Environmental Politics and Climate Change in Nigeria’s Oil-rich Niger Delta Region ~ Abosede Omowumi Babatunde

Oil-rich Nigeria is one of the leading Greenhouse Gas Emitting Countries in the world. Oil extractive activities in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria also make the country one of the most vulnerable in the world to climate change. In the Delta, many oil communities are facing severe environmental, socio-economic and health-related stressors linked to the adverse effects of oil pollution on their environment and on traditional livelihoods of farming and fishing. 

Climate change is one of the major consequences of the extractive activities of transnational oil companies in the region. Oil and gas exploration is also accompanied by massive oil spills and gas flaring due to the poor environmental practices of the transnational oil companies. A recent report of the Stakeholder Democracy Network, a local NGO in the Niger Delta, indicated oil spilled and gas flared, are far higher than the African and global average on a per unit basis. The report noted that in 2018 alone, an estimated 440 billion cubic feet of natural gas that was flared by the oil industry in Nigeria produced around 25 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. Gas flaring exposes the people to excessive heat, air pollution and acid rain, which affect crop growth, fish productivity and result in health hazards. Rising sea level in the coastal oil communities is worsened by oil activity, increasing the risk of flooding in these communities. 

My research is focused on the environmental politics linked to the interaction between network of global, national and local actors involved in oil extractive activities, and how the interaction drives a vicious cycle of environmental despoliation that is pervasive in the Niger Delta region. This demands multipronged international and local responses to finding lasting solutions to the environmental crisis and climate change impacts.

What I suggest through my research is that understanding the nature and dynamics of the environmental politics in the Niger Delta can provide nuanced insights into the region’s vulnerability to climate change and its consequences. While the local people are aware that over five decades of oil extractive activities by transnational oil corporation cause environmental harms, there seems to be little knowledge of the climate change impacts. 

The low level of awareness of climate change may be more pronounced in the local communities in the Niger Delta despite the knowledge about the environmental harms from oil operations. The local people’s grievance and reactions to environmental harms can ironically worsen the negative impacts. Since the people are directly affected by oil pollution, their violent reactions in the form of destruction of oil facilities, pipeline vandalism, illegal oil bunkering and artisanal oil refining, which exposes them to a vicious cycle of environmental despoliation. 

Ultimately the local farmers, fisherfolk, traders, children and old people without political or economic power must contend with this vicious cycle of environmental harms. The few oil benefits, including compensations for oil spills, local contracts for oil spills clean up, and other lucrative gains accruing from oil corporations and the government development agencies in the Niger Delta are monopolised by the local elites and youth militias who claim to represent the people. The oil companies and the Nigerian government prefer to do business with with these local elites and youth militias who are rewarded for violent confrontation than to embark on genuine efforts to remedial the environment and provide sustainable livelihoods for the people at large. 

The interaction between the powerful transnational oil corporations, national government, local elites and youth militants form the basis of environmental politics in the Niger Delta. This complex politics is driving a vicious cycle of environmental harms, and requires concerted actions from these powerful and formidable international and local actors if a long lasting solution is to be found.

Nature, Mental Health and Wellbeing ~ Samantha Walton

There is now extensive evidence linking human mental health and wellbeing to interactions with nature. Tests on saliva and blood have shown how time spent in parks and forests helps the body manage and dissipate hormones associated with stress, while long term studies demonstrate how therapeutic gardening and farming programmes can support people in the management of long-term mental health issues, making recovery or remission possible in ways other treatments often fail to achieve. 

This research challenges the separation between ‘human’ and ‘nature.’ It is obvious that our physical survival depends on a flourishing natural ecosystem. Catastrophic events like flooding, heatwaves, droughts and pandemics are painful reminders of how people and societies are vulnerable to changes in local environments and the wider hydro, bio and atmospheres. Cognitively and emotionally, ecology shapes and benefits the mind, and can affect how we think, feel and act. 

There is more to the ‘nature cure’ than this, though. The human-nature connection is social and cultural as well as biological and there are drawbacks to a purely medical account of what nature does for us, and our mental health. 

