The Second Wangari Maathai Memorial Lecture at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
June 24, Midsummer’s Day – a summer day set aside to honour the sun during the year’s longest day of sunlight; an ideal occasion to remember one of the brightest legacies in environmentalism, Nobel Peace Laureate Professor Wangari Maathai.
Friends and supporters from across the globe, including the United Kingdom, Europe and Kenya, joined the Green Belt Movement International – Europe at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew to commemorate the life and work of Professor Maathai at the second annual Wangari Maathai Memorial Lecture. The evening was filled with warmth as guests enjoyed a guided tour of the botanic gardens, including a visit to the hybrid oak tree planted by His Royal Highness Prince Charles in 2013 at the first memorial event. Guests mingled over refreshments and shared fond memories of Professor Maathai, her lifelong commitment to environmental stewardship, women’s empowerment and community led action in Kenya.
Maggie Baxter, Master of Ceremonies and Chair of the UK Board of Trustees, set the tone for the evening as she welcomed honoured guests as well as Green Belt Movement Kenya representatives. Present was Wanjira Mathai, daughter of Professor Wangari Maathai and Chair of the Kenya Board of Trustees, Lillian Njehu, Vice Treasurer, and Aisha Karanja, Green Belt Movement Kenya Executive Director. Ms Mathai offered valuable updates on the work and current projects of the Green Belt Movement. She also shared words of wisdom passed down from her mother and spoke to her strong legacy in the face of the climate debate.
Guest lecturer, Jonathon Porritt, former Director of Friends of the Earth UK and the Founder Director of Forum for the Future, was the main speaker for the evening. Long time friend of Professor Maathai and supporter of the Green Belt Movement, Mr Porritt was asked to address what has been called, the largest humanitarian issue of our time: climate change.
His talk, “Our Brilliant Low-Carbon Future”, began by stating the graveness of our current climate situation. Mr Porritt highlighted that the bad news about climate change is that we have no chance at stabilising under two degrees Celsius, it is an existential threat to humankind. And that the politics of the climate change debate is even worse; we need a radical decarbonization by 2020. Despite science telling us that we need to take action now, coal has had its highest peak of consumption in 40 years in 2014. However, the need to reduce energy consumption by 50% in developed countries is possible with current technological innovations.
Mr Porritt shared more of his findings from his book 'The World We Made' on how low-carbon technology and innovations in electricity could prove to hold a promise for a new and sustainable future. His eloquence and expertise on the subject captivated the audience and prompted an attentive discussion. Mr Porritt exemplified his findings that “small really is beautiful as far as growing crops in genuinely sustainable, small-scale ways across Africa” through a recent report from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the work of the Green Belt Movement.
To bring the evening to a close, Mrs Njehu reminded us of Professor Maathai’s spirit and courage, and led the attendees in a pledge to being brilliant environmental stewards and to take better care of this planet we have been given.
The event ended with an up note sense of inspiration, light and promise for the future through the remembrance of Professor Maathai.
Photos: Maj Seda at Evictoria Photography