Its stale news that the world is in deep environmental mess. A lot of people deny it because they have a mind-set that pays little attention to taking care of the environment. I would not be writing any technical jargons because I have learnt that for us to get relatable results we have to speak the language of the people. One question I ask people who litter is “Can you put that on your bed?” No one is going to sleep on a pile of trash! I was walking one evening and I saw a well-dressed man in 2016 Toyota SUV toss a chicken bone out of his car window. I walked back and said “Stare down on pollution”. This happens a lot of times and I have found out that we have a nonchalant mind-set towards the environment. We do not see it as a possession we need to nurture, love and maintain.
Explaining climate change, global warming and ozone layer depletion to highly educated people would make a whole lot of sense and those who have a little bit of science knowledge can relate. How do you explain all those to a market woman who is all about how to make ends meet in the harsh economic climate? We cannot preserve the environment if we still have high levels of hunger and inequalities. Businesses are looking out for ways to cut costs – long term and short term. Solar energy has not been an option for businesses because it’s expensive to purchase. Most of the alternatives to the conventional ways of doing things are EXPENSIVE and not FINANCIALLY SUSTAINABLE presently. A barber can still buy fuel worth 200 Naira for a few hours and still attend to his customers but this is not yet applicable to solar, wind or hydro energy sources.
Different systems need to be integrated for us to achieve the aim of preserving the environment. When trying to solve a problem, it’s important to understand what the problem is. Here is an overview of few sustainable approaches that can enhance environmental preservation:
Switching from Linear Economy to Circular Economy
As humans, we are used to a “dig-produce-use-dig” pattern when it comes to using natural resources. Natural resources are there for us to use and not waste them. We are very wasteful especially in Nigeria. We till the soil, grow food, buy more than we can consume and the rest goes to the landfills. The amount of food that go to waste can feed lots of hungry and homeless people. Smart phones are nice and have been extremely useful since inception but do people even think of what happens to those smart phones after they are outdated or get damaged? The manufacturers seldom think about it either. The manuals carry instructions saying we should not dispose with our trash but are there systems or facilities to retrieve them? No. Every year electronic gadgets roll out with increased efficiencies and the rich people who want to use the latest gadgets toss the old ones in the drawers and purchase new ones. What happens to old washing machines, blenders, televisions, wall clocks and so on? In developed countries, there are some buy-back systems and extended producer responsibility in place to help with cutting post-consumer waste, the developing counterparts have little or none of such.
The fix to these are simple. It requires commitment and a positive mind-set. These giant tech companies have research and development sections that can assist them with redesigning and reengineering their products to have extended shelf lives, mostly repairable components, and in the case of purchasing new models, retrieval of old/damaged/outdated appliances should attract discounts. Waste can be inevitable sometimes and the products that give rise to these waste should be designed such that they are raw material for another production cycle either within that industry or another.
A Drift From The Capitalist Societal Mind-Set
Everyone wants to make profit after all that’s why we are in business. Profit at the expense of everything else – the people and environment is not sustainable. The oil producing states in Nigeria have had their feel of what it means to have polluted air, water, land. Aquatic animals are not spared. Cancers are becoming endemic. Recently, there was black soot in some parts of Rivers State and residents had black sediments on their floors, cars and my little niece had to have her nostrils cleaned all the time. Gas has been flared for years – gas that can produce 8000 megawatts of power and we don’t have this power supply. Taxes and levies have increased, making life unbearable for small business owners without getting relatable value for what they pay. The street lights in Lagos are still being powered by diesel generators with so many solar power proposals unattended to. Rural areas are being developed with infrastructures at the expense of native people. The informal waste haulers clog the canals and water ways with thrash. It’s all about the money.
A restructured mind-set would enable us include social responsibility at the core of all our activities. We would be able to see that preserving the environment is synonymous to preserving our lives. We need to start living for the future and stop living for the moment. A lot of people make huge investments in the economic future of their generations to come but turn a blind eye to leaving a habitable environment for these children. What’s the essence of all the money with no safe environment to spend it? Environmental disasters can level a city to just rubbles in hours and the intensity of some of these have been blamed on global warming. An example is the Hurricane Katrina in 2010. It was reported that global warming contributed to the high level havoc it wrecked.
Inclusive Educational System
Until recently, we did not have environmental activities as part of our extra-curriculum in Nigeria. Environmental studies should be a standalone subject across all levels of education. Competitions that would spur research should be highly rewarding and attractive. Excursions should include visits to nature parks, ponds, gardens, resorts and landfills. There is a lot to learn and it can fun too. Coloring books that will feature environmental preservation, recycle trucks, garbage trucks, beach clean ups, sorting bins should be created. Cartoons, animations, puzzles and games should have the importance of the environment embedded in them. We need to appeal to emotions. Kids pick up their attitude towards nature very early in life. They are likely to imitate what the older ones do. That stage of life is an opportunity to decide to develop compassion, environmental and social responsibility in children.
The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the next best time is now. Trees help renew our air supply by absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen. We should stop urban development at the expense of forests. We should have more sky scrapers and underground car parks. Bamboo is an excellent option to timber for furniture. Old tyres are now used to make furniture. As good as these options sound, they need to come affordable for the common man.
Curbing Food Waste
According to the United Nations Development Programme, 795 million people have been estimated to be chronically undernourished as of 2014. This has been attributed to environmental degradation, drought and loss of biodiversity. The level of food wastage might not be said to be a direct influencer but curbing food wastage would help feed more people. Nigeria’s food waste has been reported to hit $750 billion yearly. 80% of food produced is wasted. The fruits and vegetables that have been proven to be included in our diets to live sustainably have the highest wastage rates. This shortage gives rise to inflated prices and strains the pockets of the larger masses. Another downside is that for every ton of food wasted, 1.9 tons of carbon dioxide is emitted. It is ironical that we produce so much food and still have people hungry. Curbing food waste is a win-win as we get to reduce carbon emission and hunger levels are reduced. When people are not hungry they can comprehend and communicate better.
Food wastage can be cut by using the cold storage supply chain to enhance preservation of produce from the farm throughout its journey to the end user. End users should also be urged to purchase what they need only.
Efficient Regulatory and Management Agencies
The agencies responsible for urban planning sometimes default and give building approvals for structures that should normally not be erected at a given location. This, over time would cause some legal structures to suffer during floods especially in waterlogged areas. There should be policies implemented, enforced and monitored to expose and curb illegal structures. Human and automated strategies should be used. The waste management agencies have failed to implement integrated sustainable strategies in Nigeria. Workers are ill-equipped, exposing them to health hazards, trucks are most times faulty with no contingencies in place. Some neighbourhoods have to wait for weeks to have their trash evacuated. Uncollected waste is a public health hazard. Some neighbourhoods have inaccessible roads to these large trucks. In Lagos, informal waste busters have been banned but they are still seen to help residents get rid of their trash in time. I have had to wait for the approved garbage trucks four weeks. That’s not sustainable. Waste should be collected at least once a week. The informal busters go to neighbourhoods every day. They could be integrated into the formal waste management. This would create more jobs and reduce truck trips to these neighbourhoods.
There is a need for collective efforts if we really want to preserve the environment. We are all in it. There is no planet B and even if there was, if we don’t change our attitude towards the environment, we would destroy planet B.