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Climate Change in Africa: A Foreign Concept & A Daily Threat

In northern Nigeria, desertification plagues the land.

Lake Chad, the source of water for 50 million residents of this region lost 90% of its water mass in the last 45 years, shrinking from 25,000 km2 to 2,500 km2.

Drought leaves the fulani herdsman, who are dependent on the survival of their cattle to migrate east in search of food, water, and a new livelihood. Arriving in the east without resources or a stable source of income, former herdsmen are met with desperate conditions. Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, and other terrorist groups see these people as ideal prey for recruitment to their organizations.

In the west, erosion (exacerbated by deforestation, increased land use, and population growth) leads to landslides that sweep away children, homes, and entire villages. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, one landslide took 40 children with it. With urban population growth, deforestation, and increased rainfall (all consequences anthropogenic climate change) these incidents will become more frequent.

But how do people who experience events like these in developing nations perceive the urgency of climate action? I thought that if people were seeing the consequences mentioned above every day, they would be mobilized to take action….right?

Wrong. What I learned from interviews and further research suggested an important consideration. Due to a lack of climate literacy in developing nations, few people are actually even aware of the concept of climate change. An obvious barrier to taking action.

Anthony Leiserowitz’s team at the Yale Program on Climate Communication found that education level is the strongest predictor of public awareness of climate change.

I had failed to think of the fact that experts and activists from the developing world who were in attendance at the Climate Conference in Germany are not an accurate reflection of the general public’s awareness of climate change!

Most Africans perceive climate change through noticing changes in temperature and weather patterns, impacts that affect seasonal growing cycles, agricultural productivity, and other impacts, but they cannot put a name to the phenomena causing these changes.

However, Leiserowitz confirmed that Africans are aware of climate change perceive it as a greater threat to themselves and their families than people in most other countries.

The impact it has on the livelihoods of Africans is both a salient issue and a daily struggle. This led me to conclude that the felt impacts of climate change may actually be a stronger influence to inspire action than the mere awareness of the human influence.

This idea was supported by my interview with Prince Goodluck Obi of Nigeria. Prince Goodluck is the head of two prominent organizations dedicated to protecting the rights of children; including United Nations of Youth Network-Nigeria (UNOY) and the Global Alert for Defense of Youth and the Less Privileged (GADYLP). He promotes climate education in Nigerian schools, by starting green clubs and offering tree planting opportunities for young students in order to make them responsible environmental stewards. He strives to educate youth about the challenges of climate change and inspire them to create a better future for Nigeria.

“My commitment as a climate action activist will help to make the world a better place to live in as we clear the challenges confronting climate action!”

Hear Prince Goodluck’s inspiring story in the podcast below:

 

 

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Climate Justice in Prisons

Hurricane Harvey, intensified by climate change?!?

Headlines similar to this one popped up all over the news recently in response to the climate disasters in Houston, Puerto Rico, the Caribbean islands, and Florida. Many scientists have explored and seek to further understand the connection between climate change and extreme weather events.

You may be wondering how a warming planet impacts the intensity of hurricanes. Put simply, the planet warms as a result of increased greenhouse gas emissions, like carbon dioxide and methane.

The warming effect of greenhouse gases is similar to the warming effect of layers of clothing, which trap heat to regulate body temperature. The more shirts, pants, and jackets that are added to your body, the more sweaty and uncomfortable you become.

Just like clothing layers can affect your movement and even cause you to sweat, a warmer planet affects rainfall and wind speeds, because of increased energy circulating in the climatic system. Both rainfall and wind speed are key characteristics that influence the intensity of hurricanes[1].

As demonstrated by the tragedy and destruction brought by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, increasingly severe natural disasters will inevitably have a negative effect on people and communities that live in the wake of their destructive power.

Communities of color are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, like the increase in extreme weather events. After Hurricane Katrina, while 71% of Caucasian Americans returned to New Orleans, only 51% of African Americans returned. Pre-existing vulnerabilities and systemic barriers made it more difficult for communities of color to respond to these impacts– such as having their homes built in the flood plain, being underinsured for housing and health, and being less mobile.

Climate justice is the resulting idea that people from all backgrounds deserve to be included and supported in the fight against climate change.

Many people are committed to moving the needle on this issue.

However, few have thoroughly explored the link between intensifying hurricanes and their consequences for people in prisons. For our podcast, my team delved into this topic, specifically by interviewing experts and collecting testimony about the effects of Hurricane Harvey from people who are currently incarcerated.

A prominent advocate on this issue is Panagioti Tsolkas, the director of the Prison Ecology Project an initiative that maps the intersection between environmental issues and mass incarceration. We had the privilege to interview Panagioti about the effects of climate change on people in prisons. His stories highlight the horrors faced by people who are incarcerated in the event of extreme weather events; including, being denied medical treatment, being forced to drink toilet water, and watching the water rise around them while trapped helplessly in their cells.

Uncertainty demonstrated in climate models with the link between climate change and intensifying hurricanes does not justify the lack of effective disaster management plans at the federal and state level. In fact, the precautionary principle of environmental policy tells us that we should introduce regulations regardless of uncertainty to lessen consequences.  It is our imperative to organize disaster management protocols to protect exposed and suffering communities.

The podcast below sheds light on stories of imprisoned climate warriors affected by Hurricane Harvey. Please listen and share this story with your own network to build understanding for the urgency of responding to climate change. It is time to take action to shed light on the struggle of those behind bars.

[1] Burch, Sarah L. and Sara E. Harris. “Understanding Climate Change: Science, Policy, and Practice.” University of Toronto Press. Buffalo, NY. 2014. pg 206.

The narrator in the podcast is my colleague, Emily Sullivan. I wrote the script and edited the audio.