Feature Article of Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Columnist: Commey, Gideon

What You Must Know Before We 'Kill' This Planet

“One voice can change a room, and if one voice can change a room, then it can change a city, and if it can change a city, it can change a state, and if it change a state, it can change a nation, and if it can change a nation, it can change the world. Your voice can change the world.”

I have been startled in the last fortnight after reading the stunning Rolling Stone article by Bill McKibben, which I believe every young person in this country, and especially all of us passionate about the environment and the planet must know about. I have woken up a couple of times from sleep to ponder about how to craft this piece not only to make sense to you, but also inspire you to action. I don’t know if I will succeed, I just hope that after digesting this, you won’t shelf or bookmark it in a category of some silly end time prophecy. It will really hurt me.

In this landmark article, Bill leads us to Do the Math. It is really a simple math involving only three different numbers telling a very powerful story of our earth at the precipice of destruction by ourselves. Let us all do the math below:

(1) 2°C of warming – this is the temperature that the earth has to stay to at least keep us safe and sane. Above this, life on earth will enter into a period of unprecedented and relentless catastrophes;

(2) 565 gigatons of CO2 – this is the amount of carbon dioxide that we need to burn to stay below the 2 degrees Celsius of warming;

(3) 2,795 gigatons of CO2 – this is the amount of carbon dioxide locked up as reserves of fossil fuel corporations (oil, gas and coal).

Now, why are we frightened and scared? It is simple math as well- the amount of reserves of oil, gas and coal is five times (5x) the safe amount allowed to burn, and fossil fuel companies are willing and ever ready to burn them all unless we stop them! They know this math, they play with the figures all day, but they are choosing profit over people so the rest of us can go to hell and somersault. In addition to this, they are paying billions of dollars to their favorite friends- politicians - to hand over the fate of our future. The irony is borat-scale obvious.

Why is this a matter of life and death? We have all been witnesses to the countless catastrophes hitting communities, countries and continents because of global warming. It is amazing to know that all these are happening while we are still under 2°C warming. I will leave you to reconcile the mathematics with the catastrophes of above this ‘allowed’ temperature of warming.

Over a week ago, a poisonous lady called Miss Sandy swept her wicked love across the horizons of New York city causing massive devastation and broke the heart of several men. I don’t want to bring those memories back but it is on record that Hurricane Sandy was truly astounding in size and power. I was extremely dumbfounded to find out that at its peak; Sandy was producing 329 terajoules of energy, or 2.7x as much as Hurricane Katrina. This is an equivalent of 5 Hiroshima sized atomic bombs. This is extremely outrageous!

It is impossible to talk about Sandy without pointing a finger at climate change. Sea-surface temperature is above average and normal and rise in sea level is a big flooding risk factor. For those of us still grappling with the connection, Katrina was a category 1 hurricane till it picked up heat on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico to become a category 3 hurricane, before doing all those unimaginable damage to New Orleans. 1,833 lives were lost and damage amounting to $US108 billion accounted.

In spite of all these adversities and opposition to a clean planet and green future fronted by huge fossil fuel corporations who are in business just to wreck our earth, activists have stood tall. We have fought, and will fight till the cows come home, hoping that one day this camaraderie of businesses and politicians will repent and drop their agenda like bad habit. And when they finally do and the flooding still comes, we will have some compassion to allow them into the ark.

The Key Stone XL This project is ranking high on top of the fossil fuel reserves that politicians and businesses are collaborating to burn. This will test the commitment of Barack Obama towards the lives of the whole 7billion people on earth. If he approves this project, we are dead! NASA’s leading climate scientist, Dr. James Hansen has called the Keystone XL pipeline “a fuse to the largest carbon bomb on the planet.” He said that if all the carbon stored in the Canadian tar sands is released into the earth’s atmosphere it would mean “game over” for our planet. It is Obama’s call to save or wreck our lives and that of our children and grandchildren.

Why should you bother in Ghana? Climate change cannot be fixed on one continent and not the other. It is like a ship, if one tiny end cracks, the whole ship sinks no matter where you are. It is obviously very difficult to organize a protest to the castle to stop the drilling of oil in Ghana, most of you will consider that to be extremely insane. I mean, even before we started drilling oil in this country, the population had already calculated each citizen’s share per head. We love the oil, we praise it, but this is danger. Environmentalists in Western countries are calling for divestment from fossil fuel industries in the fashion of the Divestment Movement in South Africa in the 1980s that helped to bring apartheid to its knees. This means that they are encouraging universities and other institutions to cut off depending on fossil fuels (gas, coal and oil) and invest that money into renewables- wind, solar, etc.

In Ghana, this thinking has now been mated, waiting for 9months in the womb to be birthed. But we can start from somewhere. We can organize and mobilize to demand for a green future and the best shot in my opinion is to push for a price on pollution that would affect plastic producers and mining and oil companies. While this won’t eradicate fossil fuels or stop oil drilling, it will make renewable energy competitive and attractive for investment and above all, inspire these companies to skew towards clean energy.

A fee for pollution in Ghana would mean that plastic producers would chase every ounce of plastic they release into the environment and remove them back. Recycling will dominate and that means creating more green jobs. Mining and oil companies will be on the same playing field with renewable energy investors and they will be extra careful on pollution since it can take them out of business.

I don’t want to sound as if all this is very easy; in fact it’s very challenging having even a method to calculate and quantify pollution, not to think about our bad habit of enforcement and implementation. But as I said, we can start from somewhere, because young people have done it before in this country.

Some two weeks ago, we invaded a room full of ministers, politicians, VIPs and government officials to demand a clean future, what else can’t we do? We shouldn’t underestimate our voice and power. And as Barack Obama said, “one voice can change a room, and if one voice can change a room, then it can change a city, and if it can change a city, it can change a state, and if it change a state, it can change a nation, and if it can change a nation, it can change the world. Your voice can change the world.”

When you see me on the streets one day munching Bhut Jolokia sandwich, as weird as I may look, if I give you a high-five, kindly donate back a broad smile, and together let’s yell ‘Price for Pollution in Ghana NOW’!!

“I don’t want to survive, I want to live” – WALL- E

Gideon Commey (Community Organiser, Writer & Poet). gideoncommey@yahoo.co.uk