The Universal Problem of Selfish Natural Resource Giveaway

“I believe that we fight a problem much greater than just one campaign for a waterfall, a wetland, a forest or a protected area. It’s a war against natural resource destruction in this country and around the world.”

Growing up in an African & Christian family, mealtimes, especially dinner were our time to bond. I didn’t appreciate this as much, those times, as I do when I look back today.

What I remember more is when the food was ready, Mama would insist that we only asked for what we would be able to consume. “There are kids in other parts of the world who have little or nothing to eat”, she would say each time we had food to throw to waste. Until today, I struggle to demolish (as we commonly say) what I serve myself.

My Dad, on the other hand, compelled us to look at every meal as an undeserved present from God requiring us to live thankfully for his daily providence. We would say grace, bless our meal and also ask God to provide for those that didn’t have what to eat.

I was joking about this very same thing earlier this week over lunch in Entebbe, but I don’t think it had resonated as well as it did the following day while we drove past the Kichumbanyombo gate the main southern entry Murchison Falls National Park towards the ‘top of the falls’ where the Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO) held a press conference on natural resource conservation, the case of Murchison Falls National Park.

Top of the falls. Murchison Falls
A recent photo of the Murchison Waterfalls as seen from the top

Seldom are we thankful for what is gifted! We destroy with promises to rebuild, we care about our own needs or those in our bubble, we are guzzlers, and we like to cover-up for our mistakes. These are some characteristics of human behavior I see everywhere, every day.

We are proud engineers of climate change

Challenges like Climate Change are a visible outcome of our behavior, and it has been worst felt in countries which we like to emulate; the ones we refer to as “the BIG ones”.

Zooming in on the United Kingdom. The UK has had its 10 warmest years in recent times; between 2002 and now. This is according to a study that gives a comparison; looking back as far back as 1884.

Then there is the case of Michigan in the USA. In the shadow of the Marathon Oil refinery, children breathe in polluted air and are facing much greater rates of cancer and asthma, higher than any other neighborhood before.

Marathon Refinery
Marathon Refinery. Photo Credit: Forbes

The western world is on the frontlines of climate change and they paint a vivid image of what is ahead for a country like Uganda if it continues to allow unfettered industrialization, unplanned human settlement, tolerating pollution, and allowing the fossil fuel industry to profit off the disturbance of nature.

A report by WWF and Global Footprint Network marks that our annual global natural resource budget for this year (2019) would have been exhausted by 9 May 2019 – 10 May 2019 if we didn’t change our actions.

I mistook Murchison Falls National Park for a construction site

About a year ago I had written a piece about oil and tourism in the Murchison Falls National Park.

I had projected a hive of destructive activity in the national park, I had predicted an ugly scene of Chinese clearing natural indigenous tree species for a tarmacked dual carriage road with very little supervision and respect of the Environmental Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) and I had foreknown the destruction of a natural forest canopy (our “environmental washroom sink”).

I had also presaged that tourists would constantly query tour guides and tour operators about what exactly was going on inside one of Uganda’s most popular protected areas when they would see heavy trucks racing past their safari jeeps, leaving a translucent dirt fog.

I can’t really explain how I felt when I saw it first hand for the first time. I can’t say I was shocked. Perhaps I can say I felt a weird mix of emptiness and dander.

Several groups have been expressing concern about the ceaseless reclamation of natural resources, one crusade after another; agitating against the unattractive hand that eats one’s nation into waste unbothered by the obvious impacts that have ensued, are resulting, and those which will follow.

Another proposal for a hydropower dam in Murchison

To my dismay, last week my eyes landed on another request letter for another consultation by an upcoming hydropower dam project, the Kiba Hydropower Dam which had been cleared to carry out an ESIA.

The letter dated 25th January 2019 revealed that another dam (also planned inside the Murchison Falls Conservation Area) was coming up. I am reliably informed this particular one is going to be constructed upstream and a pre-feasibility study had apparently already been done although not so many people were consulted, if at all any.

As one with interests in the tourism sector when I asked if we could look at the details of the pre-feasibility study, I was not surprised by the “it’s not a public document” kind of answer.

When I look back at events of the past and how they form our future, I cannot expect that our recommendations to the ESIA for this other hydropower dam will be considered, but just another consultation that goes down the drain.

