Adapt to climate change or perish

Members of the public wait for their rations of relief food

Members of the public wait for their rations of relief food distribution by President William Ruto to hunger victims due to prolonged drought, at Nakaalei in Turkana on November 5, 2022.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

Climate change should remain a focus for all economies. Though old and variable, humans have suffered boom and boon from this eventful phenomenon. 

The world’s climate has undergone transformative changes over time and every area of the world has experienced a different type of climate temporally. Greenland, for instance, was once covered by lush tropical forests, complete with buttress roots.

This is evidenced by the scientific discovery of old coffins that have been pierced by gigantic prehistoric tree roots. A worthy explanation for that scenario is Continental Drift, one cause of regional climate change.

In the past 800,000 years, the earth has experienced eight cycles of climate change episodes constituted by ice ages and warm periods. The last Ice Age ended about 11,700 years ago, heralding the current climate change: Global Warming.

Despite the fact that climate change has natural causes—such as changes in the position and radiation of the sun, volcanic eruptions, El Nino and ENSO, extra-terrestrial impacts and plate tectonics—global warming is largely a product of human activities, especially after the industrial age.

Industrialisation, transportation, deforestation, agriculture and overconsumption are the acts of man that fill the atmosphere with greenhouse gases (CHGs).

Known GHGs include water vapour (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and fluorinated gases such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), sulphur hexafluoride and nitrogen trifluoride, mostly from household and industrial appliances and processes. They create a ‘greenhouse effect’ on the earth, turning it into a huge greenhouse—like the ones in any garden. 

The GHGs form an envelope above the earth’s surface that allows for the shortwave solar radiation to reach the earth but is impenetrable to the longwave terrestrial radiation, which gets trapped, overshooting the temperature of the troposphere.

Global warming is responsible for the melting of glaciers, rising sea levels, killer droughts and other ruinous weather patterns, extinction of biodiversity, famine, infirmities and poverty among a horde of other quandaries that pose an existential risk to man—wombed and non-wombed.

During this dry season, many Kenyan counties are experiencing unheralded drought, as the country faces its worst drought in 40 years. The media is awash with reports of dying famine-stricken people and animals. The worst-hit are Mandera, Wajir, Marsabit, Isiolo, Laikipia, Samburu,Turkana, Kilifi, Kitui, Kwale, West Pokot, Meru, Embu, Tharaka-Nithi and Tana River.

Here to stay

It looks like global warming is here to stay. Consequently, adaptation and building resilience is the only feasible way of combating it—as focused on by the November 6-18 COP27 climate change convention in Egypt. We cannot always cry wolf then fall into a lull on climate change. 

Therefore, nations, communities and individuals need to espouse some Schumpeterian approaches to expedite climate change adaptation strategies which comprise aggressive afforestation that embraces the shamba system, creation of woodlots, carbon trading and mainstream silviculture; and making water available to the people in arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) through rainwater harvesting, construction of dams and reservoirs, borehole drilling and creation of artificial rivers from dams through their tail races and ensuring a frugal use of water resources.

We must also accept social and economic approaches that entail a change of lifestyle. These include reducing GHG emissions, practising climate-smart agriculture, government buying livestock from farmers in ASALs during impending droughts, insuring against climate risk assets and adapting the circular economic model where waste management is concerned. 

Secondly, instigate an effective and efficient weather forecasting and early warning system which trails risk knowledge, dissemination of timely and accurate information, monitoring and response capability.

Thirdly, adopt the use of green or clean energy such as solar, wind and water energy. Fourth, take up green building technologies that ensconce the creation of buildings and structures with minimum to zero negative impact on the environment throughout their lifecycle from design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation and demolition stages. Lastly, generally take care of the environment as a priority.

Kenya has great policies that can easily ward off climate change and induce sustainable development but there is a gaping chasm between policy and policy implementation. It is not enough to plant trees, harvest rainwater or grow drought-resistant crops.

People should commit to adaptation activities for positive results. It is pertinent to revisit every environmental conservation activity to ensure it is ongoing and yields the desired fruits. For governments, people's participation is necessary, for them to stake ownership of the adaptation processes.

Dr Kipkiror, PhD, an environmental consultant, teaches at the University of Kabianga. [email protected].