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Opinions of Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Columnist: Cameron Duodu

'Grandpa, what will be the fate of the earth?'

As the 'super-moon' phenomenon approached, my grand-daughter asked: 'What will be the fate of planet earth'? ... What will she say, now that we know there is 'water' on Mars?

I was having a nice lunch with a grand-daughter of mine at the 'Gold Coast' restaurant in South Norwood, London. I always find something to eat there that reminds me of Ghana, whose name before independence has been adopted by the restaurant.

As I sipped my Club beer – at nearly seven pounds a 'large' bottle (the size most often sold in Ghana) – I revealed to my grand-daughter that the brewery in Accra stood next door to my offices when I was editor of the Daily Graphic.

“After the editorial conference at mid-afternoon, I used to slip to the Senior Officers' Club Room and be served a pint of freshly-brewed draught Club, at a time when draught beer was not yet common in Ghana. That first sip of cold beer on a hot afternoon was heaven on earth! No less!” I confessed to her.

Memories flooded into my mind as I I took a sip of Club in South London. That distinctive taste was still there. Apart from one or two beers brewed in Belgium, I've never been able to find anything close to that taste in Europe. ''It's the water that does it!” I was once told. Maybe.

On the two TV screens in the Gold Coast, the Pope could be seen making his spectacular address to the United Nations in New York. Spectacular because the Pope, head of the conservative institution to end all conservative institutions, was busy cutting the ground from under the feet of many of the so-called “conservative” think tanks and other bodies of organised propagandists, who deny that climate change exists and is gradually setting the Earth on an environmental trajectory that will make it barely habitable in a few centuries time.

The Pope was saying: “Our world demands of all government leaders, a will which is effective, practical and constant, concrete steps and immediate measures for preserving and improving the natural environment!”

“The ecological crisis”, (the Pope acknowledged, to the chagrin of the global warming “deniers”) and the large-scale destruction of biodiversity, can threaten the very existence of the human species. The baneful consequences of an irresponsible mismanagement of the global economy, guided only by ambition for wealth and power, must serve as a summons to a forthright reflection on man: man is not only a freedom which he creates for himself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature”.

Wow! Was this the Pope?

Frankly, I hadn't been paying too much attention to the live telecast, expecting it to be full of the usual platitudes. And I didn’t notice my grand-daughter doing so either. But she must have – for out of the blue, she asked me, in all seriousness: “Grandpa, when do you think the world will come to an end?”

Now, at that time, I hadn’t heard about the “Super Moon” phenomenon that was to occur in the early hours of 28 September 2015. This was when the shadow of the earth passed across the moon, at the same time as the moon’s orbit brought it closer to the earth by a factor of several thousand. In the ensuing conjunction of stellar events, the moon became quite big to the human eye, at the same time as its colour changed to reddish sub-orange.

I suspect that in their circles (that is to say, Facebook and Twitter), my grand-daughter’s age-group had been exchanging information about what this phenomenon in the sky portended for human life. There had also been a rumour (of which I learnt later) that according to some modern-day Nostradamus and Da Vinci combined, the world would end in October 2015.

Anyway, the directness of my grand-daughter's question took me aback. In my own youthful days, we used to discuss the end of the world, and things like that, in dogmatic, Biblical terms – we took what was said in the Bible as the literal truth; i.e. the trumpet would sound suddenly one day, and The Son of Man would descend down from the Sky to judge the quick and the dead. End of story.

But I was having lunch with a young lady who had recently graduated with honours as a Bachelor of Science, from one of the most prestigious Universities in the United Kingdom. To such an intelligent young thing of today, the fate of the world is not to be found in ancient Biblical myths. It is to be found in the here-and-now.

I said: it depends upon how much carbon humans send from the earth into the atmosphere, to erode the protective layer of ozone and expose the earth to the full force of the sun’s poisonous rays. That’s why we should take seriously, activities like those carried out by the giant German motor company, Volkswagen, which has deliberately been misleading the agencies that set standards for the carbon emissions produced by motor vehicles, with a view to reducing them as much as possible. The agencies test vehicles at random to see whether the motor manufacturers are adhering to the standards set for them.

“But even though the agencies know that carbon emissions can end human life, yet, pestered as they are by the motor manufacturing companies and their political lobbyists, they have stopped short of forcing the manufacturers to switch from gasoline and diesel, to hydrogen or solar power, which are safer.

