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By Kwesi Atta Sakyi
28th September 2014
The Climate Change Summit has just ended this month in New York, and it is time we took stock to reflect on where we are going as regards our collective human activities and their impact on our planet. In a globalised world, we live in a world of absolute interdependence so much so that we have to stop behaving as if we were living in glass houses and ivory towers. The actions of countries have repercussions on other nations, and we could not be living on cloud cuckoo world of joyous abandon. What happens to the climate or weather in Beijing or Bangkok or Bandung or Mumbai or Lagos or Dakar or Chicago, is felt all around the world, as the ocean currents, and jet streams in the upper atmosphere travel and circulate around the world, no holds barred.
There is the stark reality of the rapid growth of world population to about 7 billion people, which puts enormous pressure on natural resources, as we need to reflect seriously on the wanton exploitation of our finite and non-renewable natural resources. We need to reflect on having sustainable development through the judicious husbandry of our scarce resources for the sake of future generations.
We need to have a balance between human and animal interface in order to drastically reduce the ecological imbalance we create for the habitat of animals like the sperm whale, polar bear, bison, rhino, panda, tiger, elephants, among other endangered species. Our current culinary and cultural proclivities need realignment in order to tone down our unbridled use of these finite resources. This calls for deeper introspection and listening to the voice of reason.
We in Ghana may think we are inured from the accusations of industrial pollution often levelled against the giant industrialised nations of the world, yet lurking in our own backyards are great issues of concern, such as plastic pollution, turning of our lands into badlands due to the proliferation and ascendancy of illegal mining called Galamsay, uncontrolled felling of trees for timber, unbridled silting of our lakes, lagoons, and rivers by run-offs and domestic spillage of effluents, among other causes. In recent years, Accra has faced flash floods in several places such as Russia, Sodom and Gomorrah, due to poor drainage, plastic blockade of sewer systems, overcrowding in some slums, and poor city planning on the part of authorities.
We could also add to the causes of poor drainage and floods, the bad sanitary habits of city residents who dispose of their garbage and waste in unimaginable ways in unlikely places. We need our media houses and other state outfits to educate city dwellers to be circumspect in such matters. We also need to decongest our cities by encouraging people to prefer going to live in peaceful and serene countryside in the rural areas, where they can engage in organic farming and enjoy natural lifestyles.
Instead of our Ghanaian media and journalists taking issue with such grave and dire issues such as environmental and developmental reportage, they are rather steeped and mired in political chicanery and useless sensationalism of political feuds and squabbling, ad nauseaum.
The obvious reason for excessive reporting of political goings-on is the base nature into which our press has descended, culminating in yellow journalism or journalese, gutter press, paparazzi mentality, and stomach-direction survival ethics of telling the truth about things which actually never happened, or in other words, feeding the public with lies and damned lies, adulterated and doctored news, among other wicked machinations. Only those discerning are able to tell the truth from falsehood when they listen in to the radio or watch TV talk shows, or read the newspapers and internet web sites.
Since when did most of our media people descend so low as to be dealing us blows below the belt? To add salt to injury, we have recently seen a spate of media kerfuffle by quack professors, self-styled consultants, and pseudo- doctorate holders who make uneasy noise in the media, crying wolf, wolf about political Armageddon. And because of this tirade of political misreporting, our listening public has been conditioned to the point of uncritical gullibility, so much so that those who report the truth earn no credit, and those who embellish the truth with spiced lies acquire mass readership. What ethics is that?
Is it a reflection of the low level our education system has abysmally descended into, or is it the trend of our time that the truth is an endangered species in Ghana, and everybody now tells lies? Currently in Ghana, we now have an army of half-baked scholars who believe anything they are told, hook, line and sinker; lock ,stock, and barrel, with no critical thinking whatsoever. There are many of these who are so ferocious and vociferous, so much so that they drown the small voices of reason. Is this not a national shame? Unfortunately, we have some of our current crop of leaders belonging to that lowbrow class of sans culottes. Why can’t the media turn to reporting climate change issues, or developmental issues, among other more serious issues?
When we deplete the forests through timber extraction or shifting cultivation or Chitemene or Lading or Milpa, we expose the land to the fierce rays of the sun or insolation. This in turn reduces evapo-transpiration, and the hydrological or water-cycle is disturbed. This can lead to droughts, and uncertain weather patterns. Excessive insolation can cause carapaces, hardpans and laterization. Thus, most of the nutrients in the top soil in the soil catena or profile are washed away or washed down (leaching) in some chemical activity of exchange of cations and ions, as well as the action of capillarity. As the population increases, marginal land comes into use, and rents go up. Land use patterns change drastically when the carrying capacity of the land exceeds the threshold population, according to the von Thunen and Christaller land use pattern theories of hexagonal patterns in nucleated settlements.
Also, the length of the rest period or fallow period for vegetative cover regeneration reduces, and agricultural yields reduce, crops mutate and shrink in size. After living outside of Ghana for the past 35 years (in Geography, a period of 35 years of the study of the weather patterns of a place constitutes climate), I have noted to my chagrin that the size of our local bananas in Ghana has shrunk, and they look shriveled. However, thank God, the vegetation and the whole of Ghana looks greener than before. Despite that, we still need to attend to global warming and climate change issues in our own microcosm.
Cultural practices are heavily tied to how we carry out subsistence or small scale farming, win sand, gravel, and timber for building, use of firewood and charcoal for cooking, conservation of the forest, among other activities. Some time back, schools were co-opted into tree planting exercises in all corners of Ghana. These campaigns have since stopped. In northern parts of Ghana, desertification is encroaching fast due to over-farming, wind storms, and over-grazing by livestock, notably goats. Bad farming methods also add to land degradation.
Our fragile soils on the savannah become exposed to the elements such as wind, running water, and insolation. The consequent result of over-exposing the land surface to the elements is the resultant acceleration in sheet, rill and gully erosion. All these effects threaten food security in Ghana, and paradoxically, make agriculture unattractive to young farmers. Our friends in the heavily forested south also engage in massive pillage of the forest through bush burning, tree cutting, and clearing the land for cash crop farming.
We need interventions to reverse some of these deleterious activities which impact negatively on climate change. It is better to encourage more educated youngsters to take to farming for them to apply scientific methods to crop multiplication and soil conservation. On slopes of inclines, the removal of vegetal cover may accelerate solifluction or soil creep on the slopes.
We need to encourage our rural dwellers to create wind belts, green belts, and forest reserves. Rural dwellers should be taught the importance of leaving forests on the banks of major rivers undisturbed, to shield them from erosion of their banks, which can lead to river silting. We need stiffer laws in Ghana to deter wanton tree cutting, bush burning, and application of toxic chemicals in fishing, farming and extraction of minerals. We should introduce carbon tax for all motorists to pay for emissions of carbon monoxide. We should set pollution limits for cars, and advise fishermen to stop using illegal fishing methods such as the use of explosives, strong beams of light for fishing, small mesh nets, among others.
The Earth Summit of 1992 in Rio de Janeiro came up with some recommendations which we need to revisit and implement in order to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases and chloro-fluoro carbons which increase our carbon footprint. The Rio Summit was followed by the 2010 Cancun Climate Change Conference in Mexico. All these conferences on global warming culminated in the Kyoto Protocol, which outlines measures to combat the menace of global warming and how to reduce its impact on the developing countries.
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