Mr Emmanuel Taiwo

Climate change, according to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) “is a complex problem, which, although environmental in nature, has consequences for all spheres of existence on our planet.” (1) However, the UNFCCC further proclaims, “…at the very heart of the response to climate change, lies the need to reduce emissions.”(1)Similarly, at the heart of this discussion is a critical submission on how we perceive of these emissions popularly known as greenhouse gases (hereafter referred to as GHGs), in relation to ourselves. For the uninitiated, it might interest you to know that GHGs are those gases that cause Earth’s temperature to rise (global warming), which in turn leads to climate change. While, climate change is how we describe a series of hazards which may include heavier rains, more severe floods, extreme droughts, greater heat waves, increased desertification and the likes. Simply put, this write up is set to question the extent to which we as individuals are responsible for the emission of those gases causing climatic chaos and what we ought to be doing about it.

Often times when one climatic disaster or the other –be it flood or storms or whatever– causes loss of lives and property in our neighbourhoods, many of us are very talented at pointing accusing fingers at the government. It is such that, all we do is to rant about the government’s inability to provide the right facilities and to set up the necessary frameworks for combating hazards. Sincerely, I must say at this juncture that I mildly share your views too. I understand your feelings and I think you are somewhat right. Perhaps our governments have not been true to their promises to ensure a safe and healthy environment, perhaps the officials have not even taken a single step to implement the anti-climate-change risks policies they proposed during their campaigns, perhaps they have pretended to be ignorant of pollution caused by those multinationals whose production and manufacturing activities churn out tonnes of greenhouse emissions into the atmosphere instead of penalizing them, perhaps the ministries and public agencies entrusted with tackling climatic challenges have seldom been effective in discharging their statutory duties, blah, blah, blah. The list is endless. Alas, the unequivocal verdict of an average fellow on the street declares the government or some other municipal entity as guilty – never himself!

But have you ever stopped to consider the fact that tackling climate change is a collective responsibility? It belongs not only to the polity but also to the masses. It excludes neither the rich nor impoverished, and does not leave behind the elites or the unlearned. Have you ever stopped to think that there is something you can and should do to address the problem, or better still have you ever sought to know how you could be of help in your own little way. To be honest with you, we all contribute to the problem, and as the Edinburgh professor David Reay accurately described it: “climate change begins at home.” (2)  The home is the bedrock of every nation, and by extension of the world at large. Therefore, the import of this factual statement is that climate change and its attendant problems begin with every individual in the home – in your home, in my home. It all begins with our actions, and of course it boils down to the misconceptions and in some cases the ignorance, that mould our actions, both within and outside our homes. For instance, had the neighbour next door knew that the garbage which lingers in his backyard for weeks without proper disposal, causes great havoc to the climatic system, he probably would have been more cautious. Either by controlling his superfluous consumption of food and packaged products, and/or by properly disposing his refuse.

There are a few possible scenarios which may have led to that fellow’s climate-forcing habit (climate-forcing is a qualifier that describes any action or process with an effect on the climate). One: he had probably been thinking, I repeat thinking, all the while –perhaps just like you— that climate change and global warming, alongside the much-proclaimed greenhouse emissions, are not, and can never be his fault. As a result, he feels no need to do anything about it. Two: he knows that global warming may result from his own actions, and would gladly do something about it, but does not know how he can be of help. Three: he is aware of the potential consequences of his action, but believes that he, as an individual, is a unit too small to do anything about it. For the last scenario, “let the government andthe big agencies deal with it”, or “climate change is the United Nations’ business” is this man’s mantra. I really wonder whose business it is when in reality, climate change daily poses problems that affect us all. There is therefore, I believe, no justifiable excuse for ignorance or inaction when it comes to responding to climate change.

Having highlighted the above possible categories, all for which climate change responses are equally needed, I humbly enjoin you to consider seriously and sincerely, various aspects of your everyday lifestyle, habits and behaviour. I want you to beam a flashlight on their potential negative effects on the climate, whether directly or indirectly. Have you formed the habit of switching off the light bulbs and fluorescent tubes at daytime when and where there is sufficient sunlight? Do you consciously make efforts to turn off and unplug your T.V. set, radio, personal computer and other similar electronic gadgets whenever they are not inuse? If your answers are in the negative, did you know that such lifestyle leads to wastage of electric power, and in effect triggers the emission of more GHGs into the atmosphere at the Power Station where your electricity comes from, therefore causing more harm to the climate because of your inability to lead an energy-efficient life? Friend, it’s time to look inward.

Still not convinced? Alright, I would like for you to imagine at this point, what it feels like walking to that grocery store, that shop or even your church just down the street, in spite of having a posh, swift car of your own. Apparently that would sound ridiculous to most of us. But, the truth is, if you had taken a stroll over that “walk-able ”distance, you would have prevented a significant amount of GHGs from getting into the atmosphere, since cars and all other kinds of fuel-consuming vehicles release climate-forcing gases through combustion. These examples and many others were verified in a study carried out by a team of researchers at the University of Lagos in 2011, as ways by which typical adult individuals contribute as much as 4,000 kilograms or more of GHGs (in CO2e) to the atmosphere every single year (3). How massive! Think about that for a while.

Indeed, the limits of this write-up would not permit us to thoroughly consider the multitude of ways by which individuals cause havoc to the global climate system through their habits and actions in their daily lives, whether deliberately or inadvertently. Nevertheless, it is up to everyone who cares to seek information about ways in which they might be harming Earth’s climate; and I believe every man or woman of integrity should care, knowing full-well that hardly can a day go by without one engaging in a few of these climate-forcing activities. What is important is that we learn to limit them as much as possible, so as to reduce greenhouse emissions which may result. Ideally, this should be central to the heart of every man’s response to climate change. I mean every man or woman who yields to this exhortation to look inward. Remember, mitigating climate change is not just the government’s business, nor merely the UN’s business. It is everyone’s business. It is the business of environmental sustainability: an undertaking to be good stewards of nature’s precious gift to us and a challenge to diligently preserve it for the unborn generations.

Emmanuel Taiwo is a graduate of geography from the University of Lagos, Nigeria. He is an environmental enthusiast with special interest inclimate change and sustainable behaviour. He believes in the possibility of achieving sustainability in the Creator’s beautiful world (Linkedin profile http://www.linkedin.com/pub/emmanuel-taiwo/62/417/6b9 )


(1)   UNFCCC’s website: http://unfccc.int/essential_background/items/6031.php assessed 25th August, 2013. 

(2)   Reay, D. (2006): “Climate Changebegins at Home”. Macmillan (Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire and New York).

(3)   Taiwo, E. O. (2011): “Carbon Footprint Assessmentin Lagos.” (Unpublished research project).



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