Time for a New Environmental Message
Dear Noemi Kila
Today’s epistle is addressed to you partly because (generally speaking) charity begins at home and it doesn’t get homelier than with you; partly because even after my decades and miles of mental, as well as physical, vagabondage, you remain the most committed and consistent advocate and practitioner of the credo of environmentalism that I have come across. This missive is also a chance for me to succinctly, formally and in communion share my position of environmentalism with you and others.
Above all, I am convinced of the need of a total change in the conception and delivery of the gospel of environmentalism and I am sure that it is people like you, with your exposure, commitment and compassion that can that shape and best deliver the winning new environmental message.
It is my hope by the end of our conversations, even though I do not convince you or bring to my position, you will at least see that I am not an anti-environmentalist but a sensible pragmatic environmental reformist.
Let us start with what we agree on.
Just like you, I agree that the environment is visibly one of our biggest assets: It shapes and nurtures us and from the environment, we derive all we use for our progress and development. We also both agree that the environment must be treated with care. And I add, with the care, we should be giving to all we hold dear.
To the question why must we treat the ambient with care? Our answers will differ and they will differentiate us. It appears to me that you and other environmentalists of your ilk conceive our need to be frugal with the environment as existential even bordering on spiritual whilst I will argue it is purely functional. Our answers will also show our ideas about human beings, their nature, right, and duties in the world.
Some of us believe that by default, man is geared to pursue progress and development with the aim of obtaining happiness and that with such propension comes the need to tame and shape the environment. We hold that the quest for a better human life comes with activities that require the dominating of the environment and nature in general.
It would appear that there are others who think the right way forward is for man to live tamed by nature. To these people, for the sake of the environment, we must reduce our consumption, limit our activities and find a way to live in what is termed as in harmony with the environment. The most ardent ones in this group go on to depict man as an intruder if not an enemy of nature. They are rarely violent but they can still be easily dangerous.
Just a few weeks ago there were widely circulated reports with images and comments celebrating the advantages of absence of humans from the streets and seas. Such images showed us how, thanks to the COVID-19 induced lockdown, the voluntary or imposed stay home orders, the waters are purer and fishes were healthier, our streets were safer and animals were happier. We were shown pictures from Venice of shoals of fish and swans, from Florida and other beaches in the world those of sea turtles, from London and other cities of animals all happy, safer and blossoming because man is not around to pollute.
The idyllic images of nature triumphing in the absence of man almost made some think and say let us kill man, let us get rid of all of humanity and maybe the world will be a better place.
Dear Noemi Kila, I am sure that is what you have in mind. Your intention I am sure is not to make a human being feel unwanted on earth so let us find a new way of delivering the environmental message. The image and idea that man is an enemy of nature must change. It cannot attract most, it is at the moment creating a barrier made of suspicion between the average man and environmental champions.
The new environmental message must aim for a bigger tent that can accommodate all, such message must, therefore, understand that sacrifices you ask of countries and people whose main health issue stems from obesity cannot be the same kind of sacrifice you will ask of those whose main health issues stem from hunger.
For the new message to work for all, it is important to rediscover the nature of mankind, we are not by nature built to adapt talk less of subjugating ourselves to the environment. Man tends to bend nature, we can and tend to conquer it. When at our best, we dare, we invent, we select and create. We are the beings that make things grow in deserts. We turn hot rooms into cold and we make our homes hot whilst it is freezing outside. We are the only beings though with no wings have had the audacity to fly. The new environmental message must key into our ability to creatively solve problems and those that are informed enough to care about the environment must approach the best of us with humility for solutions as many do to the gods: Appease rather than confront or condemn.
Join me if you can @anthonykila to continue these conversations.
Prof Anthony Kila is Centre Director at CIAPS Lagos.