A Way Forward in the Midst of Climate Chaos: Re-storying “The Good Life” — A Proposal by Nnimmo Bassey
What does re-thinking how we as a society and as individuals define “the good life” have to do with climate change? On the 14th of November, 2021, Roots & Routes IC’s Youth Visionary Collective interns and Nnimmo Bassey, Founder of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), an ecological think tank organization, based in Nigeria, advocating for environmental and climate justice, as well as food sovereignty in Nigeria and Africa at large, put their heads together to find out and now, we want to share some of what we learned with you.
During the Youth Visionary Collective’s weekly Sunday meeting, Bassey — who is also a member of the R&R Council of Advisors — asked a question to the members of the Youth Visionary Collective (YVC) to spark conversation: “What is ‘the good life’?”
The interns gave varying responses: spending time in nature, having fulfilment, what gives peace, and an attitude of gratitude. Veronika Juylova, YVC intern from North Carolina (USA), stated, “Being able to bond and reflect on yourself and your environment, as well as finding yourself and others is the good life.”
According to Nnimmo, “the good life” means to live and let others live. It means to protect the environment at all costs, not just for our good but also for the good of our neighbours:
“The good life is when you live in a way that makes life better for the next person”
— Nnimmo Bassey
He expanded on this statement by explaining that the people around us should breathe clean air — not air polluted as a result of our hazardous activities. It is important at all times to live with environmental sustainability in mind, and also in heart. In other words, every action should be taken only when carefully considering one’s environment and people around them.
What we came to understand: Redefining “the good life”, i.e. wealth, has everything to do with how we can re-story our relations to the world from extractive to respectful approaches to the Earth and one another. Only by doing so can we combat climate change.
Nnimmo Bassey is a jack of all trades, and according to him, the various roads taken have all been stepping stones leading him where he is today. Instead of being contradictory traits or contrasting aspects of his professional career, they form the various parts of who he is. Moreover, Bassey is a Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Architects, a poet, an environmental researcher, and author of books about all three topics. He received an honorary doctorate from the University of York, United Kingdom and sits on the Steering Committee of Oil Watch International.
Nnimmo Bassey was born on June 11, 1958. When asked what his childhood was like and how his upbringing contributed to his present day conceptualization of the good life, Nnimmo, who generally avoids talking about himself, gave the YVC a rare privilege: he reflected on his childhood growing up in Nigeria.
Nnimmo said that he was greatly impacted by the context he grew up in on the continent of Africa. Sadly, his primary education was disrupted by the war between Nigeria and Biafra. He shared that as a child he saw many dead bodies and that witnessing war and its accompanying atrocities led him on a pathway of human rights.
Later in life, Nnimmo first joined the Human Rights movement. He joined an organization standing up for the people who were suffering under Military rule in Nigeria. That, he said, was both exciting and dangerous. Many sacrifices were made by many people in order to seek justice. Although Bassey was detained a number of times, he was hooked: he would keep on moving forward for human rights, and peace-with-justice processes. As he did, he began to better understand how the military was working on the side of injustice against the people, backing the interests of transnational corporations with total disregard of the repercussions for the environment.
Nnimmo found himself at a crossroads: human rights and saving the environment go hand-in-hand. He knew what he had to do: help people better understand these interrelations and get them on board to work towards total societal transformation. “COP 26 is a flop and will not tackle the problem,” Bassey said, responding to youth’s questions about his experience at COP 26, the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in October 2021. He expressed deep concern that COP conferences have been going in the wrong direction since its inception, but somehow is applauded by many.
Bassey stated how the he Paris Agreement — a legally binding international treaty on climate change that was signed by 196 parties on December 12, 2015 at COP21 — was a defective agreement that could not solve the global climate issues because it set a 1.5 degrees Celsius limit, compared to pre-industrial levels, for global warming.
Nnimmo, however, posed a critical question for global society. It is 2021, when many nations are finally talking about racial justice for past wrongs at the foundations of their countries. Then, how in the world could states feel like this is a feasible agreement, he exclaimed, if this basically means sacrificing the people of the African continent once again?
Africa is around 50% warmer than the global average, thus a 1.5 degree increase in global warming means 2 degrees for Africa, causing irreparable damages for the continent. You can hear Nnimmo discussing this topic on this reel:
Yet again, the conversations at COP26 and other global events on climate change are centered around purported solutions proposed by the Global North, whose industries are the source of extractive practices that lead to both carbon emissions and human rights abuses. Countries and peoples most affected by global climate change must have a seat at the table that is creating international, national, and local policies for its mitigation!
Further, Nnimmo explains an impediment to the global transformation that is needed: Despite addressing a planetary issue, the Paris Agreement depends on individual nations ratifying its contents and taking action, and each nation can do whatever they feel is suitable and convenient as the world approaches 2050. Such an approach that lacks a sense of global urgency dumps the consequences of such inaction to be inherited by future generations, by our children and grandchildren all around the globe, and especially in the Global South.
“At this point, where is the future when there is no today?”
— Nnimmo Bassey
Nnimmo said that in his culture, people say “the most difficult person to wake up is those pretending to be asleep”. He recommended that “We need to shock the leaders to wake them up from their slumber.”
Incorporating an outlook that is based in Rights of Nature, Nnimmo said, is a viable way forward. The Rights of Nature outline the intrinsic rights of all living things to maintain and replicate their natural cycles. It recognizes all of the natural world as subjects of rights — rivers, trees, mountains, oceans, and all flora and fauna. The whole notion of the Rights of Nature requests that we re-story human relations to the world, so that they are based in respect, and actually points us in the direction of where we need to go.
According to Nnimmo, “the planet can do without humans, but we humans can not do without the planet, regardless of who builds a rocket to go to space”. The Rights of Nature helps us to understand that we as humans form a part of Nature. Bassey provided us with numbers to consider: humans constitute 1.01% of the biomass of living creatures on planet Earth.
Reflecting on humans as constituting such a small part of the biomass of living beings on the Earth but having such a tremendous negative impact, what can we do differently and how? Taking into account what Nnimmo has shared with the Youth Visionary Collective, and now with you, we believe that it is important to be humble, call ourselves to order, and work towards protecting Mother Earth. We, the YVC, are ready to enlist on this mission.
Bassey advised us that colonialism has not ended, and that the most dangerous thing about colonialism is not the foreign flag in your territory, but instead the ideas in your mind. This is something that we can all do, no matter what the color of our skin or our creed. We are all one and should not be carried away by extractive thinking that has been imposed on the Earth and in our minds, destroying our interconnections with one another and all species.
A final note was hope. Nnimmo urged R&R’s youth interns, and all people, to live in hope — not in fear.
For, no matter what happens to those struggling for climate justice in the present, the message will live on. Nnimmo Bassey encourages us that we too can follow in his footsteps: keep on with the struggle to make Mother Earth safe for ourselves and those around us by living in respect and defining “the good life” as such.
There is not an alternate Earth. It is the only habitable planet for humans. Thus, we should care for the Earth with true sustainability both in our mind and in our hearts.