Environment & Health

Climate Change: time to change tactics and themes

There were two issues that dominated discussions at the InWent environmental reporting training, Berlin in June 2008. The sexiest of them was that climate was ‘changing’. And the other had to do with the need to look for workable stratagems to stem this change and find ways to go around what causes that ‘change’. Nearly all the lecturers said, at one time or the other, that our lifestyles and an overt reliance on fuels from crude oil were responsible for the irreversible shifts in atmospheric weather conditions as we used to know them. Now, since everybody appeared familiar with the greenhouse-ozone-layer-carbon-dioxide nexus, and particularly as it related to the looming climate change catastrophe, it was not too difficult to begin to realize the need to mitigate and adapt [sorry, I prefer to say ‘mitigate and adapt’ rather than ‘adapt and mitigate’ simply because I believe we must take proactive steps first of all before we begin to learn to live with the problem].

But there was one argument I had with Dr Klaus Heidler, of the Solar Info Centre in Freiburg that I suppose is relevant here. Severally, Dr. Heidler (and indeed many of the lecturers) had punctuated the many interactive sessions we had, with the need to ‘save’ energy, perhaps as a stimulus for promoting discourse on the need to invest in renewable energy sources. At some of those occasions, I would look in the direction of some of my fellow journos from India, Indonesia, Ghana, Tanzania, China, and Jordan to see if they felt the same blur I felt. At those times, their expressions remained as blank and bland as mine. For participants from some of these countries, [Nigeria inclusive] the problem of irregular power supply and the inability to guarantee it was one network that connected us more than MTN, GLO, ETISALAT, and ZAIN put together. While people in the Americas and in Europe have what they call ‘luminous pollution’ – having too much power supply than they really need – those from the South-South of the world suffer ‘non-luminous pollution’. Why then was Dr. Heidler asking us to ‘save’ energy, when we do not have just enough of it, I asked him. On a lighter mood, I also asked to know if there were any banks in Germany where they ‘save’ energy. But on a more serious note, I asked him if it would not be a little appropriate to be talking about ‘conserving’ it. By its conservation I told him I meant that everyone [those on the luminous and non-luminous divide] should learn to apply the basic rudiments of managing the availability or non-availability thereof of energy. The kind doctor said he agreed with me but that available vocabulary made for only that one word with which to remind ourselves that we must do something [and fast] about climate change.

Today however, the sad reality of our common existence on a common platform makes it imperative to use the right terms, if only so that everyone really understands what is happening. That sad reality is that climate change is here. It is so ‘here’ to the extent that last year, everyone gathered in Copenhagen last year in a concerted effort to address the problem. For me, two factors came together to make the conference fail. One of them was the industrialized world, particularly its key players, is still playing the politics of Jack-and-Jill-went-up- the-Hill-to-fetch-a-pail-of-water. What troubles me now is that everyone is pretending that we are not aware that when Jack fell down and broke his head, Jill tumbled after him. Some part of the industrialized world seem to me to be engaging all manner of rhetoric with the intent to pass buck, particularly when the least developed countries insist that proactive action [maybe in the form of aid and capacity building] must come from the industrialized countries which allegedly triggered the looming climate change catastrophe. Take for instance the double-speak of the United States concerning climate change: before Obama became president, one of the issues he consistently promised to champion as president was that the US would no longer rely on oil as the mainstay of the US economy. He talked about wind mills; he talked about a green economy. Therefore when everyone converged in Copenhagen in December last year, expectations were high but they were promptly dashed when Obama began to sing a different song. Today, the United States has imposed sanctions on Bolivia and Ecuador, countries in the Americas opposed to Obama’s stand on climate change, the Copenhagen Accord. In fact, contents mistakenly left in a hotel room by an Obama official already indicate the tough stance that he plans to adopt in November this year when the world again converges in Mexico to look at the issues again.

But I believe that world leaders can play Russian roulette with the climate change crisis only if a great many people do not understand the issues. Take for instance again how average weather conditions have drastically ‘changed’. In recent months, countries around the world traditionally known to experience normal ‘cold temperatures’ have become colder and colder; while the incidents of earthquakes [a 6.9 earthquake has hit Western China as I write] have become a metaphor, mines caving in and killing scores of people. For Africa it is even worse. We have witnessed temperatures as abnormal as 50 degrees or more in northern Nigeria and rising sea levels that threaten to submerge Lagos, Warri and Freetown. The concomitant effect here is that while water bodies in the north are vanishing and the desert begins to advance steadily, this heat exacerbates a situation where tropical diseases like malaria is on the rise.

So the expectation is that people should get worried. But no – we carry on apparently because we have been programmed to think of our weather in terms of a dichotomy – that it is either a wet season or the Harmattan. But the present reality indicates otherwise. The wet season is no longer as sacrosanct as we all used to know it, that is, we can no longer ‘predict’ as we used to do that it would surely rain in so and so month. In places like Lagos, it still abnormally rains heavily in December and on two occasions now the city has been shrouded by an unexplainable stench and smog, with incidents of acid rain taking place around heavily industrialized areas like Agidingbi. It is the same thing with the once-called ‘dry’ season which has morphed in two with the advent of the ‘hot’ season. Under normal conditions, temperatures around the southerly, easterly and westerly axis must not exceed 28 degrees but they have shot up to 38 while the fans and air-conditioners in the middle belt and the northern Sahel region are already blowing hot air.

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