These guys (I mean the Chinese) will most definitely be given development contracts for the Kiba Dam and the ESIA will just be another document that ticks particular boxes. Save me the mumble-jumble that “local companies are unable to prepare professional competitive bids in the oil and gas”. It’s disgustingly outright selfishness against the citizens of our land, Uganda.

Some of the ongoing works inside Murchison Falls National Park, leading to the top of the falls

The Bonang Hydropower project promises benefits to tourism

The other day I was listening to a chap in government reciting how the planned hydropower dam in the Murchison Falls Conservation Area would be the much-needed source of energy for the country including the safari lodges inside the park and the developments in the Oil and gas sector.

But then last week, I read in the New Vision about Government’s plans to use renewable geothermal energy from hot springs to heat up the crude oil pipeline in the same area and you wonder why they need both despite the excess energy in the country.

I believe that we fight a problem much greater than just one campaign for a waterfall, a wetland, a forest or a protected area. It’s a war against natural resource destruction in this country and around the world.

At the current rate, we need 2.8 earths to contain us

Reports will show you that we currently have used 1.6 earths; which is more than what we have available, and we will need 2.8 Earths to sustain our demand of natural resources in the very near future, but there’s only one earth available.

The good news is that the ability to shift this date further away is one that we have control over if we choose to do the right things.

Shocking report shows Uganda and Kenya are already significant biocapacity debtors. Source: Global Footprint Network

Jammed by archaic economic processes

On the flip side, the current economical systems are unfortunately based on a perception of a world that no longer exists; one where there was plenty of natural resources to sustainably harvest. The carbon Footprint of humanity was close to zero back then but it’s gone way beyond the limits today.

In the days of David Ricardo, global trade was not measured in trillions of dollars but in millions. The human population was about the size of 750 million, which is very far from today’s 7.4+ billion. History reveals that vast expanses of land existed, intact forests, plenty of uncontaminated waters and labor was cheap.

Today’s reality reveals that we have reached the limits to growth, in many cases surpassing them. Our present economic system and how we prioritize particular developments cannot be the same as it was several years ago, in the times of philosophers, economists and scientists like David Ricardo, Karl Marx, and Allan Smith.

What we must do, and do it very fast

The faster we understand that our existence is competitively supported by what nature provides – food, timber, fiber, fossil fuel, land to build infrastructure and carbon absorption the sooner we will see that it’s no longer a discussion about future generations (grandchildren) but an issue of the present times (our children).

The UN Sustainable Development Goal 7 “Affordable and Clean Energy”, calls for substantially increasing the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix by 2030. We can never be sustainable if development exceeds our planet’s resource budget.

The discussion on climate change, in particular, is one that commands a significant segment of airtime in the universal debate. Governments and communities that have faced the anger of overstepping the earth are getting an ever-growing appreciation of the need for banded measures with an arsenal of strategies to fight to reverse the often irreversible. They speak so nicely of our country when they visit because they know what it means to have and not have, “when it is too little too late”.

It’s not simply a conversation about setting greenhouse gas emissions-reduction targets and shifting them every year. Persons in authority must interest themselves in paying a lot more critical attention to the issue in its entirety as they represent their voters; we must hold them accountable. This, I believe, separates insightful from lukewarm leaders.

Parting remarks

Looking at the core of our survival, natural resource destruction will continue to define the foundation of challenges facing human development in the 21st Century and if we fail to respond to this challenge, we will delay and also reverse international efforts to reduce poverty.

Even with modest UN projections for population growth, consumption and climate change, by 2030 humanity will need the capacity of at least two Earths to absorb carbon dioxide, waste and keep up with natural resource consumption (Source: Global footprint network).

“For African Nation States like my own which have over the years suffered from a classic case of the “resource curse”; a phenomenon, where areas with abundant resources tend to be worse off for it, thanks to government exploitation and commercial exportation; our energy should be pressed towards taking a more critical look at the fossil fuel industry, renewable energy, and water governance”.

These are key areas in the blueprints for fighting climate change. Sadly, the poorest people will suffer the earliest and most hurting setbacks, even though they have made the least contribution to the problem.

Source: ugandatourist.com