Paul Odiwuor Ogola and The Permoafrica-Centre

Recently, Lieutenant Planet began a closed Facebook group, with a membership curated from a page of the same name, as well as from other environmental groups around the world. The hand-picked members are people that are passionate and/or prominent in their communities on matters concerning environmental/sustainability problems and their solutions. Environmental engineers, foresters, EPA staff-members, sustainability students/teachers, and activists abound. Within the budding campaign of getting people onboarded one-by-one, there was a permaculturist that has done some amazing work in Kenya and was happy for the opportunity to reach out, which sparked an agreeable conversation and provided insight to the environmental problems and solutions in another part of the world.

Paul Odiwuor Ogola, 36, was originally an artisan blacksmith, but due to the pressures of climate change and extreme poverty in his area, is now a permaculture teacher and designer in Homabay county, Kenya, in the southwestern part of Kawiya village. The village has a population of about 1,800 people, and is relatively isolated. Fresh water for drinking and agriculture is hard to come by in the area, which in turn made food scarce as well.

Paul had the chance, through a scholarship, to attend permaculture classes. He graduated as a permaculture teacher and designer, and brought his knowledge home. There he coordinates the Permoafrica-Centre, a decentralized permaculture and organic farming project dedicated to spreading the permaculture knowledge and techniques for the betterment of the community.

One of the many Permoafrica-Centre’s projects

Permaculture is the design and development of sustainable and self-sufficient agricultural ecosystems. The focus is on using less resources, like water, to produce more crops. There is also a focus on the environmental revitalization of the surrounding area- this helps to promote nutrients in the soil, pollinator populations, etc.

An approved Community Based Organization with the Kenyan Government, Permoafrica-Centre is not only a community of farmers, but of teachers and students. The organization has now touched 12 different villages with a total of 250 farmers that have been taught concepts in permaculture design and maintenance.

The challenges have been numerous. The relative isolation of the areas in question, as well as low levels of outside investment and high levels of internal poverty, make growth an uphill battle. But the official participatory commitments of the Permoafrica-Centre for its farmers, students, and teachers set the stage for success:

  1. Treating all people with respect, dignity and fairness.
  2. Taking both personal and group responsibility including: being accountable for our actions, measuring and sharing our contribution to the community, making and keeping commitments.
  3. Demonstrating openness, honesty, clarity, good faith and integrity in all our communications and encouraging shared leadership in our community.
  4. A participatory decision-making and conflict resolution process.

The Permoafrica-Centre initiative has touched many young lives through the education of permaculture and basic life skills in an environment that fosters healthy communication and togetherness. Through the organization, students can also learn techniques in basketry, blacksmithing, pottery, tailoring, fishing, beekeeping, and more. In this way, the initiative helps to support entire communities of people with trade skills and access to fresh food.

Paul’s story is one of risk that came with great reward for his community. He left his job and home in search of something that could help, and when he found it, he came back and put it to good use, enriching the lives of everyone around him. I can only hope Lieutenant Planet might be able to some good as Paul has done in Kenya.

If you are interested in learning more, Permoafrica-Centre now has an official website! In it, you can meet the people involved, see their photo gallery, and learn about their teaching programs. You can also offer much-needed support for permaculture teachers, life-skill teachers, and the ongoing needs of an expanding farming program that is helping to feed thousands of people in an impoverished area.


Fighting The Plastic Problem

You most likely see discarded single-use plastics lying around every day. In the city, they might be on the side of the road, in an alleyway, or falling out of an overfilled trashcan. On the shore, they are strewn all over the beach, and little pieces of plastic are hanging out inside most of the marine life. Farther out to sea, the Great Pacific Garbage patch is twice the size of Texas. In rural areas, plastics and Styrofoam get pushed around by the wind until they end up stuck in the brush, to slowly break apart into smaller pieces over the years. Even the peak of Mount Everest is covered in plastic trash.

Single-use plastics are a part of our every day life. Mass production of plastics began in the 1930’s, and many new kinds of plastic were invented and mass-produced in the coming decades. Plastics were lauded as the new, cheap, and effective medium of production. Polystyrene could be made into a solid form (like plasticware) or a foam (like Styrofoam), and revolutionized take-out in the food world. PVC started replacing metal pipes other building materials. Polypropylene alternatives replaced a lot of tools in the medical industry, and could be used to make dishwasher-safe plastic food containers. Finally, polyethylene became the most common plastic in the world, used primarily for single-use packaging, including plastic bags, wraps, and bottles.

