Pen and voice are two jointed weapons that have been used for centuries to liberate Man and Homo sapiens from dictatorial rulers. Together they are more powerful than the gun, which shutters bodies but not the collective memory of communities, societies, and nations. They have brought necessary change when guns, propaganda, hereditary politics, and constitutional machinations have been marshalled to prevent necessary change for the liberation of humanity. When both pen and voice are silenced, then people and nations become forever conquered, enslaved, and impoverished even in mind. Liberation becomes a constant need to usher in new social, economic, and political dispensations that create the right conditions for the development, transformation, and progress of people, communities, and societies.

The environment is a living organism. Its senseless conquest and exploitation by a few men and their institutions to satisfy their greed, selfishness, and the craze for power, glory, wealth, and control of people have disrupted its integrity and the balance of the various systems on which sustenance of human societies depend for their own integrity—created an ever-worsening environmental crisis in every part of the world. There is a need for pen and voice committed to confronting the crisis through informed, consistent, persistent communication to liberate our total environment and planet from the factors responsible for generating and sustaining the crisis. Information is power. So is knowledge. However, “correct” communication is necessary for the power of information and knowledge to be effective in bringing about the desired change. Suppose pen and voice can jointly do this for our total environment and planet. In that case, the business of conservation will stop being a political or technical gimmick and be what it should be: a social enterprise. Pen and voice are social tools for conservation and for confronting the environmental crisis.

It is often said that the 21st Century is a Century of information, communication, environment, and new and different information. We are already almost halfway through the Century, but most humanity is immersed in environmental crises in all dimensions of the environment: the ecological-biological, the sociocultural, the socio-economic, and the temporal.

In the ecological-biological, humanity is engaged in all types of ecological and biological destruction of our planet through wars; mining; agriculture; road and railway construction; urbanisation; destruction of habitats of all types of animal and plant species; introduction of exotics in natural habitats or agroecological systems, damming of rivers to create hydropower facilities, ostensibly to power development; sand mining and/or silting of lakes; mining of minerals; including oil, even in designated national parks, game reserves, and forest reserves; deforestation; plastic, water, soil, and air pollution; wrong science emphasizing only natural sciences at the expense of social science and arts; ecologically and biologically offensive use of herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, and so-called genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) in the pursuit of conquest of Nature in total ignorance of the truism that when Man, Homo sapiens conquers Nature, ends up conquering himself. In overreliance on instinct and muscle power in this era of critical thinking and reasoning, humanity has overconcentrated energy, time, and money on offensive weapons such as nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, which together constitute the ultimate danger to the ecological-biological dimension of the environment and our physical being and existence, and indeed the whole biological world. Climate change, landslides, earthquakes, hurricanes, and volcanic eruptions are no longer natural but manmade and are wreaking havoc on human societies in various parts of the world.

In the socio-economic dimension, humanity is engaged in destroying the indigenous economic systems on which our social systems and social beings that were in balance with Nature depend. We have reduced economic development to goods, services, and money, in pursuit of drawing everyone into what is called the money economy. We have disconnected ourselves from the natural ecosystems and have created artificial ecosystems instead – towns and cities – heavily dependent on the continuous and almost perennial exploitation of the once natural but now stressed and strained ecosystems. The artificial ecosystems consist of people who can no longer fit in the natural economies, but act more as perennial destroyers, in terms of energy (food, charcoal, firewood) and construction (sand, bricks, wood, poles, etc). We can now talk of artificial Man whose continued existence depends on artificially made things such as medicines, pesticides, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to persist in the environment.

