It used to be that in the days gone by, we the old told the young how to listen, how to speak, how to respect their elders, how to behave and how to do good to a fellow human being. Today, it is time for the old to listen to the young, especially on matters to do with the environment, governance and tolerance in society because, ultimately, Planet Earth belongs to them. We, the old, have done so much damage to the environment, the economy and the level of empathy we once had for each other over the last five decades.
We show young people that bad politicians don’t get punished, they get rewarded. We harm the environment with our greed and lack of foresight. Now, the young will have no choice but to fix the damage that we have inflicted on Mother Earth, a place that was once so green and clean. The seas and oceans were once blue and the land so fertile.
Since there is no other place with life like Earth, where do we expect those coming after us to live? Those before us managed the environment well, they created the ‘evil forest’ in some places as part of their way of preserving the environment. There was clean air from the forest and clean water from the rivers and lakes. Nigeria had over 40 per cent of forest cover and the level of land degradation in the north was minimal. Today, we have less than 7 per cent of our forest cover. Our houses used to be full of trees and flowers, now we mostly have concrete despite the fact that a law exists that mandates house-owners to designate a third of their compound to greenery.
Professor Wole Soyinka, a conservationist, lives in a forest as part of his advocacy to promote environmental conservation, is now in his middle 80s, how many more Nigerians are taking after him?
The Lake Chad was one of the biggest natural lakes in the world referred to then as ‘the eye of Africa.’ It was a bountiful site providing potable water for not only for Nigeria, but also for the neighbouring countries. It also harboured a good number of marine life. It was an all-season lake that was a source of water to millions of people in West Africa. The once beautiful lake has now shrunk by nine-tenths, that is, losing 90 per cent, of its size due to climate change, population growth and irrigation. The unfortunate part of it all is that it took over 20 years for it to dry up and all we did was watch as it happened and as communities that depended on the lake were forced to migrate away from their homes in search of water and food.
Aside from Lake Chad, another area where we have failed young people is with the current state of the desert. I experienced the Sahara during my first expedition across it and, at that time, I noticed that there were more deserts in almost every continent of the world except Europe and that all the deserts were being tamed. The Gobi Desert in China, which is the second biggest after Sahara is today a thriving area that is well developed to the point that a great deal of the agricultural sector is domicile in the desert. I visited and saw this for myself.
I also visited and saw how Las Vegas was built in the Nevada desert. Today, Las Vegas is a world tourist and leisure destination. The same with the Negev desert in Israel. The whole of Israel was taken from the desert, which I also visited before writing my book Bridging the Desert, a different perspective almost 20 years ago. These examples show how intentional many cities of the world are with maximizing the resources around them for their benefit, all except African cities.
The Sahara borders a number of countries that equally share in its challenges yet out the Great Green Wall project that established a time back with the hope of greening the desert but is yet to reach its target in many areas; very little has been done to tame the Sahara. This has always been a cause of concern for me and it still is, as my exploration of the Sahara gave me a vivid idea of the damage that was being done by the desert in communities along its fringes. It was only a matter of time before the effects spilled into the hinterlands; a case in point is the issue of extreme migration and farmers/herders’ clashes that we are experiencing at this present time.
At 60, I journeyed to the University of Israel to study the science of desertification. I saw how it could be done and how it had been done. It wasn’t an impossible feat but one that required a serious and focused people with clear policies to back those efforts.
With today’s global youth population at about 1.2 billion, it comes as no surprise that young people are refusing to let adults lead on this matter that will have the most profound impact on them. With stories like the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who inspired the Friday Climate Strike movement, to many other young people across the world engaged in different climate actions, we are seeing an unprecedented wave of green revolutions being led by the youth. This gladdens my heart because we, the old, have failed them and it is time we start to listen so we can make amends.