While “climate change” has become a part of our common vocabulary, there is great misunderstanding surrounding the term. Jacob Mayiani, a Data Analytics Specialist in the Office of Institutional Research at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, US, spoke to our correspondent; he addresses common misconceptions and analyses the climate change phenomenon.
What exactly is climate change?
Although there is a clear distinction between weather and climate, one of the common misconceptions of climate change among our people arises from failing to distinguish between the climate and the weather. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), weather is the state of the atmosphere at a particular location over the short-term. Climate, on the other hand, is the average of the weather patterns in a location over a longer period of time, usually 30 years or more. Therefore, in simple terms, we can define climate change as a change of weather over a long period of time.
How has climate change affected Kajiado?
Here at home, pastoral communities experience the effects of climate change through massive loss of livestock, caused by prolonged droughts. Crop farmers have repeatedly experienced massive crop failures in rain-fed agriculture, as well as the drying up of water catchment areas that feed irrigation farming in the county. Studies have also confirmed an increase in uncommon human, livestock and crop diseases and phenomena, such as the ongoing locust invasion in most parts of the country.
There is also sufficient evidence that confirms the changing rainfall patterns in most of Kenya’s Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs) — which Kajiado falls under — from long periods of no droughts in the 1960s and 1970s to the more frequent (2-3 year) drought cycles we experience today. According to an article, “Living with Drought”, published in the International Research Journal, the Kenyan government has declared five national drought disasters in the past two decades. However, itis critical to note that climate change is not only experienced through the extreme drought conditions; climate change is related to any extreme weather phenomena, such as extreme heat, air pollution, wildfires, intensified flooding or droughts. Effects of El nino rains in the late 1990s and the droughts of 2009-2010 and 2011-2012, in addition to the most recent higher-than-normal rainfall that is continuing to cause havoc through flooding and landslides in most parts of the country, are probably the most notable examples of these phenomena in Kajiado County.
How do our individual/ collective actions exacerbate the effects of climate change? According to NASA Global Climate Change, the current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is extremely likely (greater than 95 per cent probability) to be the result of human activity since the mid-20th century and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented over decades to millennia.
At a local scale, there are various ways where our actions may exacerbate the effects of climate change. Some of the practices are behavioural, like the practising of mono farming and accumulation of large herds of livestock, industrial waste management, as well as engaging in detrimental environmental practices such as illegal charcoal burning and uncontrolled sand harvesting. Increased cutting down of trees for charcoal burning, and uncontrolled sand harvesting, are some of the most disastrous environmental practices that are currently putting pressure on our land by accelerating forest clearance and soil erosion.
How can we mitigate the impact of climate change?
While we are not the leading contributors of climate change, we too must do what we can to lessen the inevitable effects of climate change, because it poses particular threats not just to the environment that we live in, but to our people’s health, wellbeing, and way of life. Mitigating the effects of climate change can be achieved through adaptation strategies such as afforestation and avoiding detrimental environmental practices. These adaptation measures must be planned in advance to effectively respond to local pressures. Such adaptation measures may include Drought Early Warning Systems (DEWS) that bring all players together, including national and county governments, the private sector and local stakeholders.
What are some of the ways to mitigate effects of climate change?
Increasing the vegetation cover is one practical way of mitigating the effects of climate change. Kenya has already taken some strides in this aspect with an ambitious goal under Vision 2030 of growing the current 2 per cent forest cover to 10 per cent by 2030. The recommended vegetation cover in a given country should be at least 10 per cent of the country’s land area, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nation. We are already on the right path to experiencing these efforts even at a county level, thanks to our county government through the Department of Environment with their ongoing tree planting programme across the county.
All these initiatives are great and our national and county governments should continue to pursue them. I however want to focus your attention on a few other specific practices within our county that have been talked about, but little or no action has been taken.
How has our waste management affected our climate?
The way we dispose waste has huge environmental impact and may lead to serious health problems. Our county government should come up with — if it doesn’t have one already — a waste management plan with emphasis on recycling and proper disposal of waste. As we all know, some wastes are biodegradable, which means they will eventually rot and be recycled back into the soil. But not all are like this; others may smell, and/or generate methane gas, which poses health concerns and contributes to the greenhouse effect. Industrial waste, for instance, may be less in our county compared to other types of waste sources, but its impact on human beings, wildlife and the environment can be much higher. For example, waste materials from a number of industries within our county pollute rivers and lakes with poisonous chemical substances, which pose a threat to both humans and wildlife.
As a community, one way to combat the effect of climate change is to declare a serious war against harmful environmental practices such as charcoal burning and uncontrolled sand harvest. Although these practices are not new in our county political discourse, we are yet to see our legislators take action. Our Maasai community are traditionally known to be avid protectors of the environment and best wildlife conservationists. While it is unlikely that you will find this documented anywhere, if you were born and raised in a traditional Maasai village, you have probably at one point been instructed by your father not to cut down trees near the boma. Our forefathers knew better and understood the cultural and ecological significance of vegetation to the society. Although the charcoal burning menace is a fairly new practice, it is unfortunately turning our ecosystems into barren and unproductive land and must be curtailed if we are to seriously combat the effects of climate change.
It is therefore my hope that both national and county governments take a lead in fighting these harmful practices in our county and beyond as one feasible way to combat climate change. The long-term ecosystem benefits provided by the vegetation cover to buffer the inevitable impact of extreme weather conditions far outweigh the short-term quick bucks. The effects of not taking action now will entail a high price.