By AMINA SALIHU
I live in Abuja where the rains are pouring down but not in the quantity or at the times they are expected. The first rain came on February 23 and a torrent followed the next day. Last year, the first rain came on February 4. This is a clear one or two months earlier than it used to come, say, a decade ago. All over the world, there are variants of this water flow problem: drought, floods, late rains, too little rains, severe storms.
Farmers are organising prayers to intercede with God to save their harvest and their livelihood. Yet, the planting seasons have not changed. We are still steeped in our old ways of a seasonal calendar while we watch helplessly amidst evolving but increasing climatic uncertainties. For a country that has long neglected agriculture as a viable income earner but whose vast majority rely on subsistence farming as a means of livelihood, what does this change in rainfall pattern mean for livelihood and for food security?
This change has dire consequences. It means less income, less food, less well-being and social security and a less than happy nation. So what is responsible for this situation? Much as the reason for this has been spoken and written about over and over, it bears repeating. This changing water pattern is an aspect of climate change, which is a change in the nature of weather over a period of, say, ten to one million years. Even though Nature can cause this change, over the past few decades, climatic changes have become more associated with human activities. Our socio-economic behaviours such as bush burning, felling of trees and gas flaring, which increase the quantity of harmful gas such as carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide on the earth surface, are responsible for the emission of bad gases which have come to be known as greenhouse gas. When this builds up to a massive level, the earth’s filtering system which ensures a balance in the quantity of such gas within the earth’s atmosphere can no longer cope. Since the gas is trapped, it collects and heats up Planet Earth, hence the expression ‘global warming’. This causes changes in weather patterns amongst other changes.
In the past, we thought climate change did not affect us,that it was for people on faraway continents such as Asia, Europe and America to worry about. Well, the chicken has come home to roost. In Africa, the rapid change in the past few decades has stolen a match upon us and its terrible consequences now face us. It has made the earth warmer with attendant effect on water current, purity of the air we breathe and our health. Global warming has consequences on access to a safe environment, food security, potable water, safety and security of lives and property because extreme weather can and is causing traumatic natural disasters such as droughts, floods, fires, and desertification.
In Nigeria, the Atlantic Ocean surge in Lagos, the increasing desertification in northern Nigeria, the activities of the oil and gas sector in the Niger Delta (namely gas flaring and environmental pollution), all have serious consequences for human security and development. It is breeding inequality and widening the gap between affluence and abject poverty. We are, at once, the culprits and the victims through our actions and inactions. Climate change in our part of the world, Africa, is of terrible significance because the very things which fuel it are the ways we live, work and interact. So, the farmer burns the fields to prepare it for farming, or the youth do so to smoke out rats, and fire depletes the land and could cause loss of lives and properties. We use pesticides and herbicides to control insects and diseases and unwanted weeds on the farm because we want to increase yield, and because we also must have heat and food, we need fuel. Since the kerosene, which we produce in huge quantities, is not accessible to the poor, they approach nature which has abundant forests and can offer the forests’ most mature offspring to be braised into first-grade coal or as firewood in order that humanity may survive.
We must be careful not to blame the victims but rather educate them and provide viable options. We need to do both, for however much we may worry and educate the people about climate change, if we do not provide viable alternatives to this known way of life, little will change and we may never find the respite we need for the environment. Let’s face it: we may even become guilty of blaming the victims. Who are the victims? These are the people who have to find alternative means to keep body and soul together when the state cannot guarantee the opportunity to do so. After all, consumption is autonomous, which means, rich or poor, we all must eat.
Each one of us can contribute in our little ways. My creed is: “Waste not, want not.” We instinctively tend to waste rather than conserve resources. The way we use water is atrocious. We waste it as we brush our teeth, do ablutions, wash dishes or flush the toilet. We take long showers or use up giant buckets when half that water will do. Water is one resource we should treat as if our life depends on it, because it does. Leaving the lights on from dusk to dusk is a brutal waste of resource which has consequences for how much we spend on electricity, whether publicly or privately generated, not to mention heating up our Earth.
Government must wake up and fund research. For instance, solar, wind, crop and other energy-saving devices exist. The countries of the future are those which are able to find and own the patent on alternative energy. It is my intention to share in the second part of this article some viable alternatives which we need to pay attention to in our homes and in society. These are ideas we can learn and make money from even as we protect the environment. Yes, business and the environment can and do go together. We only need a moral compass to help find the right balance.
(This is the first part of the article - Saving Our Earth in Changing Times. Watch out for second part.)