THE EXPERIENCES I’VE WRITTEN ABOUT IN THE SPLITTER, GREATLY FICTIONALISED, HAVE MOTIVATED ALL THE WORK I’VE CARRIED OUT AS AN ENVIRONMENTAL WRITER AND ACTIVIST SINCE.
The lady in the picture, let’s call her Mtoma as I never did find out her real name, is a daily reminder of how I used to engineer safe drinking water to drought inflicted populations all over the world. This was a valuable job, no doubt, but drilling wells and installing hand-pumps will ultimately be abandoned as the consequences of climate change take hold and Mtoma’s home becomes uninhabitable, as will a third of existing land mass across the globe, unless we cut carbon emissions quickly and drastically.
The continual natural disasters effecting Mtoma and her family are causal and start here, at home, in the UK. And although I call them natural, the line is blurred as to which of the extreme weather events experienced across the globe are now man-made. Is the famine in Sub-Sahara Africa linked to consumerism in Europe and America? Many highly qualified scientific experts have validated, verified, peer-reviewed data that confirms that it is. And is this just another episode in our imperialist history?
In part the book was inspired by my own need to try and understand Mtoma and her family. Instead of treating her as an engineering challenge to be solved, I wanted to try and understand her desires and fears. I wanted to explore my hidden bias and privilege in the work I carried out there and, having grown up as a colonial in Sudan and Nigeria, I wanted to dissect my own inherited beliefs with a creative scalpel. When is a white saviour not a white saviour? My hope is that the book will generate a conversation about our relationship with indigenous populations and challenge some sticky thinking.
More recently academic studies have been carried out about using indigenous knowledge to combat climate change (their language not mine) but to me these do not challenge our own assumptions about how we occupy the world and our relationship with nature and our environment. They do not delve into our history that has urged us to dominate, civilise and capitalise on every resource from land, water and animals to people. This time of immense upheaval due to climate and ecological breakdown requires us to unpick our ambitions and long-standing relationships with each other and find a new way of living which is impossible without cultural reformation.