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Burning bushes and dry riverbeds: Why should we care?

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If you are familiar with Biblical events, then you would know the story of the burning bush and the seabed that dried up. However, I am not about to rehash those stories or give you a crash course if you are not conversant with those events.

The burning bushes and dry riverbeds I am referring to are events that are more contemporary- things that many of us have swept under the carpet and would not lose a moment’s sleepover. Yet, who has ever heard of anyone sleeping soundly in a burning house? Or of a sane person who would turn a deaf ear to the cries of a child in a building caving in, under the pressure of flood?

“No one?” you say, but I have seen such people. I see them every day on the streets as people who are more concerned with having food in their bellies (not that it is any fault of theirs), and on TV screens as jokers masquerading as political leaders.

Sleeping soundly in a burning house or shunning a child while a flood rages are the same thing as not caring about the environment. They are same as scorning those who talk about climate change and calling it one giant conspiracy.

It is rather unfortunate that something as real and threatening as climate change is being treated with such levity in Nigeria. Many other nations are proactively positioning themselves to save the environment, but we are too caught up in our careless abandon to notice the work that must be done or even the urgency.

Getting the facts right: What is climate change really about?

The world’s water bodies are shrinking and the climate is becoming increasingly hotter, but it is not like the Earth is suddenly going to implode one day and cease to exist, is it?

Well, it is probably not going to be that dramatic, but it is important that we know what exactly climate change is. The key to understanding it is knowing what ‘weather’ is.

For years, talking about the weather is the way we usually segue into a conversation. Yet the weather is much more than a tool for filling up gaps in an awkward conversation.

Ishaya Damisa, a Geographer, notes that “Weather is the day to day atmospheric condition of a place while climate is the average weather condition of a place over a long period of time, usually 30-35 years.

Climate change is the significant statistical deviation from the average condition of the climatic elements.”

NASA explains climate change as “change in the usual weather found in a place.”

Therefore, climate refers to the consistent weather patterns found in a particular geographical location over a long period of time. The Earth’s climate is the combined climate as found in different parts of the world. Meanwhile, climate change is any deviation from the norm as it pertains to the environment.  

More often than not, climate change and global warming are often misunderstood and used interchangeably. USGS states that global warming is part of climate change. Global warming is mostly rising in global temperatures while climate change has to do with changes to the climate as a whole over a length of time.

What’s the fuss about anyway?

Without being too technical, I am just going to tell you that climate change is a big deal. I mean, it was one of the eightMillennium Development Goals (MDGs) which have metamorphosed into the seventeen (17) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

These goals are practically the world’s Bible on development and what is even more important is that in practical, daily life, we see the impact of climate change on our environment.

Quite recently, it was all over the news that the Amazon was on fire (and still was as at September 23, 2019). The Amazon Rainforest is the largest and most biodiverse tropical rainforest in the world.

Experts opine that the Amazonian fires are mostly man-made through deforestation and bush burning but combining these with climate change, the impact of the fires is devastating.

Ecosystem Science expert from the University of Oxford, Professor Yadvinder Malhi suggests in this BBC article said that “immediate effect of the fires will be on the climate of South America. Reduced rainfall is likely, leading to a more intensive dry season. The carbon emission could contribute to global warming” though the longer-term global impact is “more difficult to pin down”.

Bring the conversation closer home, let’s look at the shrinkage of Lake Chad Basin.

Lake Chad is the shallowest lake in the world that caters for the water needs of around 30 million people and found in North-eastern Nigeria. Since the 1960s, the water body has shrunk by 90%, giving many scientists cause for concern. The culprit? Many agree that that climate change is to blame.

However, some sceptics are of the opinion that climate change is not exactly the cause of the shrinking lake, but that population explosion just may be the true bad guy. Yet, this does not change the fact that the alarm over the exponential reduction in the water body is a threat to millions of lives and a solution is not in sight.  

Here in Nigeria, a clear example of climate change is the farmer-herdsman clash that has been ongoing for years and which led to the RUGA settlement proposition. You didn’t think that climate change could be linked to something so real, right?

Scarce resources such as decreasing land space that may be used for either grazing or crop cultivation or depleting water resources pits both farmers and herders against each other. This can be easily traced to the effects of climate change.  

Do you see the link? 

More so, a study by Idowu et al (2011) cites several ways that climate change impacts Nigeria, such as:

  • Floods – Rising water levels from uneven rainfall patterns and poor drainages lead to property loss, loss of lives, road inaccessibility, population displacement and loss of farmland.
  • Loss of forest resources – Loss of medicinal plants, mushroom etc. have been attributed to storm surges, deforestation and drought-by-products of climate change.
  • Food insecurity – Despite the relative soil fertility and large expanse of arable land, Nigeria remains food insecure, and things might not improve anytime soon because of the rising population and effects of climate change that is leading to resource scarcity and extreme weather conditions.
  • Poor public health – Many of the health challenges we are currently battling in Nigeria can easily be traced to climate change. The increased number of pollutants in the atmosphere (like greenhouse gases) lead to respiratory diseases; heatstroke; skin ailments and a spike in malaria cases can all be blamed on climate change.

