A few days ago, I walked 71 metres down into the Earth through an elaborate tunnel system that was dug by the North Koreans in the 1970s to send troops under the Demilitarised Zone and into the South.
If the tunnel had not been discovered, North Korea would have been able to pour thousands of men into Seoul within about 40 minutes and perhaps have ignited a war that would have involved China and America.
The amount of manpower that it took to dig the tunnel was enormous.
Today, this monument to wasted government effort is treated like a Disneyland. Thousands of South Koreans, including children, make the steep walk each day into caverns chiselled out of solid granite.
Once down the steep incline, the tunnel is lit by a string of lights, and the pathway is narrow, wet and low. If your height is that of the average Kenyan, you’ll skin your head on the rocks. The tunnel is blocked so it can not ever be used for a military purpose.
Climbing up the steep walkway to the sunlight, I wondered what would have happened if all of that North Korean manpower had been spent on planting maize, providing health care, building homes and planning for climate change.
Like so many other places in the world, North Korea is facing famine.
Climate change meant no spring rains, and the drought is the worst in over 100 years. The only thing propping up the new North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, is China’s willingness to pump in food and fuel.
In America, we’ve built our own sort of tunnels to nowhere. While there has been a vicious and politicised debate about the existence of climate change, the seas have been rising at a perilous rate on the East Coast.
From Maryland to Maine, according to a recent Associated Press story, the landscape is changing at a much faster pace than anticipated.
In Kenya, untold lifetimes have been spent discussing everything but climate change. Farmers are in daily battle with lions and elephants who are encroaching on cropland in search of food.
Pick any recent topic in Kenya: Terrorism, the presidential election, football. All are much more palatable subjects than climate. But that climate change will determine future wars (more of them), human migration (lots to come), disease and the availability of food and water.
As I write this, America is debating the outcome of the Supreme Court ruling on health care. At the same time, half of the nation’s firefighting forces are fighting a blaze of epic proportions in Colorado that was spurred by a decade of warming.
Other countries are taking real action on climate. In South Korea, the government is considering measures that will require citizens to buy smaller cars and use less fuel.
They are planning to heavily fine builders who do not put water-saving toilets into new construction. But most of us have not yet caught on. Note the jumbo, gas-eating cars on America’s choked highway systems.
Note huge, yet unpublicised blazes in states outside of Colorado. And, note that drought has already been declared in many parts of America where the hottest months of summer are ahead.
Time is running out to take charge of our most-pressing priority.