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This pest called man

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In his book, “This animal called man,” published after her left prison in 1998, the former military Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo, who later became a democratically elected president of Nigeria, concluded that man is a contradiction, a complex and unique being that probably defies definition.

Obasanjo examined man, in his social, economic and political best and worst, as a scheming creature, who loves to plot the worst for his fellow men. The pages of history and literature books are replete with the intrigues of man against his fellow men.

But scientists are getting concerned about a worse and more destructive aspect of the nature of man. That is the tendency of man to destroy the earth, the only habitat that he has, without much consideration that the earth could become so uninhabitable that man and the earth could perish.

During the Second World War, America detonated the lethal nuclear bomb on Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a signal evidence of man’s self-destructive tendencies. Mercifully, this folly has never been repeated because the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaties have brought home to man the possibility of Mutually Assured Destruction.

There is a convoluted logic that by the way man is conducting his affairs he may become the pesticide that could remove himself from the earth. The Yoruba have aptly put in the following aphorism: The tick parasite kills itself, thinking it is killing its host, the dog.

Man is conducting his affairs in such a way that the earth may be scorched, sterile and become unable to grow any vegetation. A pest is a living thing that could be a plant, animal, or fungus, that is troublesome to man, his possessions or his environment, and could spread diseases or cause destruction or nuisance.

Agriculturists have a more severe view of pests. They define pests as destructive insects or animals that attack economic and food crops and livestock. While mistletoe, that the Yoruba call ‘afomo,’ can destroy its host tree or shrubs, ticks are parasites that trouble domestic and wild animals and (sometimes) man.

By far, the biggest identifiable causes of man’s assault against himself and the earth are the industrial burning of fossil fuels –obtained from petroleum– and large-scale deforestation going in the rainforest belt of the earth. Both have led to what experts call global warming.

Fossil fuels release a large amount of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. It has been suggested by experts that in 2018, close to 89 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions came from fossil fuels alone.

Fossil fuels trap heat in the atmosphere and thus cause global warming. The experts add that the average global temperature has risen by at least 1 degree Celsius. They also warn that if global warming rises beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius, it will seriously threaten the well-being of the earth.

More scary prognostications are as follows: The sea level will rise, as more glaciers will melt and their waters will flow into the oceans, seas and rivers. There will be extreme biodiversity loss and species extinction.

Also, there will be food scarcity, poverty and unemployment and many more sick people in the world. If that is not the road to the end of man and his planet, it could mean perdition, a state that the Christians describe as eternal punishment and damnation.

Nigeria is even facing another fossil fuel devastation from those that state actors describe as operators of illegal fuel refineries; those who use crude refining methods because they have little or no access to the expertise and technology needed for ‘clean’ refining of crude petroleum.

In addition, there is the menace of gas flaring, which the World Bank describes as “the burning of natural gas associated with oil extraction. The practice has persisted from the beginning of oil production over 160 years ago and takes place due to economic constraints… lack of appropriate regulations and political will.”

The World Bank observes that “flaring is a monumental waste of a valuable natural resource that should either be used for productive purposes, such as generating power or (at least) conserved. For instance, the amount of gas flared each year –about 144 billion cubic meters– could power the whole of sub-Saharan Africa.”

Gas flaring became an easy alternative to dealing with the gas by-product of the mining of petroleum resources because players in the global petroleum industry reckon that it is relatively safe, though it is a wasteful and polluting method.

You may not be too happy to learn that Nigeria ranks among the top seven petroleum-producing countries that practise gas flaring, which unfortunately affects more than two million Nigerians who live in accommodations that are less than four kilometres from the sites of gas flaring.

If you visit Port Harcourt, the capital city of Rivers State, and Effurun in Delta State, you will see black soot in the most obvious surfaces in the living rooms, bedrooms, kitchens, bodies, clothes, food of the residents. The soot is causing slow death.

The second major cause of climate change is deforestation, whereby the uncontrolled destruction of the rainforest regions of the world releases dangerous carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The world is in trouble as the Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest (almost the size of the United States of America), which absorbs more greenhouse gases than any other tropical rainforest, is gradually disappearing.

In mere 50 years, the region of the Amazon rainforest that is within Brazil has lost nearly 300,000 square miles. In 1963, the size of Lake Chad was 26,000 square kilometers.

Sixty years after, it has shrunken by 90 per cent to less than 1,500 square kilometers. This dire situation has put more than 10 million people in need of emergency assistance.

In the best of times, Lake Chad provides drinking water, irrigation, supports fishing, livelihood and maritime services for more than 30 million people across Nigeria, Cameroon, and The Chad Republic.

Researchers think that halting and reversing the cutting of trees in the tropical rainforest belt can reduce global carbon emissions by 18 per cent. Also, they think that more efficient farming methods, while also enforcing and monitoring compliance with anti-deforestation policies, may save the world.

But it does look as if man is not aware that he is destroying his earth. The United Nations’ most recent gathering on global warming, formally known as United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP 27, which took place in Egypt in 2022, was a monumental failure like the COP 26 that was held before it.

Whereas the conference set up a loss and damage fund to establish liability and provide compensation for losses and damages that may be traceable to global warming, it could not commit to phasing out the use of fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, the entire world is boasting about electric vehicles. And maverick entrepreneurs like Elon Musk are riding high in the esteem of the whole world with undoubtedly innovative electric vehicles, solar panels, and roof tiles and batteries.

Musk’s investments in Tesla (and SpaceX) have shot and retained him in the lead as the richest man in the world, though he sustained a $200bn loss when Tesla lost more than 11 per cent of its value.

But man will be losing more than money when Armageddon comes.

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