Climate Crisis? What does that mean to you? Addressing the ambiguities around understanding climate change.

Picture Courtesy OpenDemocracy

In recent times, I have come to realize that climate change means different things to different people, in different locations, and I think this is a problem. There has been a lot of assumptions about the understanding of the concept of climate change, the terminologies used, and the impacts, especially how it affects different people in low-income countries.

First is the ambiguity of the terminologies. The meanings of climate change, global warming, greenhouse gases, net carbon, carbon sequestration, etc. do not get caught by many. The greenhouse illustration, which is perfect by the way, does not resonate well in other parts of the world: greenhouses are not common in many parts of the world. I had my bachelor’s research in a greenhouse, the first time I came across one was at the university. So, from my experience there, I realized the greenhouse traps more heat than outside of it, so the similitude to warming of the earth makes sense to me. But to many, the term is just a “sciency” thing. I was a part of an environment group recently and the majority, who are degree holders, do not know the basics of climate change. Some joined the group because they realized the “weather” is not the same as before, others because of plastic pollution prevalent in their immediate environment. For an existential threat, our understanding of the problem and what we can do is poor. It is expedient that environmental activists in different locales interpret these terms to something the people can relate to within their environment. This drives the message faster and people will understand why they are being asked to make behavioral changes.

Some even ask, “is it a weather freak show?”. A lot of people, I was once in this class too, do not understand the difference between the climate and the weather. Weather is a short-term atmospheric condition while climate is the weather of a specific region averaged over a long period of time. Climate change refers to long-term changes. In Nigeria, the weather in the 90s and 2000s was relatively stable, with few vagaries: late December harmattan lasting till late January, rains starting in February or March, peaking in July, and an August break in rainfall. Then another bout of rain from September to late October or early November. All these have changed into irregular weather phenomena as a result of climate change, engineered by global warming.

Another somewhat generalized issue is the impacts of climate change on different parts of the world. While not discounting the impacts in Europe and the Americas, especially the forest fires, I still believe the impacts of climate change in poorer countries are equally dire but not well known due to poor coverage and lack of data. A lot of frontline regions have been dealing with the impacts of climate change for more than 3 decades. For example, the depletion of Lake Chad has had numerous consequences in the region. Fishermen and women can’t fish anymore, people have no access to water for farming and domestic uses, displacement of thousands of people, fights in the region to control the limited resources, and this often culminates in insurgencies in such regions. Wealthier nations have facilities to help victims of climate disasters, but this is not the case in poorer regions. The impacts of climate crisis in these regions are ALWAYS cases of life and death. I believe the most impacted people, especially the indigenous people, should be well represented when decisions are being made about climate change, but this is mostly not the case.

Lastly, when it comes to mitigation and cutting down emissions, there is no one size fits all approach. How did we get here again? The now wealthy countries used fossil fuels to power their economies and develop. Well, the poorer countries want to ride the same horse to prosperity, which is fair. To compel them to NOT utilize fossil fuel in achieving prosperity is for the wealthy countries to compensate and support these countries with the right technologies to generate electricity and build innovative and clean economies. This way we can leapfrog fossil fuel and ride a cleaner vehicle to prosperity. But Africa and poorer regions have been poorly represented at the decision-making tables, and perhaps not well trained to negotiate great deals for their people. It is, however, clear that the bulk of the responsibility lies on the wealthy nations, especially America and China, to turn around this bleak future for a greener and prosperous one for everyone.

As we are all looking forward to COP26, there is no need for much talk or convincing. #LetsGetReal and flip the switch. We do not even need to gather in Glasgow to flip the button, we can flip it today, from our different countries. Failure to act is trepidatious. This week, the United Nations warned us that we are set for a 2.7oC rise based on today’s emissions pledges. For perspective sake, a 1.5oC warming is dire and deadly; a 2.0oC is devastating with 37% of the world population exposed to severe heatwaves. This is our last chance to choose life over extinction.