Many plastics are synthetic and derived from petrochemicals (chemicals derived from petroleum). They take an incredibly long time to break down because their chemical makeup doesn’t easily interact with outside chemicals. So once a single-use plastic is made, it’s generally around for the long haul. And being derived from petrochemicals means that it takes limited natural resources from the Earth to be made in the first place, so plastics are a double-whammy of environmental degradation.

So how much plastic is out there? One estimate puts the total global mass-production of plastics at 8.3 BILLION metric tons, with 6.3 billion metric tons now being waste, accumulated in landfills or the environment at large. Only about 9% of the plastics ever produced have been recycled, and another 12% have been incinerated (which comes with its own environmental hazards).

To put it in perspective, the amount of plastic humanity has produced, mostly since 1950, would cover the entirety of Manhattan in trash about two MILES deep.

It was always known, by its very nature, that plastics would eventually smother the planet. But a blind eye was turned to its environmental impact due it’s cost-effectiveness. That’s right, plastics are just another limb on the cephalopodic body of the crimes against humanity perpetrated by the petrochemical industry.

But now that this knowledge is mainstream, the question is, what can we do about it? Well thankfully, there are now a plethora of options:

  1. Recycle, recycle, recycle! Push your representatives in government for resolutions facilitating plastic recycling in your community. Many communities have implemented programs that give households recycling bins, free of cost, that are picked up the same as trash. And remember, no one person made this mess- Resolutions for recycling targeting large-scale businesses can potentially have a much bigger impact.
  2.  Opt for non-plastic options. This includes things like bringing your own bags to the grocery store, using a reusable water bottle instead of single-use bottles, and buying from bulk-markets to avoid plastic packaging.
  3. Spread the word about plastic alternatives! Bioplastics are a revolutionary industry, and replacing petrochemical plastics with biodegradable alternatives on a large scale would drastically slow down production of new plastic waste.

Sometimes movements like this can seem impossibly large. After all, plastic is literally everywhere, so is tweaking my lifestyle and talking about alternatives really going to make an impact? If you do it in the right way, ABSOLUTELY. And it becomes a much smaller problem with just a little bit of perspective:

First, it is important to understand that there is a fundamental flaw in market capitalism that nobody really talks about. Usually, the market is coerced by the “invisible hand” of supply and demand. But as you get to the poorer communities, that theory reaches its mathematical lower limit. When people don’t KNOW about, or can’t AFFORD something, then there is no DEMAND for it, at least as far as the market is concerned. This means there is no reason to SUPPLY it.

With contemporary economic inequality being as robust as the petrochemical industries profit margins, the only way to show market demand is to BE VOCAL about your demand. The world at large cannot afford to keep producing plastic waste as it is now- we will drown in it, and they will keep producing it until we do, because it’s CHEAP. But now that we have other cheap alternatives, we must make our voices heard in support of those alternatives whilst denouncing petrochemical plastics.

How do we make our voices heard? Well, just like your mama told you, actions speak louder than words. Those tweaks in your habits produce demand (or lack thereof) in the market. Becoming involved in your local community is another way to make your voice heard. Many, especially in the younger generations, view group gatherings at town halls as excruciatingly analog. But I will let you in on a little secret- That just means that if you are one of the few people that DO go to these meetings, you will usually have a much larger voice than you would expect. You will also find like-minded individuals who were passionate enough to take that leap with you, and from there an activist community is formed! Setting up cleanups in problem areas will beautify your community, and it is often easy to get local media outlets involved, helping to draw attention to the issue.

In the digital world, sharing content can have some impact, but CREATING content is much better, because it adds to the content pool to be shared and makes an issue larger. One ridiculously simple way to create content regarding single use plastics is by taking pictures of plastic trash with company labels on it and adding it to the hashtag #isthisyours on social media. Making this part of your daily routine can create a lot of noise, especially if you also tag your location.

These are things that everyone can do. The generations that exist today will determine the livability of our planet within the coming decades. We already live in a world of climate change, mass extinction, and rising oceans full of plastic. Our complacency will directly correlate with an early death in a toxic world for our children. Action is the only option.

We must fight for our planet, and we must take steps to hold the institutions that knowingly helped to cause these disasters accountable for their actions in such a way that the future of humanity will have something to look back on as they set the direction for the way forward.

Lieutenant Planet is a community-funded activism initiative. For more independent environmental journalism like this, sign up for the Lieutenant Planet email list! Also, visit our Support page!