The artificial ecosystems (towns and cities) are centers of discrimination between the poor and needy and the rich; exclusion, domination, exploitation, and human rights violations. This is particularly the case in Africa. The more the environment decays and collapses, the more these vices multiply and affect humanity adversely. Governments, to exert their power and authority, erode constitutional controls on the exercise of power and authority through the policies they make, so that they can do anything they want in the environment. Usually, the governmental actors create economies that favour their narrow political, economic, and social choices and gains, which end up complicating the environmental crisis. The solution they propose and apply to ameliorate the crisis becomes the new environmental challenges, problems, and issues for which there is no prior experience by humanity.  This makes the environmental crisis even more complex. It is worse when the leaders, rulers, and governors assume the stance of “We know it all and have all the answers”. They become dangerous and arrogant pollutants of the environment constantly and perennially stressing and straining it. In Africa where they tend to overstay in power the environmental crisis is becoming insolvable because of their conduct, policies, and actions in the environment as “pollutants”.

In the sociocultural dimension of the environment, is where the worst environmental decay and collapse is taking place, but where controls on the press and media are most pronounced so that information and communication on what is happening to the environment are directed elsewhere; for example, in the political arena. Policies and laws are made by the rulers and/or governors to debilitate and impoverish the media and journalists. These then tend to concentrate their power of pen and voice on environmentally trivial or non-issues. A lot of fear is created in the press, media, or the minds of journalists to divert their concerns and actions away from the environmental ills in all the dimensions of the environment. This is particularly the case in the sociocultural dimension where the real causes of environmental decay and collapse originate.  The rulers and governors can then go on implementing their environmentally dangerous policies and actions. The environmentally dangerous policies may include citing factories in swamps, mining oil in forests, and human settlements; advancing money bonanzas to individuals or “investors” to set up factories or businesses: disorienting the national budget away from environmental concerns to fund environmentally empty choices by power, etc. The primary victim is the environment, which is the theatre in which all these environmentally destructive things take place.

In the temporal dimension of the environment, the challenge is timing human activities and attaching timescales to the processes that we choose to impose on and in the environment. If we allocate time wrongly to events and attach the wrong timescales to the processes in the environment, we get wrong or unexpected outcomes. The ultimate sufferer is the environment, which is the theatre, in which the events and processes take place. In any case, every natural environmental event or process has its time or timescale, which, if interfered with, will give different, unexpected outcomes. For example, different plant species will flower, fruit, seed, shed seeds, senesce, and die at different times on a given timescale. If interfered with these processes will take place differently and unnaturally. There have been multiple interferences in these processes by Man to produce different outcomes. Many challenges that we are facing in our natural and agroecological systems, and indeed in the total environment, are occasioned by these interferences.

Given what is happening to the total environment due to human interferences digitated mainly by power, greed, selfishness, ignorance, stupidity, and the craze for development driven by the falsehood of conquering Nature, ostensibly to develop, there is a need for meaningful and effective information and communication of transformative knowledge of what we must do to reverse or contain the ongoing environmental crisis locally nationally, regionally and globally.  The Press, media, or journalists have a critical role to play by transmitting transformative information to the environment.

Transformative knowledge and transformative information that must be communicated is not and cannot be disciplinary knowledge or information. This kind of knowledge or information is and has been largely responsible for the environmental crisis. It communicates and has communicated information on our world in general and the environment in particular “bit by bit” and in small pockets of knowledge. The assumption is that the bits when added up will make the whole, which is not always the case. The whole itself is unique in many ways, which cannot be represented by any bit or bits together. To date the information and knowledge that has been communicated, even by most religions, is that we are not part of but apart from the environment, which then just surrounds us; and that, therefore, we must conquer Nature, which is actually the total environment, for us to exist, produce and survive. However, this thinking and reasoning has been the cornerstone of environmental destruction and the environmental crisis over the centuries.

This means we need a new cadre of bureaucrats of information and communication who are environmentally conscious and knowledgeable in all the dimensions of the environment and across them; and who understand that the dimensions of the environment are not mutually exclusive but are mutually inclusive, integrated and interconnected and, therefore, need integrated, interconnected minds and knowledge to address our environmental crisis. If not, then we continue to reproduce, entrench, and complicate the environmental crisis.

Fortunately, professionals and academics in many institutions around the globe are beginning to accept that we cannot conserve the environment and ward off the environmental crisis using little knowledge of the disciplines and their products. Many global citizens now know that continuing to produce academics, researchers, and professionals “knowledgeable” only in small pieces of knowledge and “professional” in small professions can only complicate the environmental crisis further, make it more complex and our wicked problems even more intractable and unsolvable.

