By Emeka Ulor
The year 2015 was the hottest year ever in the history of the earth’s climatologically chronology. This increased temperature can be attributed to global warming resulting from the selfish activities of man especially carbon emitters. As nations scramble to attain global supremacy, nature tends to suffer inadvertently.
The consequences of prolonged carbon exposure into our atmosphere have gradually begun to manifest across the globe. From tsunamis to hurricanes, from droughts to erosion, from new disease to abrupt death; the negative impact of climate anomalies could become worst than the present predicament if left unchecked.
Air is the most vital need of any living organism, without it, there will be no life. Any distortion in its natural composite harms organisms that inhale it including human beings. Air is basically made up different gases such as oxygen (21%), nitrogen (78%), argon (1%), carbon dioxide and other molecules.
Most air pollution results from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, natural gas, gasoline, wood and vehicle fumes. When fossil fuels are burned they pollute the fresh air which may cause various health predicaments. Burning fossil fuel creates smog which makes the air cloudy and dirty. This can make people sick if they spend too much time outdoors. Foreign particulates in the atmosphere can trap the sun rays thereby making it warm. This could be one of the reasons we are witnessing heat waves across the country including Lagos. This is the major cause of global warming.
Result from pollution monitoring and data keeping shows that Delhi, Patna, Gwalior, Raipur, Karachi, Peshwar, Rawalpindi, Khoramband, Lucknow are the most polluted cities in the world. Although, none of China’s cities are among the top five most polluted, 94% of the people believe air pollution is a problem that needs to be tackled imminently by its government. The report ranked almost 1600 cities in 91 countries for quality of their air. In the case of Nigeria, we cannot truly understand the negative impacts of carbon pollutants in our major cities like Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abuja, due to lack of data. The World Health Organisation (WHO) report measured particles less than 10 or 2.5 microns. These particulates are very tiny and harmful; they can cling to the lungs triggering diseases.
According to the WHO, outdoor air pollution kills about 3.3 million people every year, more than HIV, malaria and influenza combined. In Delhi, for example, fumes from coal powered plants, cars and small generators have caused lung infections in over five million children such that they cannot fully recover. Interestingly, in 2015 the city of Delhi’s Chief Minister had to undergo rehabilitation in a clinic located south of India to treat his lung infection.
Air pollution from power stations, mainly coal-powered plants causes one in seven deaths globally. It is the single factor in the U.S, causing a third of the 55,000 annual deaths, compared to 16% in the United Kingdom. These countries, despite their high quality health systems, still face such challenges. What will become of the poor Nigerians who do not have access to basic healthcare? Prevention is better than cure.
China is shutting over 2,000 small coal mines in order to reduce the negative impact on air pollution. Coal use is declining as China’s government has made policies towards renewable energy-hydroelectric, solar and wind power. Beijing also aims to take measures such as closing polluted companies and cutting cement production capacity to clear the city’s air.
Nigeria flares about 17.2 billion metric tonnes of natural gas annually into the atmosphere. This flaring equals one quarter of the power consumption of the entire African continent. The government is not interested in the health, environment and social problems surrounding such reckless activities. They are more focused on making more money at the detriment of the environment and poor inhabitants. The agencies saddled with related responsibilities are either complacent or incompetent. Otherwise why has the flaring continued unabated?
Gas flaring has a direct impact on the immediate environment; it releases pollutants into the air thus making it dangerous for breathing. The particles or gases can significantly alter the weather and climate pattern of the area over a period of time. The affected areas will witness acidic rainfall which is no longer suitable for drinking. The acid rain contains sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, it corrodes roofs and kills plants thus creating economic hardship for inhabitants who will need to spend more to buy potable water and food produce which should normally yield from their farms.
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report in 2011 discovered that most of the water bodies in the Niger Delta areas were contaminated with high levels of dangerous hydrocarbons like benzene. Although Shell agreed to clean up the spills, it claimed that an extensive clean-up could take 30 years. The entire ecosystem has been lost and restoring it to its original state is impossible.
Fossil fuel does not just pollute our environment; it is a major cause of ill health around the world. We do not need coal-powered plants. This is one of the major reasons Nigeria must break free from fossil and this is why I am not an advocate of coal-fired plants.
Renewable energy is the way to go in line with the Paris climate Conference, otherwise known as the 21st Conference of the Parties or COP21, and global pathway to sustainable energy. We have favourable factors to explore solar, wind and water energy in order to attain 100% renewable energy by 2040.
•Ulor writes from Lagos.