Climate change is a new moment of truth

In the countryside where I grew up, fruits are ripening later and rains coming late. Climatic change is real.

Add overpopulation, overuse of fertilisers and deforestation, and a crisis faces the once thriving community. 

The rivers we once swam in are gone, intermittent after floods. The natural forests that once defined our lives have been cleared - we call that growth. Paradoxically, when we become affluent, we want to live in the leafy suburbs, nearer to nature and even play games such as golf on plain grass or polo using horses, not cars.

What other evidence do we need to prove planet earth is in a crisis?

We did not need 300 delegates in the Glasgow climate conference to prove the obvious. Long before COP26, we heard President Daniel Moi and Wangari Maathai talk about climate change and the environment. We did not listen, yet the main victims of climate change are the poor. The affluent can afford water, food and other necessities; they can even import them or immigrate.

Think of the years trees take to grow. Ever seen a mature mahogany or cedar tree? Think of rehabilitating land that has been built up; how much would it cost to make the Nairobi central business district green again? What do we do with all the concrete?

Climate change has become a big issue because the rich, developed countries are on the receiving end too, with floods and drought accompanied by wildfires. These countries are accepting that the earth’s temperature is rising because of burning too many fossil fuels. Yet we heard of acid rain and the greenhouse effect decades ago.

The rich countries have been active, innovating around climatic change. Think of hybrid and electric cars. And they are clever, to keep their industries humming by making hybrid cars as a stop-gap solution before going fully electrical. Their boldness on climate change could be based on their readiness.

The big debate now is how the whole world will cooperatively reduce the effects of climate change. The envisaged approach is cutting the use of fossil fuels to reduce carbon footprints. That would mean using more renewable energy that is less polluting such as solar, wind, geothermal and hydro, and less coal despite its low cost and availability.

The shift to renewables has cost implications. The plants have to be redesigned, or retired. Some countries will be losers. Think of Saudi Arabia or Nigeria and oil, and of Kenya’s dream of being an oil-exporting country.

Luckily, climate change could end the oil curse. The global power balance will shift; who will provide the ingredients for making car batteries that power electric cars? Who has the resources for producing renewable energy?

Developing countries, on the other hand, are crying foul. They are asking why they should shift to renewables when they have plenty of fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal. Why they can’t be allowed to industrialise the old-fashioned way to catch up with the developed countries.

Some countries feel the developed countries want to share the burden of climate change yet they benefited alone. They want to be paid to stop the use of fossil fuels. South Africa could be paid for keeping coal underground. What of India? Will Russia keep her oil underground? Will China switch off her coal or oil-fired plants and slow down her economic growth?

Countries have to make a choice between economic growth and climate change, or better, sustainability. It is not a choice like flipping a switch. The COP26 demonstrated that economic nationalism is at the heart of this debate. Which politicians want to lose votes over climate change? It is no wonder the young are most vocal about climate change, they have more at stake.

Climate change affects everyone, weather has no borders. That is why we all must participate in slowing down the rise in temperatures. We must win over the skeptics too, just like we did with anti-vaxxers in the war on Covid-19. 

A lot of money has been channelled to climate change programmes, we want to see tangible evidence that emissions and temperatures are reduced. This planet is our only home, we must make it homelier.