In my last two columns, I tried to state the little we as humans in Nigeria and some neighbouring countries have done to seriously address the issues around mitigating against climate change that have occupied and unsettled global communities in the last few years. I shared stories from the Desert Warrior initiative that was designed to become part of the blueprint for mitigating against desertification, and the migration of people and animals living on the fringes of the desert.
As captured in my last two articles, the benefit of the initiative would have been to restore greenery to those that live along the fringes of the desert including the 11 frontline states in Nigeria. This would have helped farmers by improving the fertility of the soil, thereby improving the livelihood of millions of people. It was also meant to teach the people about land management and land reclamation. And to think that this whole idea started about 20 years ago and, if it was followed through as was designed, we could have averted the catastrophes that we predicted and can now see taking place.
I recall briefing some of the governors at that time but I suspect that, by telling them how most of the initiative was to take between 20 and 30 years to realise, which would be long after their tenure, I couldn’t convince enough of them to adopt the concept for their states. The thought of continuity and delayed gratification aren’t concepts many of our leaders have managed to fully grasp. I, however, do not regret doing so though as the truth is most climate actions would take more than four years to realise and, from studies carried out on other deserts, the extent of land reclamation needed to tame the Sahara would take over 20 years.
The Sahara is the largest hot desert in the world, with an area of 9,200,000 square kilometres, which is comparable to the area of China or the United States. My findings and knowledge of the terrain, which is slightly different from other deserts like the Gobi desert and the Negev desert, informed the content of my initial briefing to the government and all that led to seeing how little we are for not understanding nature. I cannot stop wondering about how much nature has given us and how little it has received in return. Some weeks ago, I ended my column with a quote saying that if all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed 10,000 years ago, but if insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos. For such a tiny part of the entire ecosystem, humans have contributed the most to its deteriorating state. The world’s 7.6 billion people only represent just 0.01 per cent of all living things.
Take for example in a Tsunami, some fish and land animals may die but, mostly, humans will die and suffer from it because we depend hugely on our infrastructure, whereas every other player in the ecosystem only needs nature to thrive. In a wildfire, we may lose some trees and a few animals but many humans will burn and lose properties that will take years to rebuild both physically and financially.
And in the case of desertification, yes humans will suffer the most from famine, drought and all other effects that come with it. In other words, we stand the most to lose if we continue to destroy the infrastructure provided by nature.
As a boy, we were taught to catch an animal commonly referred to as bushmeat from the forest because, if we didn’t, they would reproduce in large numbers overpopulating the bushes, overrunning the farms and destroying valuable crops; making them a threat to our food security. Of course, the fact that it was a delicacy in the soups eaten in many homes was rarely mentioned as a reason. We would set traps around my father’s plantation to catch them, not caring about the role they may be playing in the plantation. In fact, we believed that we were doing nature a service due to what we were told about the animal. The same thing with the fish we used to catch in the rivers, which they said could lay thousands of eggs in one minute, so we needed to catch them to prevent over-population. Today, we seem to catch both the fish and their eggs.
Becoming an environmentalist over 40 years ago and studying the effects some of these animals have on our biodiversity, I have had to change my position and now campaign against the incessant catching and killing of animals for food. I have been extremely fortunate to have been exposed at a very early age to farming around the big forests, to hunting expeditions and travelling with fishermen through big rivers on fishing expeditions. Although our elders didn’t always have the best understanding of certain things in nature, they had a love for it and at that tender age so did I. Nature has been in my life for a very long time. I have also been able to realise that when we reject nature, it is like we are rejecting life and all the good thing that comes with it. So, by destroying nature we are in one way or the other destroying lives because nature has a way of coming back to hurt us as recently seen around us and in some part of the world.
The floods are getting more frequent and intense, causing immense damage to life and property, like the case of Cyclone Idia in Mozambique and two neighbouring countries. In California, wildfires are becoming regular. Massive drought is on the rise as people are losing their farmlands, hence, their source of income, leading to massive migration of farmers, herders and people looking for a better life.
Insecurity is also booming as organisations seeking to wreak havoc in the land find easy targets for recruitment in young people now rendered idle and poor due to lack of farms and herds to tend to. The ripple effect is far-reaching and needs to be addressed.
We humans are so big in our developments with our very big and thinking brain but so little when considering our relationship with other creatures that share the Planet Earth with us by showing little respect with the way we catch and eat them, sometimes raw, sometimes fried and sometimes cooked. We constantly disregard nature’s infrastructure that is meant to create balance in the ecosystem.
Take, for instance, the nest that the birds and other similar animals build all over, even sometimes in trees, shrubs and grass; these nests serve as their homes. Once we cut down all our trees, shrubs and grasses, we leave the birds with no place to build their homes and lay their eggs.
Also, take the islands that nature provided for migrating animals as a stopover to rest when moving from one continent to another. Once we turn all our islands into retreats and housing estates, the migrating animals won’t find anywhere to rest as they travel – reducing the rate at which they migrate and, sadly, also their lives due to the strain of the journey.
Take the houses that the ants build with unique architecture with compartments completed in record time. Take the fish that mate and lay eggs in the river beds, ocean beds and sea beds. We show them very little care, let alone respect.
As part of my obsession to check environmental degradation like indiscriminate human waste disposal, cutting down trees and vegetation without replenishing and the disposal of plastics, FADE Africa decided to pay a visit to some motor parks to enlighten them about the health consequences of a lot of habits that are very common in motor parks. We sought to enlighten them on the dangers of the lack of a proper waste disposal system, lack of toilets to dispose their bodily waste, instead of doing it out in the open, and the general hygiene of the park. We also enlightened them about noise pollution from indiscriminate use of their horns.
Many could not imagine driving without honking. So, I told them a story of driving from Lagos to London for five weeks without using my horn once. At the initial stage of our discussion, they showed very little interest, until I shared my story of driving without honking.
From then we secured their attention and as such we were able to let them know that most of them would not live to be 60, and even if they do, they would have lost their hearing, their eyesight or be in an overall unhealthy state because the environment they live and work in daily is heavily degraded.
Scientists may be able to find us alternative to foods like GMOs but they won’t be able to find us alternative air to breathe in that is affordable, free.