Friday, March 23, 2012

An Enviropreneur’s Encounter with President Barack Obama on The Future We Want- A Renewable Dream!

In the beginning….
In preparation to the upcoming United Nations conference on sustainable development tagged RIO+20, I had gone to honour an invitation to deliver a lead paper at an international seminar jointly organized by the World Council for Renewable Energy [WCRE] and EUROSOLAR in the central business district of the city of Bonn, where both organizations are headquartered. The WCRE, founded in 2001 as an independent, non-government, non-profit organization determined to push the global paradigm shift in favour of a resource sustainable, just, equal, diverse and fully renewable energy based world, free of poverty and injustice; has grown to be the leading voice of reason in our chaotic climate change-threatened world that has been trapped in the poisonous web of nuclear and fossil fuel addiction.

The lead paper was thematic on how to use African Youths to rescue Africa and her economy from the stranglehold of fossil fuel addiction and move the continent irreversibly on the path of sustainable development. I lamented the under-utilization of the energy, knowledge, resourcefulness and innovative instincts of the Youths which would be the essential ingredients towards cooking The Future We Want to see as we transit towards a low carbon, resource constrained post petroleum economy that meets our social, economic and environmental needs. I had also emphasized that African youths cannot afford to adopt a “wait-and-see” approach towards meeting climate change challenges for development because the economy is highly dependent of healthy youths living in vibrant communities and environment.

More importantly, If African Youths were the future of Africa, then they must be primed to understand the interdependency between the Economic, Social and Environmental realms in order to guide and help our governments avoid making poor decisions which could even compromise the ability of the present and future generations to meet their basic needs. African youths must seize emerging opportunities to assert our energetic influence in the shaping of the type of sustainable development that guarantees a complete circumvention of the “Tragedy of the Commons” once and for all while making ourselves veritable fuel to drive The Future We Want!!

I had also enumerated how renewable energy, energy efficiency, environmental responsibility and sustainability could turn out to be Africa’s “holy grail” if we applied them creatively to our embarrassingly intractable electricity crisis, because more than any other continent, Africa needs the energy revolution and independence which renewable energy offers -when properly deployed, to improve quality of life on national and continental scales as long as stronger consensus building is promoted by all stakeholders who wish to invest in commercial renewable power generations capable of making Africa the global hub for renewable energy development and diffusion. The Desertec Industrial Initiative, Lake Turkana Wind power project and the geothermal energy project in the rift valleys of Kenya are practical testimonies to the feasibility, viability and practicality of the numerous benefits of renewable energy. Africa does not have any reasons not to be a renewable energy continent because the continent is so blessed with abundant sunlight, free flowing rivers, millions of tonnes of agricultural and municipal waste as well as sufficient wind current along our littoral and front line corridors.

And the Presidents step in
Midway into my paper, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, the President of Nigeria stepped in and quietly took his seat on the VIP table. When I was done with my lecture and made for my seat, I was congratulated by the VIPs who shook my hand for a job well done. “Stanley, that was a good one” President Jonathan said to me as we shook hands. “Thank you Sir” was my response to him. “By the way, where have you been all these while? I have not set my eyes on you since the day of my inauguration as Chairman of Economic Community of West African States [ECOWAS] just after our election” he said as he adjusted his pair of glasses.

I smiled and shook my head as I narrated to him how difficult it has been getting across to him once he won his election. He held my hand and looked straight into my eyes and said “Stanley, maybe you are making up excuses for bolting away since I became President”. He continued as we sat down “If you couldn’t access me, how come you didn’t get in touch with the Ministers of Power and Environment because they all know how to take you to me”.

I tried to explain to him that I actually got in touch with them but they kept coming up with reasons and narratives on how busy they have been. They even swore that they have not set their eyes on Your Excellency since you …. At this point, President Jonathan interjected and said “Okay, now that I’ve gotten hold of you, I guess we have a long way to go today because you’ll be joining me to attend to my other engagements in Germany today”. He later mounted the podium to apologize for coming late as he explained that his official schedules almost made it impossible for him to honour the invitation of the organizers but for the importance he attached to the event and the need to move Nigeria and the rest of Africa away from addictive fossil energy.

