By Elison Karuhanga
These are interesting times; we live right in the middle of an interesting climate debate. On the one hand, there is a global energy shortage and on the other hand, there are committed climate activists who insist that we must end all oil and gas projects immediately. Uganda has found itself serving as a battleground as some activists demand an immediate end to the East African Crude Oil Pipeline and its oil and gas projects, supposedly to combat climate change. In reality, many of these activists, cannot live without fossil fuels.
For example, there is a Ugandan activist who relocated to the United States of America years ago and is a “climate justice” activist. He has hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter, a platform he uses to express that our country must not produce oil. The other is an activist who lives in Uganda and is the poster child of the #StopEACOP movement. He travels the world to meet world leaders and activists on a regular basis. Their well-funded campaigns have enabled them to take their message to notable Heads of State and the Pope. They are honest and well-meaning patriots.
However, let us face it. Their success is literally dependent on fossil fuels. To be effective activists in this day and age, they need smartphones; devices that are made from a variety of minerals including lithium, iron, cobalt, copper, and nickel to mention a few. All of these materials have to be mined, a process that needs electricity and diesel-powered machines. The extracted materials have to be transported in large trucks, ships, or trains powered by fossil fuels, then the smartphones have to be manufactured using electricity. Delivery to the point of sale is a process that certainly requires fossil fuels. Once either activist gets their smartphone, they log on to their social media platform of choice and type #StopEACOP. What does it take for that tweet to leave a room in Boston and find the German MP Kathrin Henneberger in Berlin in under one second? Among other things, is energy. A lot of energy.
In a 2013 study by Digital Power Group, it is said that the ICT ecosystem uses more electricity than Germany and Japan, two of the world’s largest and most advanced economies combined. According to the same study, if our activist records or watches one hour of video online, he uses more electricity than two average American refrigerators.
After tweeting, our activists and their international friends then take the protest outside of Total Energies offices or in front of the Deutsche Bank offices in Berlin while wearing a #StopEACOP T-shirts. How is that shirt made? I can assure you it’s not sown together by hand using kinetic energy. The shirts are made using machines and transported to stores, washed in fossil fuel-powered washing machines, and dried in fossil fuel-powered driers. The #StopEACOP T-shirts are not washed by hand and hung out to dry in the sun.
The truth is fossil fuels have powered western economies. Even in Uganda, an increase in the price of fuel increases the cost of living substantially. The idea that we must end the use of fossil fuels is a request to make an already scarce energy even more unavailable to the poorest people in the world. This type of activism is here to fulfill words in a great book “he who has more shall be given to him but he who doesn’t have, even the little he has shall be taken away.”
In fairness, these activists and the many people like them did not invent activism against oil projects. It is as old as the oil industry. There is also no doubt that we need to protect our environment and promote sustainable development. In this regard, activists are needed to hold the government and businesses accountable. I hope they shall help us advocate for sustainable development which includes a pipeline and a refinery so that our people will also be able to live like their counterparts in more advanced nations.
I am a firm believer in activism for sustainability. I hope the activists can join me and even guide us on how to make these oil projects ecologically sustainable. After all, I am sure that in order to be effective, what the #StopEACOP activists need the most is EACOP.
The writer is an advocate and partner at Kampala Associated Advocates.