future, the past fifty years I have enjoyed.

When connected, a series of isolated occurrences last week gives this thought greater urgency. My tap has no water and when it does, it is brown and undrinkable. President Trump appointed a denialist and passed Executive Orders that seek to hide climate science research, reduce US Environmental Protection Agency funding and regulation influence. United Nations Secretary General asked Kenya to lead peace-keeping contingent in Darfur, Sudan, probably the first massive global conflict explicitly caused by climate change.

The appeal by widely respected Kenya Red Cross Secretary General Gullet Abbas was met with uncharacteristic derision. Give for starving Kenyans, again? What does the Government do with the taxes we pay? There are bigger questions we could also be asking, like why are Kenyans starving in the first place?

Our planet is getting hotter, less predictive and accommodating of our lifestyles. Kenyan famines have gone from being 20 years apart to 12 and then 2 years. Now we seem to experience famines annually in key parts of the country. Rainfall is down 15%, the country is 1.4 degrees centigrade warmer since the 1980s and the agriculture growing season is growing shorter, perhaps by as much as 40%.

We have two frontlines to secure for the future. The first is urban. Seven of the world’s biggest cities are in Africa and Nairobi is one of them. Africa’s population will double in the next 34 years and it is in our cities that the majority of our citizens will be found. Our cities are not designed for this future yet. Yet here there is some good news. Africa’s city managers, mayors and governors are currently providing global leadership for the UN New Urban Action. Kenya has also recently been named the world’s least toxic country by The Eco Experts. They looked at levels of air pollution, energy consumption and renewable energy production.

Leadership is also emerging in unexpected places. Take Phyllis Omido for instance. She was an administrator and single mother when she discovered her Mombasa based employer Metal Refinery Ltd, a lead smelting company, was literally killing their neighbors with toxic lead. Still unrecognized and supported by Government, she continues to call for compensation and protection of the Uhuru-Owino community and other communities across the country.

Our rural farms and pastures are also on the frontline. With declining rain-fall, there are growing calls for climate-smart agriculture. We have to make choices about how much land for food or bio-fuel production, maize or cassava and whether we prioritize large commercial interests or small farmers.

The younger among us have most to lose as 24-year-old Ekai Nabenyo from Turkana County has realized. He says with conviction, “Even if the (global UN) Paris Agreements disappoint us, I will continue to defend my home against drought and developers”. Ekai presses daily for his entire community to enforce environmental standards on oil companies and engage in re-afforestation. 77,000 trees have been planted in one of Kenya’s harshest environments through the community’s efforts to date.

We voted for the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment in our constitution. We can’t leave it to other people or to the Government. You and me are too important to look the other way. What can I do, I hear you ask?

Plant trees but avoid the beautiful and water-hungry jacarandas. To survive we will need to increase our national forest cover from 6% to 10%, share a car ride with a neighbor, workplaces, embrace public transport, a bicycle or walk where possible. Are you separating your household plastics, paper and food leftover? Are you water harvesting and using the water for farming? Parents, encourage a child to take on a career in environmental science, climate and renewable energy. Citizens, press our 48 Governments to govern our environment in line with Article 69 of the Constitution.

The world does not owe us an earth. We owe the world a sustainable earth. And it is time we started using our backbone instead of a wishbone on this issue. It’s time, we all started reading and acting up more.

I am thankful to UNEP Africa CC Coordinator Richard Munang for sharing his excellent article in response to the one above. Five days after this article, President Kenyatta declared national disaster to respond to the current drought affecting 23 arid and semi-arid counties.

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