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Rise in costs of cooking fuel, electricity spells doom for Nigerian trees

The Nigeria Bureau for Statistics (NBS) said the average price of cooking gas increased on a year-on-year basis by 34% and electricity tariff has witnessed…

The Nigeria Bureau for Statistics (NBS) said the average price of cooking gas increased on a year-on-year basis by 34% and electricity tariff has witnessed an outrageous increase with a 100% rise affecting all customers in 2020 and a recent increase of 340% that affected some (Band A) customers. With such upward review, the attention is mainly on the worsened cost of living crisis, but the impact on the environment is often unnoticed.

Every government policy that could have a negative impact on the environment must be cautiously designed to have minimal or no effect on the survival of trees. Trees have direct and indirect effects on health, nutrition, food security and water availability.

One attitude of man that derogates his social and scientific consciousness is the cutting down of trees. It is funny and ridiculous when a man rests under the shade of a tree after cutting down another tree. Irrespective of educational status, humans often play ignorant with the benefits and protective roles of trees. The protective roles are only acknowledged when the trees are no more.

Trees strengthen the soil, reduce the tides of water to prevent flooding and diminish the strength of wind to protect the roofs of our houses. Unplanned replacements of trees with artificial structures for social benefits exposes humans and the environment to disasters, and man may have to leave the environment for erosion and flood or live an evidently compromised life.

Almost every person in the world has heard of climate change. The palaver of climate change has advanced from the projection of possible effects to horrifying confrontational incidences touching every living creature.

Recently, the ambient temperature in Nigeria has shown a progressive increase, resulting in heat waves. During heat waves, trees provide the most conducive natural environment for humans and animals in most parts of Africa. The importance of trees in reducing the negative impacts of climate change is beyond the well-known mitigation role in the provision of shade.

Carbon dioxide is one of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change by making the world hotter. The job of removing carbon dioxide from the air is best performed by trees. Trees currently absorb about a third of the carbon dioxide emitted due to human-related activities; this helps to markedly reduce the environmental temperature of the world.

Expressing it in a different way, planting more trees could reduce the temperature of our environment, while cutting down trees could result in a progressive rise in environmental temperature. Trees store a large chunk of the world’s carbon, as carbon constitutes about 50% of the composition of the tree. Burning any of its parts would emit carbon into the air in the form of carbon dioxide. This would further heat up the world.

Conversely, planting trees removes the carbon dioxide in the air, storing it in all parts of the tree as the tree is growing and also sinking some of the carbon into the soil. Actually, significant amounts of the carbon in the air today were originally in the trees, but were released when the trees were cut and burnt, so planting trees helps to return these carbon molecules to where they originally belong. This will help to markedly reverse the high environmental temperature that is reducing the goodness in our lives. This process is called a natural climate solution.

Currently, governments and not-for-profit organisations around the world are putting in immense efforts to plant trees and return the carbon to where it originally belongs. This unusually high amount of carbon in the air is reducing the crop yield, making food more expensive and increasing the incidence of some diseases, causing loss of lives and increasing economic losses due to the high cost of purchasing drugs.

Collectively, deforestation and global warming affect the availability water, and this explains the crisis of water scarcity, especially in Northern Nigeria. Cutting down of trees affects the processes involved in rain formation, including formation of water vapour and cloud, leading to reduced rain and increased water scarcity.

Many Nigerians across social and educational statuses use parts of trees as cooking fuel in the form of firewood or charcoal. Some use charcoal to iron clothes, as room heater during harmattan or to burn incense to provide fragrance. The main alternative sources of heat for these crucial domestic activities are the use of cooking gas or electricity.

As the prices of cooking gas and electricity increase, the ratio of Nigerians using these sources of heat shift in favour of burning of trees, leading to an increase in the number of affected trees and a resultant increase in global warming. Although both the use of cooking gas or the generation of electricity from gas plants may lead to the production of gases that could cause global warming, the negative impact of burning of trees poses a greater danger to the environment.

Burning of trees is a double-edged sword against the environment in favour of global warming, where the first edge is the loss of the main remover of carbon dioxide from the air and the other is the addition of carbon dioxide to the air through burning.

In 2018, the Director-General, Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF), Dr Muhtari Aminu-Kano, said Nigeria has lost 96 % of its forest due to deforestation, in another way, only 4.0 % of the Nigerian forest is left.  In Nigeria, the annual rate of deforestation is 3.5% and approximately 350,000-400,000 hectares is cleared of trees per year. In some communities not a single tree can be seen across a distance of more than two kilometers. But during the peak of the hot seasons or heat waves, members of the community crowd around the few available trees to get the best refreshment; as other artificial open shades cannot give the excellent refreshment trees are endowed with.

There is the need to urgently stop this barbaric act of tree cutting and burning. This massive loss of trees is synonymous to suffocating the Nigerian citizen, even while the respiratory tract is perfectly functional. We may progressively inhale low-quality air that is deprived of the desired amount of oxygen. In one year, a mature tree could absorb more than 22kg of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen in exchange. Through a process called photosynthesis, leaves pull in carbon dioxide and water, and use the energy of the sun to convert them to sugars which are stored in the fruits we eat. But as a by-product of this process, oxygen is produced and released by the tree. It has been proposed that one large tree can provide a day’s supply of oxygen for up to four people.

Increase in the prices of cooking gas and electricity makes firewood and charcoal more expensive and thus, increasing the monetary value of trees. This makes the cutting down of trees more lucrative and tempting. People cut down trees planted by their forefathers, who they have never seen or even heard of without replanting any. Many landowners now cut their trees and sell the wood to survive economic challenges. Some now see trees as assets or ‘standing banks’.

Successive governments have attempted massive tree planting projects, but have had ample challenges that caused serious setbacks. Currently, deforestation is progressively surpassing afforestation and the most critical means of stopping this ugly trend is to reduce the price or prevent a rise in the price of cooking gas/fuel and electricity.

There is a strong link between the price of cooking gas and electricity on one hand and the heat waves we are experiencing and the quality of life we live. Any government policy that will increase the costs of cooking gas/fuel and electricity should also have components that will protect trees and encourage afforestation. When the costs of cooking gas and electricity are to be increased at any time, policymakers must remember we have only 4% of our forest left. We are not blind and deaf, let us not be trampled upon by elephant.

 

Dr. Habibu is a lecturer with Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and can be reached via [email protected]

 

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