Today, we are blessed with access to far more information than we can digest and would ever even encounter. Thanks to science and technology, we also have an abundant of knowledge about our planet earth. For example, we are now aware that the planet earth is the only planet in the whole universe with life in it. There is also ongoing scientific work on some other planet like the Mars that suggests that there may have been some elements of life billions of years ago. If that was the case, my question then will be, “What happened? What happened to the vegetation? What happened to the rivers and oceans and what happened to the inhabitants that lived there?” Whatever the answer, this discovery points to the fact that life is not infinite.
As someone that has followed environmental issues and have attended many global climate change conferences all over the world for the last 40 years, I cannot stop wondering about how much our beautiful planet has given us and how little it has received in return. Two weeks ago, I wrote 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 ten thousand years ago but if insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos. For such a seemingly, tiny part of the entire ecosystem, humans have contributed the most to its deteriorating state. Studies have revealed that humans are significantly insignificant and yet still hugely dominant in the grand scheme of life on earth. The world’s 7.6 billion people only represent just 0.01% of all living things. In comparison, bacteria make up 13% of everything; plants a whopping 82% while all their creatures, from insects to fungi, to fish and animals, make up just 5% of the world’s biomass.
Yet since the dawn of civilization, humanity has caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals, 80% of marine animals, 50% of plants and 15% of fish. Our abuse of ‘privilege’ (definitely not due to our relevance in anyway but our self-imposed position on the hierarchical structure of life due to our ‘big brains’) is destroying the planet as the climate is getting warmer and the seas surface temperature is rising. Only recently, what has been described as one of the worst tropical storm to affect Africa and called Cyclone Idia ravaged our neighbors in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi causing catastrophic damage that has left possibly more than 1000 people dead and hundreds more missing. These occurrences of worse ever natural disasters are beginning to happen more frequently and spreading their wings wider than before. I dare say that our anthropogenic activities have a lot to answer for. Climate scientists say that human contribution of greater than 100% is possible because natural climate associated with volcanoes and solar activity would most likely have resulted in a slight cooling over the past 50 years, offsetting some of the warming associated with human activities.
I recall that before the advent of Christianity, Islam and Western modernization, Africa and the indigenous people of America known as the Native Americans worshipped different changes in climate. Back then, some worshipped stones from the mountains, some worshipped the rivers and the big ocean, and others worshipped the big forest known as the evil forest that had the dinosaurs and the big animals. They saw these things as sacred and revered them. Here in Africa, we worshipped Osun – the god of the river, Obatala – the god of the sky, Oko – god of agriculture and fertility, Sango – god of thunder; the list goes on. Out fo respect for our gods, we gave so much respect to their creations and show of power. Somewhere along the way, we lost that respect and treated nature with great disregard forgetting how we prayed to her for health, for wealth and for help.
Well as a result, today our forest is being depleted at the rate of 4% every year without replenishing, the wetlands that helped regulate river levels, purified water surface and provided immense food and oxygen to some marine life are regularly sand filled for ‘development’ purposes. Our rivers are receding and drying up while ocean surges that are claiming beach fronts, eroding our shores and causing erosion are increasing.
The philosopher that was Fela warned us years ago with his song ‘water no get enemy’ that we can’t fight water. In the song, he blurted out passionately that ‘Water, him not get enemy! Omi o l’ota o; Water, him not get enemy! If you fight am, unless you wan die; Water, him not get enemy!’ The true interpretation of that song or philosophy was never taken seriously because it came from Fela. He pointed out the futility of hating water or dismissing it because it was needed for everything we do – ‘If water kill your child, na water you go use; T’omi ba p’omo e o omi na lo ma’lo…’ It shows that water is essential but we can relate this to so many other natural elements that deserve our respect and regard because we can’t do without them.
I’ll conclude with some warning which is that if we maintain the parasitical nature at which we interact with the environment, the consequences will be intense and irreversible. In the last decade or thereabouts, experts have cried out about rising global temperatures, and the alteration of local climatic conditions, which have led to heat-related fatalities, as well as, spread of infectious diseases, malnutrition, disruption of farming season, dehydration, damage to public health infrastructure, migration of both man and animals, and also destruction of properties. From cyclones in southern Africa, deadly wildfires in California, earthquakes in Indonesia, flooding in India, Japan, even Nigeria and a volcanic eruption in Guatemala, thousands have lost their lives in natural disasters in the past year, and hundreds of thousands more have been injured or displaced. We can no longer remain ignorant of the resultant effects of our many anthropogenic activities to the environment.
We may not still know how old the planet is but we do know that it is very very old. We also know from discoveries in some places in excavations that there are some elements on life going back millions of years. In other words, the planet can survive another specie wide extinction but humans can’t. Co-existing harmoniously with nature is a fight for survival.