Ed’s letter: Apocalypse just now

Posted by Justin Fox on 16 March 2020

The document doesn’t make for pretty reading. ‘South Africa’s Third National Communication under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’ paints a bleak future. It predicts drastic temperature rises with projections of an increase of 4 °C over much of South Africa’s interior by 2100. The impact on agriculture, water security, biodiversity and human health will be devastating. ‘There is no certainty that adaptation to a 4 °C world is possible,’ the World Bank is quoted in the document.

Gallo Images/Getty Images

What might South Africa look like under such conditions? Endless heat waves, food shortages, killer droughts. For much of the time the air is hot, heavy and polluted. Before going outside, you check your phone for air-quality warnings. Everyone wears surgical masks.

Vast areas of the planet have become uninhabitable. There are few forests left and the permafrost is pouring greenhouse gases into an already overburdened atmosphere. Eskom’s last coal furnaces have closed, but that’s made little difference because we’re still breathing the exhaust fumes of millions of vehicles.

Cyclones and hurricanes wreak devastation with growing frequency. Disaster relief is stretched. Diseases such as malaria and cholera are rampant. Due to rising sea levels, many places have been evacuated for higher ground. Millions have been displaced; many are starving. There are food riots and civil wars. Countries with enough resources are closing their borders, but how long can they hold out? Is this the beginning of the end for our species?

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Earth Day is on 22 April, and 2020 marks its 50th anniversary. On this day in 1970, some 20-million people took to the streets in the USA to demand a new way forward for the planet. Within five years, Congress had drafted some of the most important environmental legislation to date.

Today, the Earth Day Network is the world’s largest environmental movement. It works with 75,000 partners in more than 190 countries to drive action around the issues of climate action, science and education, people and communities, conservation and restoration, plastic and pollution.

The theme of Earth Day 2020 is climate action. Our planet is facing a crisis that requires a game-changing response. Scientists have warned that we have just over a decade to halve our emissions to avoid the most ruinous impacts of climate change. We need urgent action at every level. What can you and I do?

Be accountable. Calculate your own carbon footprint (carbonfootprint.com) and try to offset carbon emissions in every way you can.

Unplug. Use energy more economically, buy goods with high energy-efficiency and switch to renewable energy.

Travel smarter. Transport is one of the biggest carbon emitters. Use public transport, a bicycle or walk instead of a car or plane.

Eat smarter. Your food’s carbon footprint – its foodprint – is the greenhouse gas emitted by growing, transporting, cooking and disposing of it. The mass production of food (and its wastage) has a devastating impact. Eat plant-based meals, buy local, reduce waste and compost your leftovers.

Shop smarter. Support companies driven by sustainability and transparency. Eliminate single-use plastic, shop local and join the circular economy that keeps goods out of landfills.

Vote Earth. South Africa is a significant emitter of CO2 and remains committed to fossil fuels. Interrogate the environmental policies of all political parties and candidates. Vote for those with convincing plans to protect the Earth. Hold them to account!

Organise. Collective action can have a major impact on change. Consider how you can gather support by mobilising a larger group.

Join one of the many events on Earth Day. In Durban, there’s a Clean Trafalgar gathering at 10am at Trafalgar Drive ([email protected]). In Mogwase, Pilanesberg, join the ‘Save our Dying Planet’ teaching workshop at 3pm ([email protected]). In Noordhoek, Cape Town, there’s a Bring on the Kids event at 6pm ([email protected]).

South Africa has a challenging path ahead in its transition to a low-carbon economy, while also tackling unemployment, poverty and crime. But for as long as greenhouse gases remain above net zero, its threat will overtake all others. Changing to a greener economy is simply not negotiable.

Happy, greener travels in this Earth month,


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