Black Soot: Ripples of Decisions
Waking up in my sister’s house on that fateful morning in Woji Port Harcourt was shocking considering what I discovered. Finding my feet dark and my bathing water giving off dark run-off water was not something I could explain especially given that there was no visible reason for it. I later found out that I was not the only one who was expressing this in the house.
It was on the radio that I later found out that a large portion of the Woji area of Port Harcourt and other major parts of the city were all experiencing the same thing. It was covering basically everything in the house from cooking wares, cars, nostrils, roofs, and clothes as well when people go out to work in the morning. It was forming a blanket over everything.
This was a story that was commonplace to the residents of Port Harcourt from the tail end of 2016 through to 2018 and even up till now in 2020, it is still experienced on given occasions. So why did this black soot start and what caused them?
This was a question that was sort of easy to pinpoint as the city was located in the Niger Delta region of the country which is the primary source of crude oil in the country. Crude oil refining was the easy suspect. According to a report by CNN, the likely source of the black soot was from the destruction of illegal refining in the state when the state government at the time was cracking down on operators of illegal refining in the state. The CO2 from the burning of illegal products from the refineries was supposed to act as a deterrent to other illegal refineries in the state but the black soot was the result of this crackdown on illegal refining. Another report by Vanguard says that some Chinese companies were part of the guilty parties as they were refining below environmentally safe standards.
Port Harcourt is home to over 6 million people and reports from experts say that the black soot can cause respiratory problems and cancer, this puts the 6 million citizens of the state at risk. Apart from the immediate danger that the black soot presents there is also the issue of the rising temperature levels that it is also contributing to in the city. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem but there is so much greenhouse gas in the atmosphere that it is having adverse effects on the ecosystem and human life as well. According to Prof. Prince Mmon, an environmentalist in the Department of Geography and Environmental Management at the University of Port Harcourt,
“The weather is very hot these days, especially at night. Incidentally, this unpredictable weather phenomenon is being experienced in every part of the country.” “This alarming situation is largely traceable to climate change which is here with us and can no longer be disputed by even the worst cynics. Global warming is increasing affecting every part of the world – which is symptomatic of the adverse effects of climate change,”
- Source: von.gov.ng
Global warming and climate change are separate but related things that everyone should know about. Global warming is basically the heating of the earth’s temperature caused by the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Gases like carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, tropospheric ozone, and CFCs make up the majority of these greenhouse gases. These gases get to the atmosphere from the burning of coal, natural gas, and fossil fuel. When these are burnt they give off these gases which go into the atmosphere where they collect sunlight and solar radiation. Coincidentally they also allow sunlight and solar radiation to pass through the ozone layer and hit the surface of the earth and then bounce off again into space. Normally, greenhouse gases are not bad but the rate of combustion of fossil fuels is producing more greenhouse gases, faster than nature can take care of it through natural processes.
This sunlight and radiation are supposed to bounce off the surface of the earth and leave the earth but these greenhouse gas traps them in the atmosphere and prevents them from leaving the earth and they end up increasing the temperature of the earth, ocean, and the planet in general. This is what is referred to as the “greenhouse effect.” In Nigeria and Port Harcourt burning of fossil fuel from cars, generator sets and refineries are the main contributors to greenhouse gases.
“According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a scientific group tasked with assessing the risk of anthropogenic or human-caused climate change, the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide swelled from 280 parts per million (ppm) prior to industrialization to 379 ppm in 2005. Now we’re at 385 ppm, and we’ll reach 550 ppm by mid-century (2050) if we continue with the current trends. Leading scientists warn we must reduce the atmospheric carbon dioxide level to below 350 ppm if we want to avoid irreversible global warming with catastrophic impacts.”
- Source: biologicaldiversity.org
If the current heat trajectory continues, according to a landmark survey 35% of all plant and animal life will be extinct by 2050. In Port Harcourt, the only reprieve we have from the heat on particularly hot days are when it rains. So what can you do to play your part in the face of all these daunting challenges?
The good news is that you can actually do a lot on your end to take action on climate change even in this current COVID-19 pandemic.
- Write to your Government Reps
Given that a large majority of the rules that can make a difference on climate change usually comes from the government, you can leverage that. You can write to your representative in government, this could be your Local government chairman, mayor, senator, or councilor. If you don’t have their contact, kindly make an inquiry by going to government houses, visiting government websites, or go on social media to make such inquiry, any of these will get you the information you need.
- Lobby for Policies
Lobby for the government to create policies that favor a circular economy so we can move away from the current take-make-waste approach to manufacturing right now. Sustainable practices like recycling, upcycling, and many should be made compulsory. Incentives and tax breaks can be negotiated for companies that obey these policies. While on the other hand, you could also lobby for hefty penalties to be placed on companies who still practice the direct to waste approach.
- Reduce your Energy Consumption
You might be surprised to find that turning off your light bulbs at home when they are not in use can contribute to reducing global warming. Imagine if you are doing that and then you multiply that by the 6 million people in Port Harcourt taking this approach to energy consumption, it’ll save a lot of energy and save everyone money in electricity bills. Companies can take advantage of this approach as well by collaborating with the company using Internet of Things (IoT) technology to help organizations reduce their carbon footprint and improve their energy efficiency. An example of such a company making use of IoT to provide automation and energy efficiency solutions to businesses and organizations is Schneider Electric (this is not a promotion of any sort).
- Engage in Awareness Campaigns
Another thing you can do that might have a far-reaching impact is to engage in awareness creation on the consequences of climate change and how people can mitigate and adapt to its effects. It might come as a surprise to you to find out that a large majority of people do not see climate change as an issue and they feel it is something that should be left to the government alone. However, that is not true, only with a coordinated united approach can the climate crisis changed be reversed. This was one of the ways civil society organizations and NGO employed in their fight against the black soot in Port Harcourt.
I conducted different simulations on C-ROADS World Climate on the different projections of climate change and there is no single scenario where one continent changing their approach alone was enough to change or reverse the temperature increase. The projected temperature of the earth by 2100 is estimated to be 4.1 degrees Celsius. 1.5 degrees Celsius is the upper limit set by scientists to avoid crossing to avoid irreversible ecological changes. The projected temperature curve only flattened out and went in the opposite direction when all the major parties contributed to making a change. Whatever you do, don’t ever forget that the climate crisis is upon us and the only people that can help us is us acting together.