Ogoni: Model for Social Action
One of the most inspiring recent examples of social change has been the recent victory of the Ogoni women of
In June 2005, the
After the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Nigerian anti-Shell activists in 1995, the women of the Ogoni villages spearheaded a remarkable campaign to stop the flaring from taking place. The Nigerian women used direct action and political pressure, and appealed for international solidarity in pursuit of their aims, and endured a violent, repressive militarisation of the area as a result, including rape and murder.
In January 2006, Nigerian courts ordered Shell to stop the flaring of natural gas. In September 2006 a Nigerian newspaper stated that the oil giant’s licence over the Ogoniland was going to be revoked. The Ogoni people, at enormous cost to themselves, their lands, their livelihoods, had won.
It isn’t possible, without reverting to the esoteric accounting procedures of the offset companies, to quantify how large the emissions reductions have been as a result of the social justice struggle of the Ogoni women in shutting down the largest source of greenhouse gases in sub-Saharan
The hard-won victory of the Ogoni women, a huge success in terms of both social justice and climate change, depended on community empowerment, confrontational politics and international solidarity. One of the most distressing effects of the culture of offsets is the fact that it negates all three of these factors. Instead of community empowerment, climate change is presented as a matter of individualistic morality and lifestyle choices that discourages collective political action. We are being led to believe that responsible consumer choice is all that is necessary on our parts rather than engaging in a different kind of political responsibility and activity that confronts the fact that there are profound changes that need to be made in our society to effectively deal with climate change.
The notion of international solidarity is commodified by carbon offsets, transformed into a one-sided affair in which a neo-colonial relationship of economic advantage and conditional aid is established. When the Ogoni women of
Kevin Smith is a researcher with Carbon Trade Watch, a project of the Transnational Institute. He is co-author of “The Carbon Neutral Myth: Offset Indulgences for Your Climate Sins”.