For political reasons, they have allowed the manufacturers to persuade them that it is too “expensive” to make a switch to renewable energy for motor vehicles. How can it be too “expensive” to safeguard the future of the entire human race? Yet even the undue deference paid to them by the agencies does not satisfy them. So high is the profit motive amongst them that some of them are resorting to cheating the agencies – despite the agencies being so friendly towards them already!!

“For instance, VW has installed software in eleven million diesel-powered vehicles (discovered so far; there could be more!) that produce false results when the vehicles are officially tested by the relevant agencies to establish the level of carbon emissions the vehicles produce. And where VW has led the way, others are certain to follow suit; after all, motor vehicle manufacturers have been stealing secrets from each other for years!”

I added: ”Of course, the Governmental agencies that have been fooled will fine VW heavily. But can the safety of humankind on earth be exchanged for fines?”

My grand-daughter sighed.
I became depressed, as I heartily tucked into grilled tilapia, on behalf of my age group, for clearly, we have failed our offspring who are to inherit the earth after us. What sort of earth shall we leave behind for them? Will my great-great-great grand-children have any tilapia to eat? Blast — I come to have lunch with my lovely grand-daughter and the question on her mind is the eventual fate of herself, her unborn children and THEIR UNBORN CHILDREN?
This is a matter that must concern all of us. Greatly.

In Ghana, for instance, some people in authority have been arguing that coal-fired generators (which, by the way, are being phased out by countries like China, which have at last embraced the fact that they cause a myriad of illnesses as well as creating a hole in the ozone layer) should be imported to help solve our Dumsor (shortage of power) problem! I pray the Chinese Government not to agree, if it is ever asked to issue licences for coal-fired generators to be exported to Ghana. For I know that the Chinese Government has adequate technical expertise to be fully informed that such plants produce atmospheric pollutants that kill humans.

To send them to countries like Ghana, when the Chinese are themselves phasing theirs out , would constitute a wicked and unfriendly act for which succeeding generations of Ghanaians would never forgive China – a country which people of my generation supported as a good friend at the time (1950s and 1960s) when the USA was trying to influence us to be hostile towards the country they hated and which they labelled as “Red China”.

The thing about carbon emissions is that once they occur, nothing can be done to reduce or reverse their effect on the atmosphere.

So, if climate change alters the earth’s temperature by even 1-2 degrees Celsius in five years (say), rainfall can decrease drastically in some areas, while other areas will experience exceptional flooding. Shorelines will be consumed by erosion from the sea, as icecaps melt in the Antarctic and Arctic Oceans and send huge volumes of water and stronger currents barging their omnipotent way around the world. Tsunamis, frightening as they are, will not wait for earthquakes to unleash them.

The melting icecaps will release water inexorably to swamp low-lying coastal areas and drown millions of people, or drive them far away from their traditional dwelling places. And of course, massive unrest will destabilise every country in the world.

I told my grand-daughter: “Those are the short-term effects we can expect from climate change. If global warming continues unabated — and after a while the increase in global warming will be in geometric proportions – the whole earth would bake up and become uninhabitable by humans and animals and, of course, plants”.

My grand-daughter asked thoughtfully: “So we shall have to find another planet on which people could go and live?”
“Yes;” I said, “there is talk at the moment that it might be possible to go and inhabit Mars. But it will take so long to even get there!
And how many people could actually go? It will also cost trillions of dollars to send even a handful of people to Mars. The cost alone tells us we must take urgent measures urgently to make the earth safe, unless we want to end the human race. It is such a serious issue that even some of the biggest capitalists have begun to support measures to end climate change, in spite of the fact that it will cost them to experience a fall in profits.

“For instance, I heard a radio programme on the BBC recently in which Sir Richard Branson, one of the richest company owners of the world (Virgin Airlines etc.) said that he wouldn’t mind governments imposing a higher tax on aviation fuel to cut down on the number of flights. Who would have thought that such a man would say a thing like that? But Branson explained that he lived on a beautiful island in the Caribbean and had already seen with his own eyes, the terrible effect of global warming on its beauty. Very soon, the incredibly pretty coral reefs in the sea surrounding the island would die off completely if global warming continued, he said.

“Okay, that is the short-term problem,” my grand-daughter said. “What about the long-term future of Planet Earth?
I shall discuss that question in a second article.