By Jerome-Mario Utomi

It is an obvious fact that the world is faced with environmental and climate crisis.  Interestingly tragic is the awareness that both crises from what experts are saying are inextricably linked in their causes and solution. More specifically, the best known and by far most serious of this environmental threat is the one caused by Styrofoam products.

As a background to the piece, Styrofoam is a trademarked brand of closed-cell extruded polystyrene foam (XPS), manufactured to provide continuous building insulation board used in walls, Foamed polystyrene is made into insulation, packaging, and food containers such as beverage cups, egg cartons, and disposable plates and trays. Solid polystyrene products include injection-molded eating utensils, audiocassette holders, and cases for packaging compact discs.

A while ago, it was reported that the international community-including the United States of America began a massive effort to assemble the most accurate scientific assessment of the growing evidence that the earth’s environment is sustaining severe and potentially irreparable damage from the unprecedented accumulation in its environment. And a clear warning was reportedly sounded that harmful human activities and practices has become a serious threat to our common future and most be confronted.

Despite this warning, many carried on as if nothing was at stake.

The above failing and failure has judged as prompt and qualify as a right step taken in the right direction the recent announcement by the Lagos state government via a statement signed by the Commissioner for the Environment and Water Resources, Tokunbo Wahab,  banning with immediate effect, the usage and distribution of styrofoam and other single-use plastics in the State.

Aside from noting that most drainage channels in the state are daily clogged up by styrofoams through their indiscriminate distribution and usage despite the regular cleaning and evacuation of the drains with humongous amounts, also a reality to worry about was the state government’s revelation that the larger chunk of littering across major roads and markets which LAWMA contends with daily is made up of styrofoams.

Of course, while the State Government like every other responsible and responsive administrations cannot fold its hands and watch the continued desecration of its environment, especially as a coastal city, this piece holds the opinion that this war against Styrofoam and other environmental crisis should go beyond the lagos state government. The nation must be holistic in approach in tackling this hydra headed challenge.

The reason for this canvassed position is not farfetched.

Separate from the freighting report that plastic pollution has become endemic in recent times, study recently revealed that about 500 billion plastic bags are produced every year, with more plastic produced in the last decade exceeding that of the last century; that about one million plastic bottles are purchased every minute in addition to the world’s usage of 500 million plastic bags each year, with at least 8 million tonnes of plastics ending up in the ocean- an equivalent of a full garbage truck every minute.

The second kernel of environmental crisis that the nation must contend with through coordinated efforts is the unimaginable volume of crude oil that is daily, in the name of crude oil exploration and exploration, emptied into the ocean surrounding the country resulting in pollution, degradation and destruction of aquatic lives.

Take as an illustration, according to a data from the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), a total of 4,486 cases of oil spills, amounting to 242,193 barrels of oil, from 2015 to 2021 were recorded.

The reported figure of oil spill cases is equivalent to 38.5 million litres of crude loss, representing an average of about 62 cases and 3,362 barrels of oil spills in a month.

Making it alarming is that the same way rivers, lagoons, seas and oceans are daily polluted by human activities, even so, has the land and forests not been spared from pollution and degradation and outright destruction.

Viewed broadly, it is an open secret that for too long, humans have been exploiting and destroying the planet’s ecosystems. Every three seconds, a report noted, the world loses enough forest to cover a football pitch and over the last century, we have destroyed half of the wetlands.

Also lamentable is the awareness that as much as 50 per cent of the world’s coral reefs have already been lost and up to 90 per cent of coral reefs could be lost by 2050, even if global warming is limited to an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

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Ecosystem loss is depriving the world of carbon sinks, like forests and wetlands, at a time when humanity can least afford them. Global greenhouse gas emissions have grown for three consecutive years and the planet is in one place of potentially catastrophic climate change.

We must now fundamentally rethink our relationship with the living world, with natural ecosystems and their biodiversity and work towards its restoration.

Sincerely in my opinion, If all these are challenges, the issue of climate change resulting from human activities is a crisis-as another report indicates that today’s climatic warming – particularly the warming since the mid – 20th century—is occurring much faster than ever before and can’t be explained by natural causes alone.

Putting it more plainly, humans—more specifically, the Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions we generate were reported to be— the leading cause of the earth’s rapidly changing climate. Greenhouse gases play an important role in keeping the planet warm enough to inhabit. But the amount of these gases in our atmosphere has skyrocketed in recent decades.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the concentration of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxides “have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years.”

The burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas for electricity, heat, and transportation is the primary source of human-generated emissions. A second major source is deforestation, which releases sequestered carbon into the air. It’s estimated that logging, clear-cutting, fires, and other forms of forest degradation contribute to 20 per cent of global carbon emissions. Though our planet’s forests and oceans absorb greenhouse gases from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and other processes, these natural carbon sinks it was observed can’t keep up with our rising emissions. The resulting buildup of greenhouse gases is causing alarmingly fast warming worldwide.

To further explain the challenge we currently face; it was noted elsewhere that as the earth’s atmosphere heats up, it collects, retains, and drops more water, changing weather patterns and making wet areas wetter and dry areas drier. Higher temperatures lead to the melting of ice which in turn leads to sea rise, floods and storms and other disasters. The changes in weather patterns, drought and flooding affect livelihoods.

As to what should be done to this appalling situation, the UN made climate action a major part of global advocacy, calling on all member states to double their ambition to save our planet.

While this is ongoing, this proposes the urgent need for humanity to adjust to psychological, social, or economic systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli and their effects or impacts. We need to bring in changes in processes, practices, and structures to moderate potential damages or to benefit from opportunities associated with climate change.

In simple terms, countries and communities need to develop adaptation solutions and implement actions to respond to the impact of climate change that is already happening, as well as prepare for future impacts.

Very important also, climate experts believe that the key to the solution to the climate change problem rests in decreasing the number of emissions released into the atmosphere, also reducing the current concentration of carbon dioxide by enhancing sinks (eg increasing the area of forests).

As to Nigeria as a nation, it has become eminently desirable that it takes a cue from countries like China, Germany, and Rwanda who are among the world’s leading recyclers of waste and cutting down the use of plastic.

Nigeria must move from the open landfills in every state of the country that has become eyesores to generating wealth from the recycling of these wastes.

Arresting these monsters will also require the federal government to among other things embrace, and work towards total remediation through ecological rehabilitation and environmental resuscitation of the Niger Delta region, adopt a coherent and friendly oil and gas policy that comprehensively enumerates oil companies’ responsibilities to the environment and host communities, focus on environmental protection and pollution control.

In the same line of thinking, the nation’s policymakers must depart from payment of lip service to, and activate positive action that will appreciate the 2030 sustainable agenda which has partnership and collaboration at its centre.

*Utomi writes via [email protected]