15 Jun DR MAO AMIS
Our Earth is asking and pleading for a green economy where human and environmental wellbeing can thrive and be sustained. Dr Mao Amis is answering Earth’s call to implement this much needed Green Economy.
In this inspiring interview with Dr Amis, the founder of the African Centre for Green Economy, Amis unpacks the need and function of the green economy. Amis’s humble beginnings in rural Uganda has guided him on a path that connects science and the human soul with the Earth. We discuss his vision for the Green Economy, his thought-provoking podcast ‘The Green Insights’ and his hope for the Earth post-Covid 19
1. How did your childhood shape you for your passion and drive to build a green economy?
My childhood has played a pivotal role in defining my relationship with nature, and my value system. I was born in Uganda in a small town, with no running water or electricity, as a result, I spent most of my childhood in the outdoors. Every weekend, we would go to a river close by and spend the whole day swimming. If we are not swimming, we would be exploring the nearby forest, playing hide and seek, collecting wild fruit and just have a good time. It was completely safe, and as I child it felt completely ‘ordinary’. So when I grew up and left the rural area to go to high school and eventually university, I found myself increasingly yearning for those childhood experiences and dismayed by the deteriorating water quality in our rivers and the high rate of deforestation. Within a short period, the rivers that we used to swim in were no more, due to increased pollution or their flows became intermittent due to changing rainfall patterns.
I had no doubt that I needed to pursue a career in Environment so I can make a difference, as I believe strongly that solving our environmental crisis is key to achieving human wellbeing.
2. For someone unfamiliar with the term ‘green economy’, how would you briefly define this term?
A ‘green economy’ is a development paradigm that seeks to place the environment at the centre of economic development, enabling the production of goods and services without compromising ecological/environmental integrity.
In simple terms, a green economy should result in improved human wellbeing, by ensuring that the environment is effectively protected and ecological integrity is sustained.
3. What are the building blocks that are necessary for transitioning towards a green economy?
- To achieve a green economy transition, a systems approach is required to bring about economic transformation. One of the main building blocks of the green economy is the reform of key sectors, such as finance who need to divest from investing in fossil fuels.
- Equity is also extremely important, to ensure a just transition, as the most vulnerable members of society need to be empowered so that the cost of the transition is fairly distributed and no one is left behind.
- Finally, valuing natural capital is extremely important, so we need to protect our critical ecosystem and biodiversity that are the lifeline of our economy and human wellbeing.
4. From your LinkedIn activity and videos it seems like you spend a lot of time ‘in the field’, connecting with farmers and land. How do you balance time in the field with research, meetings and speaking engagements?
I strongly believe that the voices on the ground need to be heard, that is why I spend a significant part of my time connecting with the communities where we work.
We are a research organisation, so being on the ground documenting trends and collecting data is our offering. The effective use of social media has enabled me to be able to be in multiple locations at the same time.
I strive to be a scientist, who can communicate science in very simple terms, so I take my public engagements extremely serious.
5. To quote your inspiring words: “Rivers are like the arteries that transport blood in our bodies”. Why are rivers so important to you and how can we preserve them?
Protecting our river systems will help us achieve our conservation goals much more effectively. This is because river systems are not only comprised of the water that flows in them, but there are connected to the land through the river banks, and link highlands with lowlands.
In fact during my PhD studies, which focused on conservation planning, I found that if conservation efforts focused exclusively on protecting river systems, we could achieve more than 80% of overall conservation objectives.
Apart from scientific reasons, rivers are appealing to our human spirit, and we derive a lot of value in interacting with them. As a result, focusing conservation efforts on rivers can enable us to get buy-in especially from communities whose livelihoods are intimately linked to the rivers they associate with.
6. The Green Insights podcast, which you host, holds powerful discourses on environmental issues with experts. How has the podcast influenced you?
I experimented with the podcast and did a total of 6 episodes for season 1, and I’m looking forward to season 2 which comes up in a few weeks.I learnt quite a lot from the podcast, firstly it provided me with an opportunity to hold deep conversations with experts, activists and changemakers whom I respect a lot.The podcast also highlighted to me the challenge of communicating complex issues in a simple manner to draw human interest. I strongly believe that effective science communication is extremely important, and the podcast was my way of applying my mind to a mode of communication that I never explored before.
7. What are some of the ‘green economy’ solutions that you are most excited about right now?
I’m extremely excited right now about off-grid energy access for vulnerable communities. I believe that for a just transition to become a reality, energy access among the most vulnerable need to be prioritised. There is unequivocal evidence that energy access improves human wellbeing and economic prosperity. Unfortunately, many vulnerable communities currently have no access to energy or in the case of South Africa, even though there is connectivity, affordability is a challenge.
Our work currently focuses on unlocking the barriers to scaling up off-grid energy access among vulnerable communities and documenting their impact to inform evidence-based policymaking.
8. What are some of the benefits that COVID19 has brought to the world if there are any?
If there is anything the world has learned from COVID19, it’s the fact that we as humans are not invincible. I don’t think anyone would have predicted that a pandemic would bring the entire global economy to halt, especially considering the significant scientific progress that has been achieved in the last century.
Hopefully, this is a wake-up call, as climate change will exacerbate extreme events including pandemics, droughts and flooding among others.
There are significant discussions on how the post COVID19 economic recovery would be more holistic, taking into account the challenge of climate change and the need for a green economy transition. However, it remains to be seen if policymakers will follow through with economic recovery measures that are inclusive and go beyond business-as-usual.
9. What was the biggest gift that you benefited from doing your PhD?
Problem-solving is probably the most important skill I gained from my PhD. As a scientist, we are trained to have an inquisitive mind and use ‘first principles’ to map out potential solutions to seemingly complex issues. I use that approach a lot in designing our impact projects, with clearly defined milestones and impact measurement metrics.
My PhD studies also enabled me to build a global network of colleagues, with whom I have continued to collaborate, some of whom have become very close friends for more than 10 years now.
10. At Sapmok we are constantly striving to be better and do better for the environment, but there’s always room for improvement. What do you suggest can we do as a brand to be part of a greener and more inclusive economy?
As a brand, one of the most important interventions you could is to better understand your supply chains and continuously aspire for sustainability in your sourcing strategies. Many companies commit to environmental sustainability, but it’s only those who follow their commitments with real action, are the ones that will truly make a difference.