Guest Post by Paul Okediji, Medical Doctor and Freelance Writer
My first contact with anything related to climate change was in secondary school as far back as a decade ago, when one of my teachers made me read something about chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and their effect on the ozone layer. Reading through my chemistry text then about how CFCs react with ozone (O3), leading to the formation of oxygen (O2) and Hypochlorite (HOCl), it never made much sense other than just one of the myriads of chemical equations I was made to memorize then. However, recent events from as mild as changes in rainfall patterns, droughts and floods to as severe as melting icecaps, rise in sea levels, and frequent heat waves bring one’s mind back to reality – our world is changing. The environment is transforming and becoming unpredictable. The changes threaten development in many part of the world.
The issue of climate change is one of the things that have taken over the world stage today. Over the past decade, it has been called everything from “the greatest challenge man has ever faced” to the “greatest hoax ever”. Organizations have been established, countless meetings have been held, several conferences convened, all in a bid to halt the change. But despite all of these, it has been predicted that climate change would continue into the future – the future of our unborn generations – all because of the way we live our lives.
What is Climate Change?
Before going too deep into the intricacies of this issue, it is necessary to clarify some concepts. The term “climate change” has been used to mean a change in the existing climatic conditions as a result of human activities. However, the most appropriate use of the term is a change in the properties of the climatic system occurring over a long period of time, usually over decades or centuries. Changes which occur over a short period such as the El Niño effect does not refer to climate change. In today’s usage of words, climate change has become the same as “global warming”. Nonetheless, it is important to keep at the back of our minds that while global warming refers to an increase in surface temperatures, climate change encompasses global warming and every other thing that an increase in the emission of greenhouse gases would affect.
What causes climate change?
What really causes climate change? As our countries become more and more industrialized, the rate at which we produce harmful substances increases, especially the popular greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane and fluorinated gases. The rural dweller that cooks her meals with firewood, the urban citizen that causes air pollution with the emissions from his car engine, and the industries that release large amounts of smoke into the atmosphere all contribute to the release of greenhouse gases. These gases when released go up and surround the earth like a blanket, trapping large amounts of energy within the atmosphere, leading to increased temperatures. This is what is known as the greenhouse effect with serious implications on the health of man and his surrounding ecosystem.
Effects of climate Change
The truth remains, no one is spared from the effects of climate change. We have become so used to the stable climate over the years such that a warming environment will lead to changes in our weather, water supplies, environment, agriculture, transport and power systems, and even our health, changes that we would not find palatable at all. The recent heat waves in the USA, and severe storms and flooding in many other parts of the world are some of the evidences of what we are dealing with right now. These events impede sustainable development.
In Nigeria, the massive floods in Lagos and the East come to mind. There have been more rainfalls this year than in any time in history of Nigeria. As floods hit the south, desert encroachment consume arable lands in the North. Water scarcity and drought worsen in the North and affects adjoining parts of West Africa. Food scarcity and famine hit East Africa claiming the lives of many women and children. These are some of the devastating effects of climate change.
One thing about the climate is that some changes are unavoidable. There is nothing we can do about ocean variability or orbital variations; neither do we have any power over solar isolation, plate tectonics or volcanic eruptions with the associated release of harmful gases and particulate matter into the atmosphere. However, we can reduce the amount of greenhouse gases which each and every one of us contributes daily. We can make choices that reduce environmental pollution. We can also prepare ahead for likely impacts of climate change so as to minimize their effects on our ecosystem and our health.
Just as physicians would say that the management of a disease is “multidisciplinary”, the “management” of climate change is multifaceted. We all have our parts to play in this. Talk a walk instead of driving your car if need be. Ride a bicycle, if you do not like to walk. You can start a group in your local community that creates awareness about climate change. Report any company that does not comply with environmental laws to appropriate authorities. You can mobilize people to ensure that government implements international conventions to reduce effects of climate change.
Every human being on earth at every point in time deserves and retains the right to live in a clean future. But in reality, there are two options: to live in a polluted environment with the resulting vicious cycle of climatic changes, or make the world a clean and safe place that the generations yet unborn can live in. The choice remains ours.
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