A Ghanaian fairy tale goes that in the beginning was the world. And the world was close to God. And the world was good. There was peace, love and joy. The creator provided rain and shine in favourable measure. And He saw that all was good.
God also provided mankind’s other needs. The air was pure and spring water was actually sweet. Rivers overflowed with fish and crop harvest was three time a year. Even wild beasts had their fill and never invaded human settlements.
When the earth tried to quake or the wind blew too hard, the Old Man was there to take control, for he lived close by. His home was in the clouds which hung virtually at arm’s length. God was like the care taker who also lives in the apartment. And so it was, in the beginning.
All was well until man discovered the taste for fufu. Unlike Adam Nana’s Garden-of-Eden apple, fufu was a serious staple food. It was delicious, satisfying and most importantly, smooth to swallow. In fact, compared to apples, fufu was worth losing paradise for.
But even fufu came with a price. Its preparation required a lot of energy; sweaty, manly energy. Boiled tubers were pounded by upstanding stalwarts till they turned gummy, soft, and uniformly textured. Fufu pounding also produced much noise. What in modern times we call noise pollution.
According to the folk tale, man’s obsession with fufu pounding marked the beginning of his problems with the Old Man. Each time the pestle was raised, it pushed the clouds away from the earth. Each time the pestle came down heavily, God shuddered in horror. This went on until the creator became further and further removed from mankind. Today, God lives high upstairs and hears our prayers less.
Though only a myth, the plot of this story is not too different from the drama of the human race and the unfolding state of our planet. Through a combination of greed and ignorance the dwellers of today’s earth have inflicted all sorts of stress on the environment. Like a broken record ‘earthland’ is now singing out of tune.
A simple season of summer could now turn into a saga of heat waves and floods. Spring too has become barely recognisable. Whilst living in England in 2004, I was shown certain plants that were said to be growing at the wrong time. In the tropics, rainfall patterns have become a puzzle. The rains either refuse to drop or pour with torrential vengeance.
Hardly a day passes without the networks reporting natural disasters or rumours of natural disasters. Experts are beginning to call climate change the crisis of our time. In an earlier lifetime, when God was really angry and inflicted nature on a stubborn Pharaoh and his Egyptians, he used only ten plagues. What we have managed to incur on ourselves outnumber God’s punishing wrath:
Deforestation, desertification, polluted water sources, erratic weather patterns, poisoned atmosphere, degraded landscape, drought, marine degradation, mudslide, floods, forest fire, extinction, diseases, heat waves, food insecurity, poaching, rising sea levels, et all the dangerous ceteras.
At the 60th UN Annual Department of Public Information/Non Governmental Organisation Conference recently held in New York, more threats were predicted. Like a Kenyan Masai said at one of the sessions, ‘’we are all in the same sinking boat. What is crucial now is how we can scoop out the water to save the boat and ourselves.’’
A chief concern is the anticipated drying in the south-western United States, the Mediterranean basin, sub-Saharan Africa, Mexico and elsewhere. The rains would decrease in sub-Saharan Africa, which already has difficulty with water and food availability.
For those who are still cynical about global warming, a few cold facts would help, hopefully. Experts report that for the first time in thousands of years, whole icebergs have shifted across a range of temperate regions. It is needless to point out that ice only melts when it comes into contact with heat that was not there before.
The sinking of floating ice has also been cited. The ice pack in the Arctic, the polar bears’ habitat, is shrinking, which might lead to that species’ extinction. Niche species live in very specific circumstances and are at particular risk. Based on the estimated warming, about 30 per cent of all species would disappear.
In Italy, ice has started melting on the Alps, leading to the close down of power stations. In Greenland, home grown strawberries will disappear in 3 years or less. Also, potato and wheat productions are expected to decrease because these crops cannot stand much heat.
The scientific evidence of climate change includes the vanishing ice cap of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain. Located 300 km south of the equator in Tanzania, Mt. Kilimanjaro is topped with ancient, solid smoking ice.
As at 1976, glaciers covered most of the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, yet by 2000 the glaciers had receded alarmingly. An estimated 82 per cent of the icecap that crowned the mountain when it was first surveyed in 1912 is gone.
Another cold fact about global warming is that no part of the world is insulated. Both polluting and non-polluting countries as well as rich and poor countries are at risk. “I do not believe that mankind has ever before in its history faced such a challenge”, said Achim Steiner Director of United Nations Environmental Programme at the opening of the New York conference.
