We all know what it means to be conscious. The very fact that you are reading this right now is a testament to your consciousness. If you weren’t, you would be unable to read this article. To be conscious is simply to be aware of and responsive to your surroundings. In the same vein, environmental consciousness is simply an awareness of the environment which then fosters an understanding of its fragility and the importance of its protection.
Environmental awareness is an integral part of environmental preservation and restoration. If people can establish a connection with nature; the trees, the ocean, the air we breathe and much more, they can be motivated to fight for it instead of against it. According to Richard Rogers, a renowned architect; the only way forward, if we are going to improve the quality of the environment, is to get everybody involved. By teaching our friends and family that the physical environment is fragile and indispensable, we are closer to fixing the problems that threaten it.
Sooner or later, we will have to recognise that the Earth has rights, too, to live without pollution. These rights will either be given by a reduction in harmful anthropogenic activities or be taken by natural disasters triggered by human activities.
This week, Renewable energy expert, Akin Olukiran contributes to the column by sharing how he caught the environmental bug with the hope that more people will be inspired to go all out for the environment.
“On many occasions in life, providence brings people together and it becomes a life-changing encounter. Such is my encounter with Dr Newton Jibunoh, the renowned Desert Warrior and environmental crusader. When he asked me recently to write a piece to contribute to his widely-read weekly column, I considered it an honour and a challenge. It’s an honour for a man I hold in so much esteem, who is my mentor and has devoted the best part of his life to campaigning unrelentingly about the environment, to ask me to write for him. It is equally challenging because he is asking me to fill his highly informative and light-humoured series, laced with relevant historical references.
It is a common axiom amongst the Yoruba of South West Nigeria that it is easier to start a campaign than it is to maintain it. Indeed, many people start one campaign or the other, it is the staying power of individuals that mark them out as enduring life-changers. This, in a society where many Nigerians have been noted for their inability to keep momentum going, is what sets Dr Newton Jibunoh apart. Making his return journey back to Nigeria at the end of his studies in the United Kingdom as a young graduate in 1966, by road, all on his own, and through the relatively uncharted Sahara Desert, was seen by many of his colleagues who chose to fly, as a suicide mission. That experience was to change his life! The drive through the Sahara Desert in 1966 revealed the harshness of life around the Sahara and the environmental impact it was having on the people living around the desert. He was haunted by the scale of its barrenness and most disturbingly, by the fact that it is alive and encroaching southwards, claiming an estimated 1 kilometre of erstwhile arable land every year.
He would spend the following 34 years gathering information about the desert and its effect on climate change. At the ripeness of time, he devoted all his resources – time, energy and money – to raising awareness of the devastating environmental effect of desertification and the importance of planting trees. Most poignantly, he used his personal resources, high level contacts and ultimately put his life on the line for the sake of bringing into global attention, the menace of desertification and raising the consciousness of his native Nigeria to the economic and social fall-out of “doing nothing”. Dr Jibunoh, through his activities and over a sustained period of 53 years and still counting, has succeeded in arousing my consciousness in matters of the environment.
Dr Newton Jibunoh, in 2000, armed with the data he had gathered over the preceding three decades on the activities of the Sahara desert and its impact on the environment decided it was time the attention of the Nigerian leaders was drawn to it and bought to global attention. A high profile figure with the right network of people and the resources to initiate the project was most needed, and this is what Dr Jibunoh provided. There is never a major breakthrough without pain and risk – he was prepared to lay down his life in the quest to bring this problem to world attention by driving solo through the Sahara Desert from Lagos to London – at the age of 62!
I met with him in London at the end of this grueling but eventful trip and listening to him passionately giving account of his experience and goal, I caught the bug. I became an overnight convert with the latent consciousness in me, awakened! The bond and shared vision became strong that I was invited to join the Board of the nascent NGO he had just formed – Fight Against Desert Encroachment (FADE). Together, we set to work and went to the House of Lords together to present the matter to the Committee on the Environment. We traveled together to Bonn, Germany to present papers at the United Nations Summit on Sustainable Development in 2001 and the following year, FADE Africa secured the UNCCD accreditation.
The wide coverage of his trip at the time on both national and international media, including NTA, CNN, BBC World and all the print media in Nigeria, captivated the Nigerian masses and it aroused/engendered a new spirit of sustainability drive and selflessness in the country. By the time the expedition was over and Dr Jibunoh arrived London, scores of Nigerians had registered to join FADE as volunteers in bringing about environmental change and advocacy in the country. With his constant encouragement for me to move to Nigeria to contribute my quota to National development, it came naturally to me to think of something in the area of environment. When I informed him I was going into renewable energy, he was over the moon and gave all the support he could.
By his perseverance and unwavering commitment to environmental issues, Dr Jibunoh has ignited a passion for the environment in thousands of people across the globe that are not privileged to narrate their stories the way I have. In my next piece, I will be writing about the renewable energy sector (solar power specifically) and its positive impact on the environment.”
Akin Olukiran is on the Board of FADE and can be reached on Olukiran@gmail.com