As we exited the venue, he insisted I rode with him in his official vehicle to his next destination which turned out to be an event being hosted by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The German State House was indeed a beehive of activities as staff and visitors alike were “hustling” around every inch of the sprawling edifice. Immediately some of the people sighted President Jonathan, they came rushing towards us trying to outdo one another in greeting him in their own special way - some shook hands with him with both hands while others joined both hands and their heads simultaneously even as others were almost on bended knees crawling just to better the record of the previous person who greeted the Nigerian President! I was enjoying the whole drama and while observing the young, not-too-old and old visitors who were milling around the space. “Mr. President!! Thank you for coming here again so soon after your state visit few months back”; Angela Merkel’s soft voice interrupted the drama I was enjoying. “Oh Madam Chancellor, I couldn’t help but come to share in your vision of leadership by example of dismantling the nuclear energy infrastructure that has been providing a large chunk of your country’s electricity needs” the Nigerian President said as he turned in the direction of the German Chancellor.

The German Chancellor was hosting some world leaders to a round table event meant to acquaint them with the effort Germany has been making towards replacing their nuclear energy stacks with wind turbines and solar farms. In attendance was President Barack Obama, President of the United States of America.  It was easy to tell that President Obama just finished a mini session with some groups from the G-77 countries as well as the Association of Small Island States [AOSIS] because banters and backslapping were freely flowing and one could feel their “polluter-must-pay” swagger as they all filed out behind the United States President whose attention was concentrated in our direction.

By this time, Obama and Jonathan were exchanging banters as they walked towards me and Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Minister. “Good evening Mr. President” was all we chorused as they approached us. Mr. Obama answered and jokingly said: “This one I know –referring to Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Minister; but this other tall one I don’t know. It is rare to see someone this tall outside the United States”. 

Mr. Jonathan laughed and quickly said: “No way! He is not from your country. He is my run away friend who I ran into in an event where we were both invited as special guests. Well, he said he is an Enviropreneur-whatever that means; but he delivered a good lecture on the imperatives of Youth driven environmental responsibility, renewable energy and energy efficiency for a Sustainable African Society at the well attended event and I “adult-napped” him afterwards. Mr. Obama looked very interested in me as he sought to know more about what Enviropreneurs like me do. I told him that “Enviropreneur promote policies, products, services and regulatory initiatives that are climate-resilient and that Enviropreneurs act as catalysts of the fast emerging global low carbon economy”

The Long Green Sermon 
At this point, the U.S President became sober and relapsed into a pensive mood as he went into a long sermon: “Talking about environmental responsibility, you know that I am almost as old as the environmental problems of the Niger Delta region in your country-one of the world’s most degraded ecological hotspots; having been born around the same time that oil was first discovered in commercial quantities there. Environmental problems exist all over the world and all hands must be on deck to fight the abuse of our much cherished common denominator, therefore I understand what a degraded environment means to the overall under-development of our civilization and I am keen to remain a key stakeholder in the efforts to bequeath a greener planet to our children and generations yet unborn by pushing the global market economy that depends solely on dangerous fossil fuel into a sustainable, green economy powered by clean, dependable, reliable and sustainable “green energy’’. 

I am already working on expanding the development of the Cleantech Industry in my country and I have gone ahead to re-assure all the producers, brokers, distributors, and retailers of bio-fuel, solar, wind and hydro energy resources as well as the firms providing ancilliary services to the green energy users and other stakeholders of a conducive environment for the growth and development of the Cleantech sector in God’s own country because we all have a stake in securing The Future We Want for our children and generations yet unborn- a future we can all be proud of. 

