By Dr. Ian Clarke
While we have been having rather cold and wet weather in the Lake Victoria basin, caused by cold winds from the South Africa winter, the northern hemisphere has been having an unprecedented heat wave, with some countries having the highest recorded temperatures for 250 years. Ireland is normally relatively cold and wet, but this summer temperatures rose to the 30s, making Ireland hotter than Uganda.
I have a farm in the Fort Portal area, and while I have enjoyed a season of mixed rains and sunshine, which has given me good maize yields, we are now having torrential rains as we try to bring in the harvest. There do not appear to be any certainties of the weather in today’s world. Due to the extremely dry conditions, California, Greece and Portugal have been experiencing unprecedented wild fires. While some politicians will not admit the reality of global warming and climate change, their stance now seems as futile as King Canute commanding the waves to go back.
Sadly, the procrastination of world leaders has allowed us to continue on our path of mutually assured destruction, like lemmings going over a cliff. Many people still see global warming as an issue of the future not of the present, but the effects of climate change are already being felt in Africa, where there is increased desertification, turning villages in the Sahel to dust bowls. This is having a direct impact on livelihoods, forcing young men to abandon their homes, join the migration to Libya and risking their lives in leaky boats on the Mediterranean. For those who do make it alive to the shores of Europe, they do not receive a warm welcome, as European countries grapple with the flood of immigrants arriving on their shores. This in turn has precipitated a fortress mentality in the northern hemisphere, with an upsurge of nationalist right wing sentiment.
The problem is that Europe is dealing with a consequence and not the cause of the problem: people do not leave their homes and subject themselves to such dangerous conditions unless they have run out of options. Europe should address the cause of the problem through creating jobs and opportunities here in Africa.
Climate change has already taken away the means of livelihood of certain sections of the population, but action can be taken to mitigate these changes. Irrigation and tree planting have a positive effect on both climate change and improving livelihoods. Improved hybrid and GM seeds, (made available at realistic prices), to resist drought and certain pests, would increase yields. Removal of protective subsidies to farmers in Europe and America would increase demand and world market access. Building silos and dryers to ensure good post harvest handling and storage would not only ensure reduction of aflatoxins, but bring about price stabilization, thus helping to expand production. Improvement of transport infrastructure within Africa, especially east west, would increase intra-continent trading, grow markets and create jobs.
Ireland has become the first country to have a government policy of dis-investing in any companies producing fossil fuels. This may not have much effect on the large multinationals oil producers, but it is a statement by the Irish government that fossil fuels are not in our best interests for the future, and we need to develop other options.
New South Wales in Australia is battling with the most serious winter drought of the past fifty years, and many Australians, who previously opposed a carbon tax, are now realizing too late that climate change is here. This drought brings the livestock farmers into direct conflict with the kangaroo population, which is competing with domestic cattle for the scarce grass. This has prompted the government to allow farmers to shoot the kangaroo indiscriminately. The irony is that Australia’s biggest export is coal, which is both a major polluter and producer of large amounts of carbon dioxide, the direct cause of global warming.
Uganda is a far more green and pleasant land than many other sub-Sahara countries, so we generally don’t worry about global warming. However, according to the most recent UBOS figures, 27% of Ugandans live below the poverty line, which means that if weather conditions changed, we could easily develop food shortages and tip ten million people into hunger.
In the year after America withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord Europe has sweltered in one of its worst heat waves, forest fires have devoured tens of thousands of acres of California, and whole villages have spontaneously combusted on the Mediterranean coast. It appears that the west is suffering from its own failure to deal with the build up of greenhouse gases. But at least one unlikely country has taken action to counteract the effects of climate change through a massive tree planting program. The country is Pakistan, which this month exceeded its own target of planting over one billion trees.