The UN has finally approved the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF). On the surface, the framework appears harmless. However, for those who are familiar with the concerns of developing countries when it comes to climate justice, it is clear that the UN has effectively endorsed efforts to strip Africans of their rights to their natural heritage.
One evidence of this is how conservation has now shed the altruistic cloak it has worn so ably for nearly a century and a half. Conservation organizations no longer hide their corporate backers under blithe statements about random generous ‘donations’. They are now openly referring to their financial dealings using the loaded term ‘investment’. The dalliance which began in the mid 20th century as a slightly avuncular relationship with old money and which was based on donors’ personal interests and affinities for particular wildlife species has now evolved into an incestuous partnership with nouveau riche corporate buccaneers only interested in the commodification of everything, including the ubiquitous element carbon. In other words, 2023 is a watershed year in terms of the rights of human populations in the Global South.
Then there is the refusal to acknowledge the concerns of developing countries with regard to the absence of a dedicated funding mechanism that would help all countries meet the targets set by GBF. Those of us who have scientific colleagues and friends closely involved in the technical aspects of global biodiversity discussions are privileged to have a cursory ‘ear’ on the nonsensical rhetoric for which these discussions are famed. In recent conversations with these acquaintances, we were stunned to hear deep concerns from several different sources that at CoP15 (the latest environmental talkshop recently held in Canada), Africa was expressly excluded from the GBF. One of my friends correctly observed that our (rather dark) predictions about the biodiversity conservation movement were being actualized. The corrupt practices and prejudices in this movement were discussed at length in the 2010s when western conservation interests were still striving to hide their neo-colonial designs on Africa. Our scientists failed to grasp that GBF is basically a funding mechanism for the extraction of intellectual resources on biodiversity and the acquisition of rights to the biodiversity resources that necessarily have to be exploited in situ. What is surprising therefore is not that Africa was excluded from the GBF but rather how African scientists expected to be included in a program that is meant to finance the annexation of African lands and extraction of resources. It is surprising to witness how highly qualified scientists were unable to understand the human, historical and political dimensions of science whenever they need to think about their work. This is the definition of “doctorate without philosophy”.
Is this inability the result of pure indolence, or well-practised and deliberate subservience to lost empires that we still think are better than us? It may actually be a little bit of both. Unfortunately, our ‘silo-style’ educational systems create a class of academics that aren’t thinkers, but basically functionaries of whatever systems or interests they serve at the time – doctorates without the philosophy that should guide their contributions to humanity. If our scientists allowed themselves to partake of knowledge in the humanities, they would know that capitalist consumption patterns created the crisis and foisted it upon the rest of us. The colossal profits that accrued from industrialization and capitalist consumption were never shared with the global south during the 19th and 20th centuries. In fact, the untrammeled power that came with those profits was the driver of genocides and violent oppression of indigenous peoples all over the world. Now that climate change has arrived and made a mockery of all our international and economic boundaries, these interests are pushing the ‘collective responsibility’ agenda that masks their culpability, while demanding that we sacrifice our lives, livelihoods and homes as part of the mitigation process. As intellectuals, we must give credit where it is due – this plan is so insidious that in most African countries, governments and state organs are acting as flower-girls, leading the way for our colonizers to establish their new empires.
Meanwhile, those who denounce this plan have often been called ‘harsh’, ‘alarmist’, ‘controversial’ and even worse for the sternness with which they examine the global cult that styles itself as the conservation movement. To be sure, the negative environmental impacts of human activities are undeniable, as are the all-too-obvious signs of climate change. However, the most frightening thing about the current ‘environmental crisis’ is the mind-numbing alacrity and speed with which it is being used to advance the ancient agendas of conquest, capitalism and colonialism. Why are these agendas invisible to Africans? Well, I can think of one main reason.
Mankind is currently living in an epoch I have styled the “idiocene” or age of illiteracy where reading and thought are replaced by optics and reflexes. The spewing of what we euphemistically call ‘content’ is often confused for coherent communication, and what is important routinely escapes us in the barrage of noise that is visited upon our senses under the guise of ‘information’. The greatest irony and indicator of the world’s intellectual decline is that we are now accepting a situation where the integrity of the global environment and by extension our own survival is placed in the hands of capitalists. At the outset, the incentives put in place by governments to encourage ‘giving’ to the environment have resulted in untold sums of money being given to ‘conservation organizations’ that don’t actually produce anything tangible. The inevitable bloating of these organizations followed, and their objectives morphed from environmental targets to financial ones.