In fact, I continue to be motivated and inspired by what one of my predecessors, the very amiable Clinton said some time ago that “we are linked intrinsically by the physical and biological webs that sustain life on our planet-and, increasingly, by the unraveling. Indeed, unless we reach across borders and face this threat together, the next century may dawn on an earth in ecological crises, with half of all species gone, and our grandchildren enduring deadly floods, draught and diseases brought on by global warming”. 

Now that I am in the race to be re- elected to serve as President of the United States, I will be challenging our country to commit to producing 100% of our electricity from renewable energy and other carbon free sources within next two decades by leveraging on the difference in the energy economics of finite and infinite sources which makes the cost of one go up with increased demand while cost of the other goes down because it is free for ever. Also when we send money to foreign countries to buy about 70% of the energy we consume, they build skyscrapers with them and diversify their economies to rely on competitive industries funded by the US tax payers”.

He scratched his head as he continued: “This goal is achievable for us to stay eminently at the fore front of the battle to wrestle the global economy from fossil fuel addiction and guide same on a more sustainable green, low carbon pathway just the way Enviropreneurs and Environmental activists like you have been advocating by irreversibly committing to exploring alternative, renewable sources of power generation such as wind, Solar, Bio-energy”.

Looking at him straight in the eyes while re-adjusting my posture, I told him: “Mr. President, the impression of billions of people around the world is a picture of the United States being a clog in the wheels of progress to reach a global deal to check greenhouse gas emissions and reverse the trend of climate change-remember that your country and Australia were missing in action on the Kyoto signature page and just last December in Durban, Canada must have drawn misguided inspiration from that unpopular action in Kyoto”. He smiled and tapped President Jonathan on his shoulders as he concurred that his country has not done very well enough, using the many platforms presented by several United Nations climate change summits; to in his own words “incentivize action, create social capital around being part of a sustainable future in ways that engrave the subject of environmental responsibility, resource efficiency as well as general sustainability into the hearts and minds of billions of people worldwide”

President Obama did not disappoint as someone who captures your “mind and soul” with his gift of the garb as he continued: “I believe that already lessons drawn from about two decades of multilateral environmental negotiations are beginning to manifest, albeit at snail speed; considering the commendable efforts of Enviropreneurs who have succeeded in leveraging on the numerous benefits presented by energy efficiency and environmental responsibility to create the massively innovative cleantech industry”.

 At this point, everyone was listening with rapt attention as President Obama fires on: “As the number one citizen of the world’s biggest economy, I understand and appreciate the important place of the United States in energizing and diversifying the global economy. I understand that almost four million Americans and several millions others elsewhere live within a few feet of high tide and risk being hit by more frequent coastal flooding in coming decades because of the sea level rise occasioned by global warming and yes, I know that one of the most vulnerable states is in my country-Florida with roughly half of that state’s population living near the coast on the porous, low-lying continental shelf that borders much of the sunshine state even as New York, New Jersey Louisiana and California hang precariously on the precipice of being swallowed by rising sea level. 

At the very least, this unprecedented quantum of risk is enough to make us lubricate the wheels of future UN Climate summits and trust me, “RIO+20” offers a test ground to display our new found resolve to make the needed difference as we return to that great city where world leaders first constructed a new sustainable development paradigm that promised to enhance environmentally sound economic and social development at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 during the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. How time flies!!! 

He took a quick look at his wrist watch and looked around the place we stood, took a deep breath and continued: “Please permit me to share and update you on some of my ambitious plans for my dear country which would serve to galvanize global action in favour of sustainable development. Oh, oh I forgot the U.S presidential campaign is in top gear now and divulging some of these my green omnibus plans now might not be politically correct but just know that these my green plans are guaranteed game changers at the crust of which will be a robust policy of deliberate, conscious and conspicuous incentives to increase take up of renewable energy technologies via feed-in tariffs which will create investments further down the line even in smart grid and metering technologies”.

