It’s been a week since the closing of the Bonn Climate Change Conference. A small victory occurred with the passing of a global insurance plan that by 2020 will help protect 400 million poor and vulnerable people around the world. The project, called the InsuResilience Global Partnership, aims to provide insurance against damage caused by global warming.
Naturally, this project is fraught with controversy. Instead of having the richer nations, who are generally the bigger polluters, pay for climate disaster relief, this initiative actually pushes poor people in poor countries to pay an insurance premium.
Greed, a fundamental human drive, is largely responsible for this attitude and our climate disaster. As Assagioli wrote:
“According to Dante, greed for money and possessions (“avarice”) is the most widespread vice in humankind.”
He then quotes Dante, who describes greed as “the sin which occupies our world.” Dante encounters the souls of the Avaricious while climbing the mountain of Purgatory with his guide Virgil:
“the mass of souls whose eyes were, drop by drop,
shedding the sin which occupies our world
left little room along the terrace edge.
God damn you, ageless wolf, you whose greed,
whose never-sated appetite, has claimed
more victims than all other beasts of prey!” (Purgatory XX:7-12)
Another note of Assagioli’s indicates that greed is one of the first things to use our will to overcome. In a collective way, the 195 nations that gathered at the 23rd annual conference to prevent dangerous climate change were attempting to overcome our collective greed. (The USA was tellingly absent.) It is too bad that psychosynthesis did not have a table at the conference to promote our use of good will to overcome greed!
While following the conference, I received an email announcing the publication of a book written by a climate justice martyr. Silence Would be Treason captures the mysterious global synthesis our fight for climate justice can evoke. It is a collection of letters and poems by Ken Saro-Wiwa, a Nigerian Ogoni writer, to Sister Majella McCarron, an Irish nun and solidarity activist in her own homeland. These letters were written to her during the 1-1/2 years Saro-Wiwa was held in prison.
Silence Would be Treason aroused my interest for a number of reasons. Naturally, I was intrigued by the fact that it was an account of Saro-Wiwa’s time in jail, similar to Assagioli’s book Freedom in Jail. I was also curious to learn how a Nigerian writer might have connected to an Irish nun and established a friendship so deep that he would write her personal letters from his prison cell. These letters were smuggled out of military detention in breadbaskets. The title of the book comes from this passage that he wrote:
But while the land is ravaged
And our pure air poisoned
When streams choke with pollution
Silence would be treason
While Assagioli was sentenced to jail for leading prayers for peace and other international crimes, Saro Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists were arrested in May 1994 by the Nigerian military dictatorship for their opposition to the Royal Dutch Shell company’s activities in the Niger Delta.The Ogoni, the local indigenous population of about 500,000, were resisting the ecological destruction by Shell Oil of their wetlands upon which they depended. Meanwhile, security forces were terrorizing them, killing approximately 2,000 Ogoni people with many more raped, injured, tortured or made homeless. The Ogoni were demanding fair distribution of the oil profits and a call for self-determination and human rights.
Saro-Wiwa took a leading part in this campaign. In the end, he and the others paid the ultimate price for their refusal to remain silent. In November 1995 the Nigerian military dictatorship executed Ken Saro-Wiwa and the eight other Ogoni activists: Saturday Dobee, Nordu Eawo, Daniel Gbooko, Paul Levera, Felix Nuate, Baribor Bera, Barinem Kiobel, and John Kpuin.
Meanwhile, Sister McCarron has continually worked with the Irish people for over a decade, supporting their struggles against the building of gas pipelines and a Shell refinery. At one point, nine white crosses (for the Ogoni nine) were raised opposite the entrance to the refinery at Ballinaboy. Irish protesters have faced intimidation, beatings and jailings. In 2017, Shell’s pipeline in Mayo was completed, but popular pressure has forced a legal ban on onshore fracking.
Ken Saro-Wiwa is considered to be one of the great environmental activists of the late 20th century, and his letters reflect his passion for peace and justice around the world. Silence Would be Treason shows a fine mind on trial for his life. From jail, he continued to organize the international campaign for the release of the “Ogoni Nine”, strategized the struggle against Shell, and lived life to the full. The letters and poems are gripping, at times hilarious. and immensely readable.
Donated by Sr Majella to Maynooth Library in 2011, the letters have been transcribed and edited by librarian Helen Fallon, African Studies specialist Íde Corley and social movement researcher Laurence Cox, with a foreword by environmental activist and writer Nnimmo Bassey.
Thanks to Daraja Press, the book is now available as a free ebook, which can be downloaded in PDF at http://eprints.maynoothuniversity.ie/8940/ or read online at https://darajapress14.pressbooks.com/.
Two Poems Reflecting the Higher Self
To close, I include two of Saro-Wiwa’s poems. I believe they beautifully reflect his experience – similar to Assagioli’s – of being able to connect to the Higher Self while confined to a prison cell. Saro-Wiwa fought for the freedom of his people and, yet I believe his testimony clearly shows that he also carried and embodied this freedom inside him.
There is a fire in me
Burns all night and day
Flares at injustice
Leaps at oppression
Glows warmly in beauty.
This morning is sheer poetry
as from my detention cell
my heart sings with the red
freshness of hibiscus flowers
the vivid colour of the ixoras
shooting out of the green abundance
of a heart which resists surrender
to a garden of rank weed and mush.
by Ken Saro-Wiwa