04 June 2008

Africa and the realities of climate change

"There’s a very academic discussion happening in Europe right now still asking 'is the climate already changing' and 'is climate change noticeable today'. Here in Burkina Faso that debate is not happening, because the effects already speak for themselves.”

So begins the diary of the UN Secretary General's Special Advisor on conflict, Jan Egeland, who is traveling through the Sahel this week to draw attention to a region the UN believes is experiencing the worse effects of climate change in the world today. I have previously offered the idea that Africa today provides a living model for a post-Collapse future: grinding poverty coupled with environmental degradation, food insecurity, endemic warfare and disease. A possible future should our environmental concerns remain unchecked.

Large swathes of northern Africa are currently undergoing drought, from the Horn of Africa in the East to the Sahel region in the west. Up to six million children are endangered in Ethiopia from the drought. UNICEF notes, "Widespread drought, poor rainy seasons, heavy loss of livestock, limited food supply and soaring prices of food, fuel and fertilizer linked to the global food crisis are contributing to the troubled outlook for children in Ethiopia."

Despite the drought in this region, this news item notes “Twenty-five people have died and over 200 displaced following yesterday's flooding in Jijiga town, Somali State southeastern Ethiopia according to the residents.” (The article diverts from the main topic and describes the history of the region and the massive military presence in the area...).

Similar weather patterns have been noted of late in western Africa, specifically in Sierra Leone and Burkina Faso. Egeland's diary notes:

"Climate change in Burkina Faso does not mean there is less rain, it means that rainfall has got less predictable. And weather overall has become much more extreme in the way it comes – the heat, the cold, and the peaks and troughs of rainfall.

"People cannot predict when rain will come. And then when it does, it falls in buckets. Last year in Burkina Faso, there were eight rainfalls over 150mm – that means eight major floods in one four month period.

"The alternative to floods is basically no rainfall – it’s all or nothing, and either way is a crisis for some of the poorest people on earth, in ways that are just completely unpredictable.

These impacts now being seen in Africa (and elsewhere) are just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. This is the reality of climate change. The warming to date has been relatively modest. What happens as the warming continues to grow larger and the effects become more pronounced?

A particularly sad fact is that it is not Africa's fault. Egeland again:

"...[T]he average citizen in Burkina Faso is emitting 0.38 tonnes of CO2 every year. While the Chinese emit 10 times more, the British 30 times more and the Americans 75 times more per capita...

"It just proves this enormous moral issue that those who contributed nothing to climate change are bearing the brunt of the changes it is causing, whereas we who caused it all have gotten away with it – the north is getting away with murder basically.

And all for the benefit of our corporate masters, who continue to prevent any meaningful action to be taken to rectify the problem. As the US struggles to pass a semi-meaningful emissions control bill, the coal industry continues to manufacture doubt, treating telly viewers to “visions of a dystopian future where Americans are forced to cook their breakfast over candles, or where thousands of jobs have been lost because of what one opponent called 'economic disarmament' by the US.”

At least we in the Global North have breakfast, while many in the world, particularly Africans, have never even been given a fair chance to become 'economically armed' in the first place. If you are looking for dystopia, turn your eyes towards Africa. There lies our future too, unless we begin to take meaningful action to stop climate change and other environmental degradation now.


Image: WorldChanging

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