Friday, January 29, 2021 10:31 am
By Chris Anyokwu
What is climate change? What does it mean when the climate “changes”? What are the signs, the features and characteristics of climate change? Like most categories and concepts whose definition defies precision, climate change might not lend itself to a simple-dictionary definition. Research has shown that the most difficult aspect of scholarly undertaking is what is generally referred to as “Definition of Terms”. Such is the daunting nature of definitional slipperiness that researchers make do with what they call “conceptual clarification”. A benign, malleable substitute. Thank goodness. So we shall try to wrap our heads around the concept of climate change by way of not a definition but conceptual clarification.
And why not, when the phenomenon itself is one of the most touted buzzwords or catchphrases of our time? Climate change, thus, can be cognised and grasped through its impacts on our natural world – rising temperatures, extreme weather events, shifting wildlife populations and habitant loss; rising sea levels, inter alia. Rachel Carson’s novel entitled Silent Spring (1962) opens with the words: “There was once a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings”. She then goes on to invoke the ancient tradition of the pastoral such as “prosperous farms”, “Green fields”, foxes in the hills, silent deer, ferns and wildflowers, countless birds, among others. She dramatises how pastoral peace gives way to catastrophic disaster: “Then a strange blight crept over the area and everything began to change. Some evil spell had settled on the community: mysterious maladies swept the flocks of chickens, the cattle and sheep sickened and died.
Everywhere was a shadow of death” Greg Garrard in his important study, Ecocriticism argues appositely that the afore-mentioned rural idyll synecdochically representing the world was torn apart by human agency through pollution. But then, we ask: Since when has it become fashionable to take notice or pay attention to the changing patterns of global climatic conditions? Hasn’t it always been the temperate North versus the tropical South (including, of course, the sub-tropical and semi-temperate in-betweens)? Has anything changed significantly? Isn’t North, North and South South? Or has the Northern Hemisphere, home to the global rich, begun to fray at the seams, showing deleterious features of the Global South, such as the tropical elements of heat and humidity, unleashing malarial epidemic? Or is the Southern Hemisphere, the dingy dungeons of the world’s poor, showing signs of wintery chill – snow, fog, smog, cold, etc? Or, as it’s more likely to be the case: the South is becoming hotter, rainfall patterns becoming more unpredictable, leaving our farmers in sixes and sevens and the storm-systems growing ever so destructive, tempestuous and cataclysmic? What, indeed, are the known, scientifically-verifiable causes of climate change? We are told that among the causes are the following: burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas, and clearing of land for agricultural purposes or for industrial activity. Thus, deforestation leads to the incidence of carbon emissions by cars, trucks, refrigerators and freezers, air-conditioning units, trains, and other industrial machinery.
Those emissions cause the parlous depletion of the ozone layer, thereby exposing humans in particular to harmful radioactive radiation resulting from global warming, greenhouse effect, etc. We understand that this global warming is causing the ice-caps of the coldest reaches of the earth to melt at an alarming rate, thereby causing earth’s sea and ocean levels to rise, precipitating massive flooding, flash floods, tsunamis and landslides, among other meteorological disasters. Additionally, it is believed that the movement of the moon also contributes to these climatic troubles. At present, Australia and California are battling wildfires laying waste unbelievably massive swathes of land and annihilating rare biodiversities and wildlife in the process. Because of climate change, the world is the poorer for it. It is, however, heart-warming to know that affected nations, concerned organisations, public-spirited individuals are doing something to control and alleviate the effects of climate change.