In my research, I draw from philosophy, literature, art and history, to better understand the nature-wellbeing connection. This includes questioning the understanding of ‘nature’ that prevails in much scientific research. When you dig deep into the studies, ‘nature’ can mean almost anything. A flourishing wetland, a strip of pavement grass, or a tree viewed from a fifteenth story window: they are not the same thing, ecologically or sensually. 

Using nature as a ‘tool’ for healing will get us nowhere. Many of our social and ecological problems can be traced to the modern tendency towards extraction. Draining lands and ecosystems dry of raw materials—oil, water, minerals, flora—generates wealth, but inevitability results in ecological collapse. By that time, the wealth has usually flowed elsewhere, leaving local communities suffering environmental devastation in the form of pollution, soil infertility, toxicity or drought. Extractive relations are peculiar to European colonialism and the economic relations which developed from it; they are not inevitable in all human societies. 

Evidence from the aftermath of natural disasters show spikes in post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression, unfairly distributed along lines of class, race and gender. Global heating has been shown to increase aggression and stress. The American Psychiatric Association and the Lancet now take terms like ‘ecological grief’ and ‘solastalgia’ seriously, blaming ecological suffering for new problems with mental health. 

Taking the connection between mental health and nature seriously means more than just encouraging people to get outside. It demands wrestling with our very real grief, and our very reasonable anxiety. It means addresses the causes of harm, to people and the environment. Only collective, intergovernmental action to stop climate change can allow us to seriously allow us to discover what it means to be ‘well’.

Race and Climate in the American Suburb ~ Robert Gioielli 

California officials recently enacted a number of laws designed to address the state’s seemingly endless housing crisis. One of the most controversial of these was arguably the most innocuous: an “upzoning” bill that would allow people to put multiple homes on smaller lots in the state’s sprawling suburbs.

From an urban planning perspective, the goal is simple: More density means more construction that should lower housing costs. It can also encourage more walkable communities with better public transit, lessening dependence on carbon intensive automobiles. This means upzoning can solve both social and environmental goals. But opposition to it came from some of the city’s most liberal enclaves, such as Marin County, the verdant suburb north of San Francisco. Marin residents, many of whom highlighted their support for social justice and environmental issues, were nevertheless fiercely devoted to protecting their bucolic enclave of suburban, single-family homes. 

To many supporters of housing reform, what was lurking beneath this opposition was an effort to protect the socioeconomic and racial exclusivity of Marin, which is one of the least integrated counties in the entire state. Many believed that once two or three apartments could be built on a suburban street, than it was likely poor and working class people of color could move in. 

These most recent battles in California highlight one of the central challenges the United States faces during the long road to decarbonization. The source of much of the country’s fossil fuel addiction is its sprawling, automobile dependent suburbs, which themselves are the product of efforts to maintain racial segregation in an increasingly diverse metropolis. This has created a system where race is bound up into energy intensive suburban sprawl. Any effort to address one issue must address the other. 

Racism and suburban development have a long history in the United States, as some of the oldest suburban communities were explicitly designed to build wealth by creating white racial exclusivity. The policies and practices that maintain these communities were technically outlawed after the passage of civil rights legislation in the 1960s. But white suburbanites looked to new, theoretically “race blind” methods to protect their communities, the most powerful of which was single-family home zoning. 

Suburban sprawl is a global phenomenon, but one of the factors that makes the American version unique is the almost religious-like devotion to the single-family home, which is firmly embedded within American culture and political economy. The single-family home is considered the major marker of status and success, but is also the primary investment and savings vehicle for the majority of Americans. Social security in the United States is physically built on the purchase and maintenance of a single-family home. 

Beginning in the 1970s, suburban governments across the country began enacting complex zoning and development restrictions that were designed to keep out all forms of social housing, apartments and really any sort of building density. The stated belief was that a mix of housing would lower property values, but wrapped up into this legally defensible form of exclusivity was a form of racial fear. White suburbanites believed that rental housing could attract lower-income residents from central city areas, especially people of color, which would harm their long-term investment and the social stability of their communities. 

California’s upzoning battle is only the most recent and largest of thousands of such fights in communities across the country over the past fifty years. Suburbanites have fought the extension of city bus and rail lines, the construction of social housing, even new parks, sidewalks and street lights, all based on the belief that anything that resembled urban infrastructure would bring the “city,” and thus people of color, to their community. 

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