By Akoma Chinweoke
Scientists under the aegis of the Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS) have predicted the worst food crisis and poor health for Nigerians as climate change rages.
The scientists also warned Nigeria to expect other spill-over effects from the climate change saga.
In this interview, Prof. Oye Ibidapo-Obe, president of Nigerian Academy of Science and former vice chancellor, University of Lagos, speaks on agriculture, the first victim of climate change, noting that as a result of the change, many tropical plants are disappearing from Nigeria.
Not too long ago, you raised the alarm on imminent food crisis due to climate change. Could you shed more light on that?
The issue of climate change has become a point reference within the scientific circle for quite sometime now. The first importance of what we are doing actually came in when we were looking at man-made gases that have the tendency to create holes in the stratosphere, that is, the clouds surrounding the earth before you get to the sun.
So, efforts were made to cover these holes because, when the ray comes, it affects human skin and causes cancer of the skin which is more prominent with people with the white skin and some others with black skin as well. So, quickly, the people in the developed countries stopped that by closing the host fuel and also stopped the usage of those gases in cars and air conditioners and everybody was happy. The research, funding and replacement of equipment was all done by the developed countries.
We now noticed that the second layer which is like blanket is getting thinner and thinner world wide and that this is actually coming from photic fuel. In every photic fuel that we burn, the carbon dioxide that we breath out have what we call the green house effect. So, the developing economies also wanted developed economies to take care of that and compensate them because the carbon dioxide rather than it going to the stratosphere, it gets absorbed by the plants and trees that we have around us which use it. That is why we get that green effect.
The developed countries say no, they can’t agree and that’s what happened in cutter hanging. So, because carbon dioxides goes out, it leads to increase in temperature as when the sun ray comes rather than it bouncing back and being captured by the trees, it diffuses into the atmosphere as the trees are being cut off. The fumes that come from our car exhausts are all the effects of burning photic fuels that produces the carbon dioxide and so on.
So, they said they are not going to agree to support that. There is research that seems to agree that if we are not careful, the temperature of the world would rise at an average of two degrees Celsius . The two degree Celsius in climate will have effect on a lot of things. Apart from the fact that it makes things a bit tougher for us in terms of our comfort level as the temperature is little heated up, the effect is that our plants or foods would have to change their ecology and what would happen is that we are going to have less food to eat. Things are bad already in the country in terms of food security. It is even going to be getting worse if we don’t do something quickly about it .
What can we do to avoid the impending disaster?
As a country, there is very little we can do quickly about it. As we can see on the roads in Lagos and Abuja, some vehicles are being drawn aside to check their exhaust to see the level of carbon dioxide. Yes, we can reduce the burning of those photic fuels and the way we can do that is to control the type of vehicles and machinery that we use.
We can do that at a local level to ensure that we only take essential travels and avoid burning photic fuels for nothing. We must ensure that we are energy conscious by shutting down our lights when we are not using them and when we are not using our air conditioners we shut them down because all those things are energy consuming and we depend on gas to push our turbines to provide us electricity.
Even with hydro electric, you still need gas to push the turbines that would roll your electricity because we don’t have sufficient science to capture the power of the sun efficiently as in a sufficient quantum to do what we want to do. We also need to cut down on the way we cut our forest. Some countries in south America have said to developed economies that this is what we use to survive and I think it should be so with Nigeria where we sell a lot of timbers.
So, if you ask us to stop cutting it, is there something you want to give us in it’s place? Some people have come out with something called carbon footprint. So, they would calculate each individual’s carbon footprint and each foot print will depend on so many things such as the type of car one drives, type of air travel he takes and even the food he eats.
So, you can see that when the carbon footprint is calculated, a man with two cars would have a higher footprint than one with one car, and if Nigeria is to reduce those carbon footprint, what do we have to do to achieve that? When you for instance take a simple process of transportation, if for example I can get to my destination without bringing my car and there is efficient public transportation that could brings me comfortably and safely to my office, why do I have to use a car?
So, if we are not careful, the carbon footprint in a country like Nigeria might be higher than those in the UK since there is a good transport system there, many do not have to go through all that trouble of having a car. So, that is the controversy of climate change and that’s how it affects us particularly in the area of food and food production if nothing is not done to check it.
We are still battling with the issue of gas flaring and the use of generators is on the increase due to power failure . Do you see us getting out of the trouble safely?
Well, the challenge of minimizing gas flaring which some people talked about re-injection so that we can use it to push more fuels into the surface has been on for a long time but it a scientific challenge to ensure that gas flares are brought to zero. The solution to those challenges are also clearly well known as we could even have skidded power plants that would use these gas directly. Since those gases come from one particular hole, it is possible with sufficient science to pipe those gases directly into a production system.
Gas flare has to go out because it obviously contributes to global warming. If you go to where they flare these gases in the south, the temperature is higher, the ground are scorched and you cannot do too much planting there. Even the fishes run away if it is too warm within the waters apart from the fact that at the end of the day, those waters themselves get dried up gradually.
So, the use of those photic fuels constitute a problem resulting to climate change but we cannot just switch quickly as we can still use those things in such an efficient way that it would minimize contributions to climate change. We can also build controls so that before these substances get to the atmosphere, they must have been sufficiently transformed into harmless chemicals. In some new vehicles, all what you get in the exhaust is just water. There is what is called catalytic converter, so we can also do that. We can insist that those our generators have environmental sound mechanisms before they get into the country.
If these problems are not checked, how is it going to impact on our dream of emerging one of the world’s leading economies?
Well, the problem of climate change is not unique to Nigeria. What it does is that it accelerates our descend to poverty level but it is not something that would happen to Nigeria alone and would not happen to Ghana . What happens is that in Nigeria, we should know exactly what are the essential elements of climate change. We can in or own way try as much as possible to rebuild that effect in our local environment . We can begin by making sure that within our environment we probably don’t have more than one degree Celsius or eve zero depending on how we manage it.