In probably the most telling indicator of this trend, The Nature Conservancy hired Mark Tercek, a former Managing Director and partner from Goldman Sachs as CEO from 2008-2019. One wonders what nature conservation skills an investment banker could impart, and more tellingly, how what is loosely styled as a ‘charitable’ organization can offer enough remuneration to recruit the head of one of the world’s top investment banks. Top capitalist corporations are not charities and have never been. So the global south is just waking up now to the fact that what they thought were grants are actually investments, which must be recouped in the form of land and natural resource rights. Given that there will be fierce resistance against such endeavours, violence is now an absolute requirement for the capitalists to get their returns and for the “conservationists” to maintain the flow of finances required to maintain their bloated ‘non-profit’ organizations and idyllic lifestyles in “the wilderness”. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of imperial European history will instantly recognize the contemporary reincarnation of 19th century colonialism. Students of African history will be familiar with the famous Berlin Conference of 1884-85 where a group of European men purported to share out Africa amongst themselves. Such meetings are an absolute necessity because, without them, this sort of usury on a continental scale can precipitate military conflict.
In modern times, international environmental conferences are the forums for this horsetrading. In recent years, the regular Conference of Parties (CoP) meetings have fulfilled this function as global organizations, including the UN get coopted into the scheme. The other effect of these regular gatherings is the provision of a platform for the creation and promotion of the clichés necessary to give illusions of probity. These include terms like “carbon neutral”, “net zero”, “conservation finance”, and “nature positive” which have found their way into international language to cleanse injustice without full interrogation. Once these clichés are fully developed, compliant scientists move in to sanitize the resultant fascism through academia and peer-reviewed publications. An example of this is the clumsily titled 2022 publication; “Overpopulation is a major cause of biodiversity loss and smaller human populations are necessary to preserve what is left” published in the journal ‘Biological Conservation’ and authored by Philip Cafaro, Pernilla Hansson, and Frank Gottmark of Colorado State University, and University of Gothenburg. Philosophically, these are the facts that any conscious scientist from the global south has to deal with. Over 80% of the world’s biodiversity exists in the tropics, so the implicit focus of this human population “research” is the black and brown people who inhabit those lands. These “scholars” are based at top universities in the Global North and writing in a high-impact journal under the banner of Elsevier, one of the world’s top scientific publishers. There is nothing ‘fringe’ about this work; it is mainstream. For those who may still not be alive to the prejudice and malevolence underlying the global environmental ‘movement’, here are a few nuggets of knowledge from key personalities at the recently concluded CoP15 meeting in Canada;
“Humanity has become a weapon of mass extinction”: António Guterres, UN Secretary-General. This statement in his opening address has a disturbingly fascist tone coming from one in his position. It also displays deep cognitive dissonance from the head of the organization that would ostensibly be responsible for the welfare of those displaced by the ’30 x 30’ conservation plan.
“30% is not a random number”: Justin Trudeau, Canadian Prime Minister. He was referring to the 30×30 plan that aims to have 30% of land under protected areas by 2030. However, those who read are aware that it has no scientific basis, and its architects were just attempting to create a less ludicrous version of Edward Wilson’s ‘half earth’ theory. Moreover, a head of government in a settler colony with displaced indigenous populations should necessarily be more circumspect in speaking about matters of taking land from indigenous people.
“The more people there are, the more we put the Earth under heavy pressure… We are at war with nature”: Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme UNEP. Again, the standard deflection of blame away from capitalist consumption patterns and emissions produced by industrialized countries, while vilifying indigenous populations in the global south.
As Africans today, we need to understand that those who colonized us cannot suddenly have our interests at heart, and the capitalist interests which exploited us cannot suddenly be giving to us. If we must engage, it should be as partners and not clients. This fundamental error has resulted in our unwillingness to stare down the monster of racism in conservation. The deafening silence and denial around it are as much a threat to our humanity as the vice itself. One only needs to look at the racial diversity (or lack thereof) in the global leaders, philanthropists and so-called “scientists” pushing the ecofascist agenda. There’s a conversation we southerners urgently need to have with the North today. It is by no means an easy one, but the alternative doesn’t bear thinking about.