BOOK REVIEW: Replenishing the Earth

Prof. Wangari Maathai (with shovel), winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, participates in a tree planting ceremony in the North Garden of UN Headquarters, 2005. PHOTO/Courtesy.

AUTHOR: Wangari Muta Maathai

PUBLISHER: Doubleday, New York

“Sometimes, in order to see clearly, we need to step aside and look at situations from different perspectives.”

These are the exact words that the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Wangari Muta Maathai used as part of the introduction while writing her book, Replenishing the Earth, in 2010.

Whereas Wangari says them to compare the period before and after her discovery of how the planet was of great importance to all living organisms in it – thus the need to care for it, every word, sentence, paragraph and chapter in this book has been weaved to open the readers’ eyes on a topic that matters.

As a child, Wangari could not understand why her mother would fix her eyes on a spot and gaze over it silently.

As an adult, she found herself doing the same and came to understand that her mother used to have internal reflections on things that matter and wasn’t looking at anything in particular.

Wangari cared much about environment conservation and would reflect on them both silently and loudly – like is the case of this book.

Reading “Replenishing the Earth” during this time when the world was deliberating on best environmental practices at the COP-26 must have been the best way for the reader, who was not part of the presidential delegation to the Climate Change Conference, to connect with the world’s discourse in the mighty auditorium of the powerful in Scotland. 

Circulating more copies of this book to the citizenry of every nation for their own reading and action would supplement such conferences.

Wangari’s observations since 1977, when she founded the Green Belt Movement (GBM), are still alive today.

The author discusses one key thing that can be done to save the environment; one particular thing that God’s (the Source) people have ignored until now that nations are experiencing worst forms of hurricanes, rising sea levels, destructive winds and flooding due to global warming.

It is the simple act of planting a tree or many, taking care of it to maturity and making sure that it is not cut down anyhow.

This helps in the elimination of the dangerous greenhouse gasses.

Wangari observes that taking care of the environment would also not just mean planting a tree, but also considering which tree is being planted and where.

For instance, she is specifically advising against the planting of Eucalyptus tree species next to rivers. The eucalyptus tree species has the tendency of sucking up the ground dry.

For a Kenyan reading this book, the current situation in the formerly agriculture-rich Gusii highlands comes to mind. There, residents have planted millions of emeringamu (Eucalyptus) because of their quick commercial returns.

As a result, streams, rivers and boreholes there have either dried up or reduced in volume; and locals have to trek down the hills in search of the scarce commodity.

For anyone who is interested in doing a research or a course aimed at replenishing the world, this book teaches about the need for an institutional base.

The Nobel laureate explains that the GBM became home to everyone who cared for the environment and conducted seminars that helped in sensitizing the public on environment degradation and the need to take action.

It is amazing how Wangari subtly attacks religion and its followers to create a turn-around towards environment’s conservation.

At a church in Kenya, she challenges the faithfuls on the very concept of Jesus’ death on a wooden cross.

Accordingly, Wangari points out that, if not for a tree, Jesus would not have had a place to be crucified and save believers from their sins.

This challenge elicits consciousness and the urgency needed to care for the earth, as is in the Genesis story.

It is not the Christian perspective alone that Wangari relies on to drive her points home.

The amount of research that has gone into this book is as brilliant.

It hovers around Christians to Muslims and Buddhists, through to the age-old Mottainai (don’t waste) concept of the Japanese people.

Put differently, this book illustrates different cultures and concepts from which an individual can borrow – on how to care for the planet.

Anxiety is palpable in Wangari’s writing.

An outstanding example is during her visit to the Congo Rainforest where she cried upon seeing a 200 years-old Sepele tree being cut down by a timber company.

She cried even for the birds and crickets which had their nests and webs built on the tree and the senseless burning of bricks which resulted into soil erosion.

Also, the writer exposes her anxiety over the kind of a degraded future (illustratively speaking) that her granddaughter, Ruth Wangari, was to inherit from her.

Even so, she remains resilient to the course of fighting the rights of everything that was created by ‘the Source’.

Wangari reflects on the story of the hummingbird. In the story, a huge forest which was habitat to all animals caught fire.

Every other animal ran helplessly to the edge of the forest. They did not think of themselves as being able to stop the fire.

But the hummingbird, with its small beak, flew to the nearest river, picked a droplet of water and poured it on the fire.

The bird did this repeatedly until the bigger animals, with longer trunks, scorned it for the ‘mission impossible’.

However, the tiny bird challenged them, saying: “Well, I am doing the best I can!”

Just like the humming bird, the writer is calling upon all earth’s people to do their best to heal the wounds of the planet.

Wangari continued with the work of the GBM even when some pessimists accused her of doing it for self-reward.

The book is informative and educative. Having been published a decade ago, today’s reader is tempted to pass the book as an immortal masterpiece of art.

It makes one wonder:  what if we, as nations of the planet, adhered to her teachings, loved the environment, expressed gratitude towards how the earth has been bountiful to us, respected earth’s resources and volunteered to replenish the environment?

It is this ‘immortal piece of art’ that, I recommend, should never leave anyone’s home library – just to continue reminding us that we have no other planet to go to after destroying this one.

On the basis of this book alone, let us continue honouring the legendary Wangari Muta Maathai posthumously.

You can also read: Tetra Pak roots for environmental conservation

Young people can make environmental conservation attainable

OPINION: Approach environmental care ethically

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Mr. Odanga is a Kenyan multimedia journalist, with a strong bias for writing.


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