Posted: Updated: 



“There is no challenge greater in the history of humanity than the struggle to avert catastrophic climate change,” warned Kumi Naidoo, the charismatic head of Greenpeace whilst speaking at London’s SOAS University on Tuesday.

Wearing one his trademark African shirts, Naidoo eschews not only conventional western dress codes, but also traditional power structures. Having grown up under the brutal hand of apartheid rule in South Africa, he is no stranger to standing up to oppressive regimes.

At the age of 22, whilst Naidoo was living underground to escape arrest, his best friend Lenny asked him what he thought was the most honorable thing one could do to bring about justice. “To give up your life,” replied Naidoo.

“No, that’s the wrong answer”, countered Lenny. Having witnessed far too much bloodshed during his young life, he said “It’s not about giving your life, but giving the rest of your life.”

Those were the last words exhanged between the two friends. Lenny was murdered by a South African special forces unit two years later.

Seeking a life in exile in the UK, Naidoo was lucky to escape such a tragic fate. The first African Rhodes scholar at Oxford University, he has since embodied Lenny’s philosophy through his life’s work: firstly as a human rights activist, and now as the head of Greenpeace.

Out of all the causes that the iconic environmental group campaigns for, global warming is out front and center:

For all of us now, climate change is the real game changer: If we don’t get an ambitious and courageous response next year in Paris to stop the further warming of our planet, then the bottom line is: it’s game over.

His sobering remarks come three months after the United Nations warned that the devastating impacts of climate change are much worse than originally anticipated.

That brutal assessment came six months after the UN concluded that world temperatures may now breach the life threatening four degrees celsius mark before the turn of end this century.

I can tell you a lot of theoretical reasons why I work at Greenpeace: it’s got guts, it’s got principles, but the main reason why I joined Greenpeace is because of my daughter, and the many other children I am privledged to have in my life. My main motivation to work at Greenpeace is as a father.

Worried about how difficult life will be on a sweltering planet, Naidoo folllows in the same footsteps as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and Mahatma Ghandhi. All courageous human rights activists, they tore down existing power structures in their quest for freedom and equality.

Much how Ghandhi embraced non violent protest to stand up against colonial rule in India, Naidoo adheres to peaceful civil disobedience to challenge the all powerful fossil fuel lobby.

It may be a classic case of David versus Goliath, but Greenpeace has become notorious for its efforts to try and stop drilling in the pristine Arctic. In an era where the UNsays that three-quarters of fossil fuels must stay in the ground, Naidoo says that its “madness” to plunder this beautiful wilderness in search for more oil.

Last year, 30 Greenpeace activists spent 100 days days in prison after protesting against Russia’s efforts to mine the icy North. Undaunted by Moscow’s attempts to intimidate them, Naidoo says: “We’re planning another trip as soon as our ship comes back home to us.”

Their determined spirit comes a year and a half before world leaders gather in Paris for all important climate talks. Global governments have vowed to limit the warming of our planet to two degrees celsius.

Although 2C is widely cited as the upper safe limit of warming, according to the head of the World Bank, such a temperature rise will push millions of people into poverty.Earlier this year, he warned that hotter temperatures will usher in conflicts over food and water within the next five to ten years.

Describing how Africa is on the front line for such chaos, Naidoo echoes those views:

It is important to note that 2C is not a consensual figure. Most of the small island states, and least developing countries generally wanted 1.5C. Right now, for some parts of the world, like the coastal areas of Bangladesh, it’s already too late.

Earlier this year, the U.S. and China pledged to lead the charge against global warming. Beijing has since declared a “war on pollution” as it maintains its lead in the clean energy race.

And last week, Barack Obama took the largest step of any U.S. president to date when he announced plans to rein in emissions from America’s vast fleet of 1,600 power plants.

Although most of the environmental community is pleased with Obama’s recent efforts, for Naidoo,”it is too little, too late.” According to Kofi Annan’s think tank, over300,000 people die every year at the hand of climate change.

Nevertheless, recent moves by the U.S. and China have stoked hopes for a strong accord next year. Having witnessed the complete collapse of the Copenhagen talks in 2009, Naidoo is less optimistic.

He believes that people must call on their governments now to ensure that world leaders sign a binding and ambitious treaty when they gather in Paris next December: “I think that the only hope that we have right now is if we get a massive citizen push.”

While the climate campaign may have many similarities to the civil rights movement in the U.S., what it lacks is the critical mass required to reach the much needed tipping point. Quoting American writer Howard Zinn, Naidoo says:

Our main problem is civil obedience. People are obedient all over the world, in the face of poverty, starvation, war and cruelty. We recognize this for Nazi Germany. We know that the problem there was obedience, that people obeyed Hitler.

As in the past where humanity blindly accepted racial inequality, we stand at a point in history where most people have “adjusted to the mass destruction of our planet,” says Naidoo.

As Martin Luther King once said: “There are some things in our nation and in our world to which I’m proud to be maladjusted. And I call upon you to be maladjusted to these things until the good society is realized.”

Much how King inspired Americans to challenge inequality in the sixties, Naidoo is calling on people to stand up against the vast fossil fuel regime which is sabotaging our collective future. Because, at the end of the day, we all have a “choice”:

We can either be part of the problem, or we can be part of the solution. Each and every one of us has to do something. So, that we when we look into our children’s eyes, twenty years from now, we can say that we tried everything we could to avert climate disaster. My only hope is that we can say: we succeeded.



Read mor ehere-