That is to say, measures are being put in place to combat and curb it, and one of these measures is afforestation. For instance, a third of London is forested area. Same goes for many European and American towns and cities. It is a proven scientific fact that human conurbations ensconced in lush vegetation is a form of eco-solution to ecocide or habitat loss; it regulates environmental temperatures, improve air quality, and so forth. Many countries have also cut carbon emissions by banning indiscriminate bush burning and forbidding the use of smoky automobiles on roads. Often times, the authorities also place a cap on effluent and other lethal gas emissions in factories and industrial complexes. As a matter of fact, in many car-manufacturing countries, governments are adamant that motor vehicles must be radically redesigned. Accordingly, bio-fuel or fossil-fuel automobiles are gradually being phased out and are being replaced with electronic ones. The implication is that most car-making countries will rely less and less on oil and gas or even coal, for that matter. Smart is the new genius: cleaner and smarter modelling all the way in housing and architecture, gardening, urban planning, office-space management, classrooms, libraries, factories, and manufacturing. Thus electronic gadgets, home appliances, even books are either digitalized or virtualized. Or they come in hand-held miniaturized packages. Megacities are turning smart cities as well. Go to Abu Dhabi. Go to Dubai. It will interest you to know that climate change is a popular course of study overseas, notably, the United Kingdom, with young people and experts specializing in different and varied branches of climate change or climatology.
By the same token, we also see climate advocacy and activism going on everywhere, especially in the Western world. We all know about Greta Thunberg (born 3 January 2003), the Swedish environmental activist who is known globally for challenging world leaders to take immediate action against climate change, according to Google. In this regard, celebrities have lined up behind Greta, sportsmen and women, film stars, musicians, academics, the clergy (including the Pope!), government officials, NGOs, like The Green Peace, The Women of Greenham Common, Operation Stop the Desert and The Save the Amazon Committee. But more crucially, we can point to the global battle – cry against climate change, namely: The Paris Climate Agreement, signed on 22 April 2016 by 195 state parties as signatory and effective 4 November, 2016. The Agreement was conceived and executed within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, dealing broadly with greenhouse-gas emissions, mitigation, adaptation and finance. The stated aim of the landmark Agreement, among others, is to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2˚C (3.6˚F) above pre-industrial levels; and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5˚C (2.7˚F); to reduce emissions and “to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases” (See Google).
The foregoing sentences can simply be summarised as: to mitigate global warming. Unsurprisingly, though, in keeping with the recidivist spoiler agenda of the Trump presidency, the USA under Trump pulled out of the Paris Accord, pooh-poohing and repudiating the whole activity about climate change as a hoax! Thankfully, however, President Joe Biden Jnr. has indicated willingness to return to the Agreement and help salvage our planet. Without question, climate change is going to be the most important and pivotal issue of the 21st century with immigration, cyber-security as well as sundry and cognate forms of “clash of civilisations” as merely spin-offs of climate change in a deep-structure sense a la Noam Chomsky. Now, let us advert our attention to what we propose as “The Mythic Turn: The Naysayers’ Gospel”. In that connection, therefore, it should be stated that the opponents of climate change hold that seasonal hurricanes such as witnessed across the Caribbean archipelagos and the USA are just desserts for historical crimes committed against black peoples during the infamous Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade from the 15th to the 19th century, an unforgettable genocide which claimed millions of lives of able-bodied boys and girls, men and women, thereby tipping over the black world into the void forever [“BLACK LIVES MATTER” is a latter-day effect].
Impliedly, therefore, hurricanes, tsunamis, wildfires, flash-floods and storm systems are seismic manifestations of the return of the wronged, the undying spirits of the drowned whose blanched bones and untenanted souls still litter the ocean-floors of the seas, particularly the Atlantic. Small wonder, the St. Lucia-born poet and playwright, Nobel Laureate, Derek Walcott in one of his poems asks: “Do you want to know my history? Ask the Sea.” Literary scholars and cultural historians would tell you that the entry-point and the be-all-and-end-all of Caribbean life is the sea. In demographic, political, occupational, cultural and geo-historical senses, the sea looms large in popular imagination. The sea, the “Middle Passage” connects Badagry, Elmina Castle, the Gorée Island, and Jamestown, all the Points of No Return for transported African slaves who went on to build western civilisation with their tears, sweat and blood (see Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa and Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth). By the same token, such hurricanes as Katrina, Andrew, Harvey, etc are the avenging furies of black dead who were murdered by white slavers. The naysayers equally opine that climate change is one of the signs of the last days. They cite the Gospels, the words of Jesus Christ, as authority and proof of their position. Jesus has forecast that in the last days preceding His Second Coming or the Rapture, the world will witness turbulent times marked by both sun and moon eclipse, earthquakes and the like.
