Last week, at the 24th Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP24) under the United Nations (UN) Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in Krakow, Poland, Nigeria joined other nations in that conference which took far reaching decisions on climate change. Climate change will define the 21st century. It is now part of our economic, social, political, geographical and even security architecture for the foreseeable future. Any nation that does not take the issue seriously is doing so at its own peril.
According to many experts, including Paul Middleton in his book, “The End of Oil: the Gulf, Nigeria and Beyond,” the earth’s current climate is a delicate chemical balancing act; the achievement of just the right balance of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the air has enabled life to flourish on planet earth. Carbon dioxide is absorbed by the earth’s enormous forests and vast oceans; it has also been removed, or kept, from the atmosphere, by carbon being buried deep underground in the form of coal, oil, and gas.
The earth has a good balance of carbon cycle until humanity’s appetite for energy grew. Not only did human beings start to burn fossil fuels – thus releasing their stored carbon dioxide – we also decimated the forests that had once helped to absorb the excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In other words, we had not only upset the carbon cycle; we had thrown it into reverse. So, the problem is serious. Even if there are contrary views – and there are a number of them including from US President Donald Trump – it is clear that something is happening. The question is how serious the consequences will be and how fast the process will accelerate.
With the world’s population rising, global consumption soaring, energy supplies declining and climate change accelerating, we are literally on the verge of a global struggle for resources. And the separate camps that are now emerging, both religious and national, may well prove to be the beginning of future global power blocs. Indeed, if some of the more extreme climate change predictions are proved correct, we may find ourselves thrown into armed conflicts. The farmers/herders conflict here in West Africa is a very good example of climate change induced conflicts.
Such predictions warn not of a gradual warming of the planet that leads to a slow rise in temperatures, but of a climate tipping point when the natural regulatory mechanisms of the planet break down irretrievably and widespread devastation results, on a scale with which humanity is ill-equipped to cope. It is important to understand that there are likely to be significant social consequences of climate change. Climate change will not only bring about the degradation of the ecosystems; it is also likely to result in the disintegration of entire human societies.
The doomsday scenario of worsening wars would most likely bring with it an acceleration of climate change; after all, countries with wars to fight are unlikely to prioritize reducing their carbon footprint. Despite the best efforts of scientists using increasingly complex predictive models, the specific, regional impacts of climate change are notoriously difficult to predict accurately. Nobody really knows exactly what is going to happen in particular parts of the world, or when.
What is clear, though, is that the most extreme forecasts don’t bear thinking about. The future, should the governments of the world take only ineffectual action to mitigate global warming, could well be catastrophic: widespread droughts, worse famines, flooding, more powerful hurricanes, and so on. These kinds of consequences are in fact, already apparent in some areas of the world, most notably in Africa.
Lake Chad has been severely affected by drought and desertification. It has decreased in size from an average of 4,000 square miles in the dry season in the 1960s to an area of only about 500 square miles today. As a result, fishermen have been displaced and forced to find somewhere else to live; dry season farming is not on the scale as before; this has put enormous social and economic pressure on the region and led to localized conflicts like the decade old Boko Haram insurgency currently going on in the region devastating the countries around the lake.
While it remains unclear whether this decrease in the size of Lake Chad is being exacerbated by global warming, it is clear that there is a link between the increasing demands of an expanding population and the dramatic shrinkage of one of Africa’s largest freshwater lakes over the past fifty years. Basically, over grazing around the lake reduces vegetation, which compromises the ecosystem’s ability to recycle moisture back into the atmosphere.
This results in fewer rains, which used to replenish the lake, and, consequently, droughts, which, in turn, mean that more water is taken from the lake to irrigate crops. At the same time, the Sahara Desert has been edging southwards, exacerbating the desertification of the region. Against this backdrop of acute environmental pressure, competition over oil resources is a catalyst to worsening conflict. There is oil under the lake which only Chad is exploring. What comes out of all these is the fact that climate change is real and the sooner we do something about it collectively and individually the better for all. History is on the side of the oppressed.
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