An Analysis of the Language Used in Communication on Climate Change

Article excerpt

Background to climate change

In 1827, Frenchman Jean Baptiste Fourier was the first to use the green house analogy to explain how the earth is kept warmer than otherwise. During the 1890s Swedish scientist, Svante Arrhenius together with Thomas Chamberlain, about a hundred years ago concluded that human activities could warm the earth by increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. When the first UN Conference on Human Environment was held in Stockholm in 1972, there was some acknowledgement of the issue of climate as a possible problem in years to come by. In 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was set up to assess and synthesize the latest scientific, technical and socio economic literature on global warming (Toulmin, 2009). It operates under the auspices of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP).The IPCC does not carry out research, but collaborates with hundreds of scientists and experts through out the world, as well as governments. It has produced Four Assessment reports, in 1990, 1995, 2001 and 2007. The IPCC's latest report of 2007 states that, warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, wide spread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level (IPCC 2007).Dow and Downing (2007) offer the same views by saying ; the climate has been completely thrown out of kilter and each day brings fresh proof: more frequent and more violent cyclones in the Caribbean, floods in Africa, the melting of glaciers. These are sentiments to testify how climate change is wrecking havoc and inflicting untold suffering to humanity around the world.

Climate Change in Africa

Africa is one of the most vulnerable continents to climate change and climate variability, to a situation aggravated by the interaction of 'multiple stresses', occurring at various levels, and low adaptive capacity. Changes in a variety of ecosystems are already being detected, particularly in Southern African ecosystems, at a faster rate than anticipated (Boko et al, 2007).Climate change is the only one of many powerful forces affecting African development prospects. There is evidence of change in temperature and the damaging effects of changing rainfall patterns through out Sub Saharan Africa. Global warming has affected water availability, with some areas becoming much drier and others much wetter. Africa's share in terms of climate change comes in the form of its wanton destruction of its forests (deforestation). Africa's deforestation accounts for 20% of the world's green house emissions. With the discovery of mineral resources such coal in South Africa, oil in Sudan and Uganda, as well as diamonds in Zimbabwe, will consume thousands hectors of forests. The exceptional floods that hit many parts of Africa in September 2007 are a reminder that too much water can be a problem, as well as too little water and Mozambique is always a victim of these floods every year. There are still prospects of more frequent extreme weather events such as droughts, floods and storms, as heating of the global atmosphere drives a more active and moisture-laden weather system. This is echoed by Dr.Maathai, the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner with the following assertion:

   Africa is the continent that will be hit hardest by climate change.
   Unpredictable rains and floods, prolonged droughts, subsequent crop
   failures and rapid desertification, among other things of global
   warming, have in fact already begun to change the face of the earth

At present, the rules for addressing climate change are being written by the powerful and polluting nations and as a result the deal they reach among themselves will pay particular attention to their interests (Toulmin, 2009). This leaves the African countries that are likely to be hit hard by climate change with little or no voice. …