The United Nations environment agency unveiled a new atlas yesterday that shows the dramatic environmental changes in Africa in a visually digestible format. While Africa only accounts for 4% of the worlds CO2 emissions, it is said that it's inhabitants will suffer the most from the effects of climate change. As real as it is, for many, the toll our actions take on this earth is an abstract concept. This new 400 page book features over 300 satellite before and after pictures of the continent, displaying visual documentation of the huge environmental impacts of climate change and local non-sustainable practices. Below you can see the impact of urban sprawl and aggressive agriculture on the rural nation of Burundi. See more striking examples after the jump and click on the images to enlarge...
These pictures display the enormous reduction of Lake Chad in Niger. The giant blue body on the left is the lake in 1972, once the worlds 6th largest lake. The picture on the right is Lake Chad in 2007, dwarfed to 1/10th it's 1972 size by drought and human diversion.
Here you can see the massive deforestation that has occurred in the Baban Forest in Niger. Due to rapid population growth and and subsequent agricultural expansion much of the forest has been lost. The remaining woodlands are being degraded by overexploitation for fuelwood and non-wood forest products. To compound the areas problems the land has been farmed nearly continuously shortened or no fallow period for it to recover fertility, and as the population continues to grow the problem is going to continue to get worse.
Oil and gas are the major force driving the economy of Equatorial Guinea. The pictures above show the rapid expansion of the Punta Europa facility between 200 and 2007.
The Punta Europa plant flares natural gas and associated byproductsâ€”initially at a rate of approximately 2.5 million m3 per day to the current volume of about 3.5 million m3.
There are already projects underway to reduce the facilities greenhouse gas emissions. They are projected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at one plant by 2.85 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.
These two pictures show a rather stark change in the Songor Lagoon over just 10 years. There has been a significant reduction in the surface area of the lagoon as well as a general decline in the environmental health of the whole area. This is largely attributed to the salt extraction at the western end of the lagoon and diversion of feeder streams for irrigation.
Along with giving us a striking visual representation of our impact, it reminds us that while we draw lines and borders on the map, the effects of our actions do not. This is a global problem that will need a global effort for a global solution. As Marthinus Van Schalkwyk, South Africa's minister of environmental affairs and tourism states...
"Africa is one of the regions least responsible for climate change, and is also least able to afford the costs of adaptation."
This atlas is a great way for anyone, from scholars to the average Joe to explore the impact we have had on our planet. The compilers of the atlas say it will be used as an educational tool as well as a tool to influence policy decisions. "The atlas is a way of bringing local information to a global audience," said project director Asbindu Singh. "If one action is taken on the basis of this report, it will be a huge success."
On a more positive note, among the images of the ravaged planet you will also find some examples of where current environmental projects have been having positive effects. For example some of the satellite images show wetlands have bounced back or where land degradation has been countered.
You can view the "Atlas of Our Changing Environment" online or through Google Earth by visiting the United Nations Environment Programme's website. A paperback version is also available at EarthPrint.com for $150.