When Adam and his progeny sinned against God, He obliterated the earth with the flood. For contemporary times, it’s fire next times a la James Baldwin, paraphrasing the Second Book of Peter in the Bible. The wildfires ravaging places like Australia and California are a prologue to the fires of Armageddon, the naysayers’ argument goes. Another angle to their denial is the hoax crusade ably led by Donald J. Trump. Trump and his co-travellers would have us know that all this brouhaha about climate change is all a hoax, it’s a bare-faced fib emanating from the scientific community. Choose ye this day whom ye shall believe: apostles of bluster or the empiricists. Closely related to this hoax argument, finally, is the belief that climate change is the latest in the roulette game of the powerful, the sweepstakes between the mighty and the rest of us. Speaking of which, what are the rest of us doing about climate change? As usual, we are sitting on our hands, just watching and waiting, hoping against hope, like rapt spectators at the game of soccer. It is not apparent what the science community in Nigeria, nay, Africa is doing in this regard. As always, we rely on CNN or BBC or Aljazeera, etc for our weather forecast. Nothing original. It’s doubtful if we can accurately forecast meteorological events in our own parts, events such as earthquakes, flooding, wildfires, or ocean surges. We, again, rely on expert (or expatriate) information from overseas on these natural and at times man-induced catastrophes. Our Navy, fishing companies, construction firms, environmentalists, oil and gas workers, etc, depend on foreign gadgetry and aid for their work.
Hence, we hardly undertake environmental impact assessments before constructing roads, building bridges, exploiting crude oil, extracting minerals, etc. We cannot forecast rain patterns, wildlife migration, locust invasion, bird migration trajectories, crop yield patterns, and so forth. We have got files upon files, report after report dog-eared and mildewed, accumulating dust and cobweb in iron-cabinets and shelves in government’s ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), schools, institutes, and private collections, utterly useless. No link whatsoever between research/scholarship and policy. None. It’s not our way. The Party is supreme. Everything and everybody else is useless. The West does the crime; Africa does the time, in a way of speaking. We are the dumps of the earth, so bring us second-hand planes, trucks, trailers, vans, trains, cars, generating sets, washing machines, refrigerators, and lethal industrial waste. In the hierarchy of upper-income, middle-income and low-income nations, almost ALL African countries are low-income, monocultural nation-states accounting for 20% of the world’s population but only 3% of global GDP. How do we get out of this rut? Firstly, we must get on the train – cut down on carbon emissions by getting rid of smoke-belching, rickety jalopies. Take these mobile “chimneys” off our roads. Impose stiff penalties and sanctions upon defaulters. Strong-arm tactics are required here – jail-terms, mental evaluation, license seizure, issuance of tickets etc. Secondly, regulate importation of used items such as itemised above. Thirdly, encourage and incentivise local manufacturing and entrepreneurship.
Local content is key. Fourthly, let’s have massive funding for research in science and technology, especially in ICT sub-sector. Fifthly, there is need for linkages between Town and Gown. Government must use research findings of researchers and scholars. ASUU has challenged Government in this regard with special reference to the Covid-19 vaccine development. Sixthly, tree-planting. We all must join in the tree-planting campaign, stop bush burning and indiscriminate felling of trees. Accordingly, we must clear our drains and canals, modernise our waste disposal management. Seventhly, we must stop the Sahara dead in its tracks by the tree-planting effort and proper irrigation of farms. And, finally, we must put our mouth where our money is – diversify the economy. Enough of lip-service and grandstanding. Africa is a paradise on earth, the continent of constant sunshine. No winter, no frostbite, no tsunamis, no strange ecological or seismic occurrences (except, you guess it – bad leadership!). Let us treasure what we’ve got and stave off climate change. The ball is in our court.
-Chris Anyokwu, PhD, Associate Professor of English
University of Lagos.