Therefore, we need information and communications bureaucrats who think, reason and write critically outside the box; they can link many phenomena and see beyond them when communicating information on, in, and about the environment and its problems, challenges and issues.  Such information and communications bureaucrats must have an environmental mind shaped by either or all of the following sciences: interdisciplinary science, crossdisciplinary science, transdisciplinary science, and extra-disciplinary (or nondisciplinary) science. In any case our environment is not disciplinary but interdisciplinary, cross-disciplinary, transdisciplinary, and, most important, extra-disciplinary (or non-disciplinary.  Extradisciplinary science is the science of our traditional societies and cultures, which conserves all that we are destroying.

It is thinking like this that must shape the new the minds of a new cadre of information and communications bureaucrats and/or professionals if they are going to play a critical role in confronting our ever-complex environmental crisis and help humanity to address the intertwined wicked problems. The wicked problems include climate change, flooding, global pollution, human rights violations, deforestation, land grabbing, socio-political conflicts, misgovernance, ethnic cleansing, modern slavery, homosexuality, and spiritual, moral and ethical decay and collapse.

It is only journalists in the Press and/or media with broad minds, therefore, capable of capturing the complexities and interlinkages of environmental challenges, problems, and issues that can communicate meaningfully and effectively on, in, and about the environment and the environmental crisis locally, nationally, regionally and globally.

It is against this background knowledge and information that the theme of 3rd May Press Day was designed as “A Press for the Planet, Journalism in the Face of Environmental Crisis”. This was an appropriate, belated coinage in support of thinking, reasoning, and acting correctly in the environment to stem our environmental crisis. However, from what I have detailed above, we are too far away from having the necessary cadre of journalists in the press or media houses that can meaningfully and effectively communicate environmental challenges, problems, and issues and the correct solutions using broad, interconnected, integrated knowledge. We have not been training such journalists. We must produce them.

My clarion call to institutions training journalists is to become current, accept, and advocate for new and different knowledge or science that will help capture and address the environmental crisis in an integrated way. The knowledge or science that will produce the journalists we need to graduate the right journalists in the 21st Century to communicate the environmental crisis and the right solutions effectively is not disciplinary but interdisciplinary, cross-disciplinary, transdisciplinary, and extra-disciplinary (nondisciplinary) knowledge or science. However, this is still impossible, especially in Africa, because the majority of institutions training journalists are predominantly doing so disciplinarily or multidisciplinarily, which is glorified disciplinarity.

The environment needs integrated journalism knowledge and professionalism. Only then shall we have the journalists who will really communicate public and professional knowledge that we need to address our environmental crisis with solutions that work; not those that create new environmental challenges, problems, and issues for which we have no experience.

Journalists have a critical role to play in ameliorating the environmental crisis, freeing our planet from wicked problems, and making it a better place for us and other beings to live in.

Therefore, let’s have interdisciplinary, cross-disciplinary, transdisciplinary, and extra-disciplinary journalism to produce integrated journalists for our environment and our planet. However, this won’t be possible unless we open up to new and different information and knowledge from integrated and integrating institutions teaching journalism. Integrated Journalism will equip us with journalists who see the environment holistically and can communicate its challenges, problems, and issues holistically. Such journalists will not be easily corrupted by politicians and investors to dissuade them from communicating in an effective way for and about the environment. Right now, it is easier to have adversarial journalists and journalism than beneficial journalists and journalism because both are not integrative and integrate their information and knowledge in favour of the environment. The institutions to which they belong or continue to graduate remain narrowly focused because they are rigidly disciplinary in structure and function.  With a new cadre of journalists and a press and journalism, we shall begin to meaningfully and effectively address our environmental crisis locally, nationally, regionally, and globally. Later will be too late.

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Written by Oweyegha Afunaduula (3)

I am a retired lecturer of zoological and environmental sciences at Makerere University. I love writing and sharing information.

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