WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY

Maathai’s lessons still hold true

Our collective future on earth depends on our efforts to lessen impact of climate change.

In Summary

• She emphasised the planting of trees...Sustainability is based in nature.

• Recent UN reports reiterate that the economic benefits from wildlife tourism far outweigh the income from poaching.

Fifteen years ago, Wangari Maathai received the Nobel peace prize. It was an outstanding choice, fit for such an outstanding person. It is difficult to render justice to all of her work in just one piece; there is too much to enumerate.

Maathai was one of the earliest environmentalists in Africa, setting up the Green Belt Movement in 1977. In her own visionary way, she advocated conservation, the planting of trees and women’s right back when these ideas were almost unheard of in the public discourse.

She was a true trailblazer and foresaw the perils of climate change long before it was well known.

As we wait for the rains to fill up our reservoirs, we should take some time to honour and reflect upon Maathai's achievements. We should ask ourselves if we have followed the path she laid out for us.

When it comes to green energy, Kenya is certainly doing a good job. Renewable energy sources such as geothermal, solar and wind are already responsible for more than 70 per cent of Kenya’s energy mix today—three times the global average.

Kenya’s main driving force is geothermal power generation, which provides low-cost and low-emission energy. Our nation is the ninth biggest geothermal power producer in the world. Furthermore, Africa’s biggest wind energy plant is being developed in the Rift Valley. We are certainly leading the way towards a more sustainable future.

Part of (climate change fight) depends on the way we produce energy,  recycling, consumption and reduction of waste. This is a global truth.

Maathai emphasised the planting of trees. She famously gave women a small stipend for every seedling (taken from local forests to preserve their native mix) planted. She fought desertification and empowered women to do the same. Thanks to her, many of our national treasures survived the push of industrialisation in the 1970s.

Our future is green indeed. Our collective future as humans on planet earth depends on our efforts to lessen the impact of climate change. Part of this depends on the way we produce energy, but also on recycling, consumption and reduction of waste. This is a global truth. It is not enough for only Kenya to behave in a more economically conscious way.

Ours is a truly beautiful country. God has endowed us with land that still has great untapped potential. Green tourism should become a main pillar of our economy, just as it is in New Zealand or South Africa. Tourists from all over the world, eager to visit our national parks and relax on our coast, can offer a great boost to our economy.

Recent UN reports reiterate that the economic benefits from wildlife tourism far outweigh the income from poaching. This is as simple a conclusion as it is logical.

Once a beautiful elephant is killed for the amusement of foreigners, no further benefit can be derived from it. It is like selling a house. On the other hand, to take care of flora and fauna is like renting a house out. It ensures a steady flow of income from visitors who are enchanted by the beauty of our nature reserves well into the future.

Of course, proper infrastructure is essential to enable a profitable tourism industry. The two go hand in hand and mutually benefit from one another. Without good roads connecting our cities and national parks, no tourist will go to spend on local guides and pay park admission fees.

Luckily, President Uhuru Kenyatta understands the link between them and pushes for improved national infrastructure. In a few years, I believe, sustainable tourism and sustainable energy production will be the two main horses pulling our economy forward.

Sustainability is based in nature, in the green lands of Kenya. The woman who understood this many years ago should be commemorated.

As the 15th anniversary of her Nobel peace prize award approaches, every Kenyan pupil should know her name and become acquainted with her ideas. She should be the role model that our youth are taught to look up to.

Landscape architect