Therefore, climate change is not as mythical as we assume. It is not a green-eyed monster belonging in the imagination of children, yet many Nigerians don’t give it a second’s thought. How many of our political leaders even care about the environment?

Why do Nigerians shy away from talking about climate change?

I talked to a number of people to feel their pulse on the matter. Some believed that what we call climate change today are actually events that have been foretold in religious texts as the signs of the end of the world. Thus, there really is no point in being so surprised and expecting anything else.

Others opined that the average Nigerian is too hungry to care about something as ‘abstract’ as climate change.

A few more believe it is a giant conspiracy.

A respondent who pled anonymity noted that “It is all a scam. What are we experiencing now that we have not experienced before? Flooding? Heat? They have all been there from day one. If we decide to have a sense as humans and build drainages, I am sure we can curb flooding. Water levels will always rise; we only have to clear the pathways for it when it eventually does.”

Someone else joked, “Talking about the heat levels, maybe God is cooking stew, and the earth is just close to the pot.”

Benny Atsua, a stagecoach and thespian responded, “It has crossed my mind before that perhaps just like organized crime, some capitalists are deliberately creating the problem [climate change] so that they can be the ones to proffer the solution or to get donor agencies to sink money into it.

Nevertheless, Hauwa Saleh, a law student and activist lamented bitterly, “The planet is literally dying, and there is a shift in the weather patterns. Why would anyone not take climate change seriously?”

Damisa further explains, “There is evidence all around us that climate change is real – like rising global temperature, increasing sea levels and melting polar caps. The impact of these changes to our environment is the reason we have drought, flooding, heat and cold waves.

There is no doubt that there is politics linked to this all over the world. Billions of dollars go into global warming and climate change research and where money is involved, there must be politics. Therefore, some parties are out there generating money through this issue. Oil companies pay scientists to refute the global warming theory so that they can keep burning fossil fuel and polluting the environment without being held accountable for it while others are pushing the narrative of climate change because of the money invested in research.

These notwithstanding, the threat is real, and there are those who are genuinely concerned. Of course, there will always be those who believe that it is all nature and there is no point in getting worked up over it, but then we can’t assume that we can keep cutting down forests, burning up fuel and littering the environment with plastic without attracting repercussions from the environment. How long do we think we can keep doing all that and get away with it?”

Check out this article on World Environmental Day.

What we should do about climate change

Well, there is no way I will talk about this, without calling you to action. In your tiny, little corner, there are things you can do to help protect the environment.

First of all, you see all those polythene bags you collect in the market for every single item, you should stop collecting them. Don’t use polythene bags indiscriminately. In fact, buy one or two Bagco Super bags. Take them along to the market each time so that you don’t have to keep buying new ones and messing everywhere up.

Also, cut down on your plastic use. Learn to recycle and when disposing of the plastics you have, give them to waste management organizations that can convert them. Look up those that are around you or give it to the men who call for them while pushing their carts in neighbourhoods.

Besides, you could also start a waste management company. Many people are making money from it while contributing their quota to safeguarding the environment. All it takes is a simple Google search on waste management for profit in Nigeria and you will see others making strides.

On a macro-level, so much more has to be done. There is actually a body for environmental protection in Nigeria. Did you know? It is called the National Environmental Standards and Regulation Agency (NESREA), and there are so many policies and laws on the environment. Yet, how many of these policies have seen the light of day?

More so, there should be policies regulating plastics use and production, and for goodness’ sake, we should be talking about to switching to electric cars that won’t pollute the environment while putting a stop to gas flaring. Yet, some of our politicians shut down the bill on electric vehicles when it was gaining momentum some months ago, for personal reasons.

Meanwhile, the National Orientation Agency needs to work tirelessly on reorienting Nigerians on climate change, what it truly means and how it affects us all.

Our government must place a priority on the climate and hold up its end of the bargain by contributing to international efforts to combat climate change, such as the Great Green Wall. It is an audacious move that has already begun yielding results, but lack of consistency is impeding the progress of the project.

Therefore….

It is incredible that we think we can mess up our environment and not reap the consequences. Supposing you litter your home with all kinds of plastic and other pollutants, you will eventually run out of space and hygienically speaking, the environment won’t be conducive for you anymore.

Thus, we don’t have to wait for the apocalyptic doom that scientists are projecting to befall us. All riverbeds don’t have to dry up. All forests don’t have to burn to the ground. We should take action right now! Climate action is urgent.

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