A Defense of The Green New Deal

The Green New Deal. Most recently formally proposed by rising star Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a lot of you have heard about it, and are already seeing opposition to it, especially among the GOP. Some of you may not be paying attention, thinking that this resolution is just an environmental initiative.

It’s not.

The Green New Deal is a sweeping reform of our democratic processes, financial institutions, and methods of promoting the values of equality, freedom, and the American Dream. It aims to effectively dismantle America’s forced slide into inequality, fascism, and corporate oligarchy. It is the culmination of progressive thought in the new millennium, wrapped up in a plan to promote sustainable practices and combat climate change by cutting pollution and emissions.

So why is there so much backlash? Because the GND also takes aim at the largest financial institutions in the country, and the world. Some of these institutions have helped put a lot of politicians in office, again not only here, but all over the globe- Corporate entities that have the power to start coups and overthrow governments, often using our own media and military through their ownership of our representatives and media conglomerates. The GND aims to break apart the clumps of power that have been allowed, in direct opposition to the wellbeing of the public, to consolidate behind the scenes over the last few decades.

And those powers are worried. Because all of this is wrapped up in a resolution that doesn’t directly call out any of these institutions.

What it does call for:

“Providing all people of the United States with-

  • High quality healthcare;
  • Affordable, safe, and adequate housing;
  • Economic security
  • Clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, and access to nature.”

And also, to “achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers… [and] to invest in the infrastructure and industry of the United States to sustainably meet the challenges of the 21st century.’

What it targets, directly:

  • The stagnation of hourly wages since the seventies
  • Worsening socioeconomic mobility
  • The top 1%, relating to the accruing of 91% of gains after the Great Recession in 2008
  • Racial/gender wealth dividesInjustice against indigenous peoples and deindustrialized communities, the poor, and disabled
  • Fossil fuel research/expansion
  • Emissions and pollution sources
  • Anti-union groups –
  • Domestic and international monopolies

Who that worries/concerns:

  • Any large corporation that operates via a business plan that depends on low-paid labor
  • (Predatory) financial, medical, and insurance institutions
  • The elitist and prejudiced communities
  • Fossil fuel and other industries that try to use eminent domain and police power to push pipelines though disadvantaged communities or indigenous lands
  • Big banks, Big Pharma, Big Energy, Big Agriculture, and the MSM
  • Any other industry that hurts public health and wellbeing through pollution and emissions

So, this Green New Deal is bound to get backlash from these entities, and the representatives that they have in office. Goes along with the territory.

There are also, however, others that think the language is not enough. That it is too vague and lacks a specific roadmap. That it doesn’t propose a means of payment for its sweeping infrastructure overhaul. That it has no clear outline for a managed decline of fossil fuel production. But Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is playing a sly game of political poker.

You see, the Green New Deal already existed with far more prominent teeth, as part of the official platform for the Green Party during the November 2018 elections, and originally introduced by Jill Stein in the 2016 presidential elections. In other forms, it goes even farther back than that. So all those on the right that say it’s a leftist pipedream are immediately discredited by the simple fact that Ocasio-Cortez’s GND is actually fairly centrist.

To contrast, the Green Party’s version of the GND calls specifically for:

  1. Free quality healthcare and education, as well as complete student loan forgiveness.
  2. Creation of a federal bank that manages distressed properties and expands rental and home ownership assistance
  3. The right to affordable utilities
  4. Nationalizing the Federal Reserve and breaking up the big banks
  5. Establishing a 90% on bonuses for bailed-out bankers
  6. Supporting the formation of public banking systems that operate as non-profits
  7. Revoking corporate personhood
  8. Replacing big money control of election campaigns with public funding and equal access to airwaves
  9. Abolishing the Electoral College
  10. Repealing the Patriot Act
  11. Reducing military spending by 50%

The problem that Ocasio-Cortez’s GND is vague is protected by the fact that it was not introduced as a piece of legislation, but as a proposed resolution. It was designed to give the public and representatives something tangible to grapple with. And the fact that it addresses very real problems like climate change and socioeconomic injustice means that this version will age well, as these problems will only become more pressing. And as they do, this GND will pull public perception on environmental issues to a more progressive place. It will give the Green Party’s platform more exposure, whilst simultaneously highlighting the complete lack of any other kind of plan to address these issues.

The Green New Deal won’t be built in a day. But now it’s in the public eye, and it isn’t just a catchphrase anymore. It is a plan with steps toward environmental and economic sustainability that isn’t something that some other country is doing or that is impossible to do here. This proposal gives the public a real, tangible, and validated conceptual design for the future of the United States and all Americans.