I did not plan to attend the event hosted by the German Chancellor on that day and I was not even invited but I can guess that even President Jonathan did not bargain for what the U.S President was serving us and he was far from done. He was calm, honest and composed as he continued from where he stopped: “I honestly believe that the implementation of my green omnibus projects mentioned earlier will create more than 1 billion jobs in direct and ancillary industries worldwide. I understand the fact that social unrest globally would be best fought using the double barreled weapons of employment generation and economic empowerment.

In addition, plans are under way to unleash a unique, novel Green Education Campaign [GEC] that will penetrate every home in America in such a way that would make our citizens understand the place of renewable energy, energy efficiency and environmental responsibility in revitalizing our economy that is just smarting from the recession of the most recent past. Immediately after the inauguration of my second tenure, I will liaise with Enviropreneurs worldwide to work out modalities on how to keep this Green Education Campaign in the public domain using both the print and electronic media with the popular rap musicians driving the process-imagine the positive impacts on youths worldwide when we get R.Kelly,   Beyonce,   Shakira   and Eminem to sing about the benefits of environmental responsibility and sustainable development! 

My government would work with professionals like you to achieve the exploration of the framework of sustainability potentials of our world in solving our nagging and embarrassing social distortions and ultimately drive the global economy towards a low carbon pathway consistent with the main stream science of climate change. Through these efforts and ambitious projects outlined earlier, we aim to give our economy the needed tonic to make it more robust and competitive.

Finally, I pledge that my next Presidency would usher us irreversibly into the low carbon economic pathway which billions of people globally have been yearning for all these years and I want to count on your support and partnership to turn these low carbon blueprints into reality. The future is indeed Green for all of us as members of one global community!”

I was speechless at this point and President Jonathan was wiping his glasses with his handkerchief. “Gentlemen, I must take my leave of you now as I am due for another emergency meeting” and with a broad smile, President Obama shook our hands again as he made his way back into the banquet hall where Chancellor Merkel was about addressing her guests on her vision to get Europe’s biggest economy to undertake a decommissioning of its dangerous nuclear as well as fossil fuel infrastructures by building wind farms and other renewable energy infrastructures that will cost around 200 billion Euros, nearly 8 percent of Germany’s gross domestic product in 2011 according to the best estimates of cleantech industry experts, which they hope will replace some 17 nuclear reactors that supplied about a quarter of their electricity needs.

Sudden but Painful flight back to reality:
A thunderous ovation greeted this announcement by the German Chancellor and suddenly, I felt something like an insect making an uncomfortable humming sound in my ears and when I turned to see what it was, I found myself rolling on my bed and sweating profusely. Oh no, these ubiquitous mosquitoes have woken me up from a wonderful dream and when I got up and peeped through the window, the whole neighbourhood was in total darkness as everyone had either ran out of diesel or hedging them against the usual darkness generated by the Power Holding Company of Nigeria - that monopoly that Nigerians love to hate with good reasons.

Nigeria’s electricity crisis is legendary and seems to defy every conventional solution but the bigger problem is that past governments had ignored the massive renewable energy potential of Nigeria and naively refused to harness these resources. So it was a dream after all, a “Renewable Dream” but who knows, President Barack Obama might turn out to be an Enviropreneur at heart and it remains to be seen if Americans would give him the power and authority to turn this beautiful renewable dream into reality. Indeed, Rio+20 presents a veritable platform for all stakeholders to Walk The Talk by doing the needful since we cannot negotiate with poor planet earth that has been subjected to unprecedented pressure by all of us!

Stanley Ijeoma is Africa’s foremost Enviropreneur and Country Representative for Nigeria on the board of World Council for Renewable Energy [WCRE]
*** This Article, re-purposed for the “Rio Blogger Prize”, is an adaptation of “An Enviropreneurs Encounter with Mr. President-A Renewable Dream!” first published 27th July, 2011 by the Green World Society-A voice for Nigerian Environment & Development.

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