Peter Diamandis is the name that comes to my mind when I think of Earth Day which will be marked on Friday, 22nd April 2016. He is the CEO and Chairman of the X Prize Foundation which was founded in 1994 after frustrations on the government’s (US government) progress in space exploration. His frustrations stemmed from what he described as “ridiculous amounts” spent in the field. He strongly believed, and still do, that space explorations needn’t be expensive so he did what any of us would do faced with a similar situation, he took action. Unsurprisingly in a world without twitter and facebook and other types of social media, speeches and newspaper articles were the most common ways of voicing frustrations with the status quo. In one of his May 18, 1996 speech in St. Louis Missouri he offered the X Prize, a 10 million dollar global prize to build a manned space ship that was to expire by the end of 2005. He wasn’t a millionaire or a billionaire and thus didn’t have the money so he spent the next few months looking for funds before he landed on Insurance and funded the prize through a policy that would later be renamed the Ansari X PRIZE following the donation from entrepreneurs Anousheh Ansari and Amir Ansari.
Wikipedia entry on the X prize reports:
The $10 million competition attracted 26 teams from seven countries as teams and was won on October 4, 2004 by Mojave Aerospace Ventures, a team run by famed aviation designer Burt Rutan and funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The winning vehicle, SpaceShipOne, was piloted to space (space starts 100km from the surface of the earth) twice within two weeks to win the competition. The first flight was made on September 29, 2004, piloted by Mike Melvill and the winning second flight was made on October 4, 2004 by pilot Brian Binnie. SpaceShipOne was the world’s first non-government piloted spacecraft and is now hanging in the National Air and Space Museum adjacent to the Spirit of St. Louis aircraft.
In a 2012 TED talk themed Abundance is our future, he says of the growing internet penetration in the world and the doubling of computing power:
“Ladies and gentlemen, what gives me tremendous confidence in the future is the fact that we are now more empowered as individuals to take on the grand challenges of this planet. We have the tools with this exponential technology. We have the passion of the DIY[Do It Yourself] innovator. We have the capital of the techno-philanthropist. And we have three billion new minds coming online to work with us to solve the grand challenges, to do that which we must do. We are living into extraordinary decades ahead.”
It is not very easy to find a relationship between space explorations and forest cover but the enthusiasm that Peter Diamandis expressed in space exploration is what we need in forest conservation. Kenyans are proud to be associated with the late Nobel laurette Prof. Wangari Maathai whose fight against deforestation is well documented. In fact her foundation has become synonymous with conservation effots in the country.
Climate change and Forest Cover
It is widely believed that the climate has become more erratic. Just weeks ago, March 2016, Nairobi and other parts of the country witnessed high and unusual temperatures. Late last year into the first few months of this year, Kenya experienced high levels of rainfall as a result of El Nino which led to massive flooding and very colourful conversations on social media. in April of 2016, the rain is back and the meteorological department has issued warnings to parts of the country that it could be worse. But who is to blame? Some say we have caused more deforestation than the generation before us. This might be true because according to a study conducted by the Kenya Forestry Service, Kenya has a forest cover of 7.6 per cent which i believe is less than what we had at independence. Ascertaining the generation that led to more deforestation is not a very easy experiment and thus we might never know how much at fault we are.
Fortunately our constitution covers more ground that it is becoming almost impossible to find something it leaves out. About the environment and natural resources, Article 69 clear states 8 obligation of the state:
The State shall ensure sustainable exploitation, utilization, management and conservation of the environment and natural resources and ensure the equitable sharing of the accruing benefits.
It shall work to achieve and maintain a tree cover of at least 10 per cent of the land area of Kenya and also protect and enhance intellectual property in, and indigenous knowledge of, biodiversity and the genetic resources of the communities.
The State shall also encourage public participation in the management, protection and conservation of the environment; protect genetic resources and biological diversity; establish systems of environmental impact assessment, environmental audit and monitoring of the environment; eliminate processes and activities that are likely to endanger the environment; and utilize the environment and natural resources for the benefit of the citizens.
Earth Day Network aims to plant 7.8 billion trees by 2050 which is a lot. However, factor in that 15 billion trees are lost annually due to deforestation then it becomes clear that more needs to be done. Closer home, the Kenya forestry service wants to achieve the constitutional standard of 10 per cent cover by 2030 by restoring at least 5.1 million acres of forests.
Data suggests that Kenyans have begun to reverse the trend and increase the forest cover. It is near impossible to tell whether this “growth” is due to more conservation efforts, reforestation or better data collection processes. Two years ago official statistics indicated that forest cover was just 1.7 per cent but revised data indicate 7.6 per cent which implies better data is now being collected. A 2015 study by Green Africa Foundation reported that 5.6 million trees are being felled annually mostly to provide wood fuel used in 65 per cent of Kenya’s 8.7 million households.
While there has been different interventions to reduce the trend such as power saver jikos, there’s still more that we can do to increase the tree cover. First, it won’t hurt to plant a tree in your backyard at home, around your farm and at any place that Kenya Forest Service offers. Additionally, we need to move to more efficient sources of energy like cooking gas which has been documented to be safe unlike charcoal that has negative health effects.
This is not our home but our children will have to live in it.