Various reports affirmed that developing nations are worse hit by the effects of climate change. This is largely due to their economic difficulties. Their disaster management resources are also limited. In addition, poor countries lack the capacity to monitor and analyse climatic averages. Ironically, developing countries are the least culprits in polluting the environment.
Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, is only responsible for 4% emissions of greenhouse gases globally and emitted a mere 0.7 tons of carbon dioxide in 2000. These notwithstanding, studies show that the climate in the region has changed, and would continue to deteriorate.
Africa would not be in a very good position to cope with climate change. Sadly, this development is bound to trickle down the socio-economic structure. If developing nations are ill equipped to handle the adverse effects of climate change then the poorer sectors would be most unprepared for the hazards. Also, if developing nations are worse hit then it stands to reason that poorer sectors in these countries would be the most affected.
In the case of Ghana, these groups are found in coastal, forest, mountainous and savannah communities. Though they make up more than 60% of the national population, they live without the comfort of basic amenities. They are however the ones whose resources and landscape are exploited.
When a greedy timber merchant logs his booty and destroys farmlands, it is the rural folks who suffer directly. When the source of a river is polluted with chemicals the likeliest victims are rural folks. And when crops fail due to drought it is these same folks who first feel the pinch.
Let us dwell on the latest floods in the northern parts of Ghana. Already hands are pointing at climate change, fair enough. But let us look at the reality on the ground. Who are the frontline victims that we see on TV? Certainly not the folks in the capitals as in Tamale, Bolgatanga or Wa. They are as secured as I am in my Spintex Road apartment in Accra.
The real victims are those living in places such as Babile, Naga, Bongo-Soe, Navio Pungu, Sinensi and Wasipe. These victims are peasant farmers, herdsmen, leather tanners, basket weavers, shea nut gatherers, and pito brewers. They are referred to as the villagers, rural dwellers, local people, indigenous folks and the like.
At this point, it is important to explain that local communities have been minding the environment quite well. Environmental management skills have been passed down from generation to generation. In their traditional schemes, they set aside forest reserves. They regulate when fish and game could be caught. They also desist from going to sea on certain days. Indigenous people understand that sometimes the earth needs to be left alone to self-heal.
Unfortunately, they happen to share the same planet with other more powerful communities. Their native conservation effort, therefore, does not amount to much. It cannot even save them. Like the proverbial snail living under the tree which houses a noisy bird, the fates of local people are joined to that of the rest of the world.
This bird was outgoing and felt top of the world. Perched atop a tree, it sang and sang just to show off. The poor, old snail living below pleaded for some peace but was ignored. As it turned out, a hunter was attracted by the melody. He shot down the easy target and as he bent to pick up the meat for his light soup, he grabbed the snail too, for desert, naturally.
But blame is not the name of this game. The meat of this discourse is that having come to this destructive pass, it is only fair that the world gives consideration to poor, disadvantaged communities. Within the international context, it is developing nations. At the national level, rural people are those who must be assisted to come to terms with climate change.
The issue at stake is not as simple as explaining the appearance of an eclipse. Climate change is a complex phenomenon with a long antecedent and far reaching implications for all. It is not just about environment but also involves issues of health, livelihood, and lifestyle. Again, it cannot be repeated enough that poor communities would suffer most.
Yet back in my village, the poor old folks do not know about ozone layer, or carbon or fossil fuel. They have no barometre to monitor annual temperature, nor do they even have access to our over dressed, corporate-sponsored weatherman.
When they see aircrafts spray the atmosphere they do not know the composition of the chemicals. My poor old folks in the village envy the many second hand vehicles that litter city streets without realising that what is in their trails is nothing but poison. They do not know that the city man’s used fridge they yearn for emits gases that go round to affect their harvest.
Perhaps, all they would ever know about this climate change scare is that Kwasi Obroni has done it again. He who sent man to the moon (and brought Appollo infections to our eyes?) has abused his own magical mixtures and now the seasons have turned upside down.
What is however certain is that our peasant folks know something is quite not right in the air. Just as crop yields have reduced and cattle size has dropped, they know that things are not the same. They are also aware of strange new diseases all around.
The sacred truth is that no one feels and listens to the environment more than indigenous people. They know which wildlife is extinct and which migratory birds appear no more. Day in and day out, local people whisper to their piece of earth, they caress the leaves of the fields and they embrace the warmth of the sea waves.
Local people know about climate change because everyday, they live the change.