/Melanie Verwoerd: South Africas biggest problem isnt what you think it is

Melanie Verwoerd: South Africas biggest problem isnt what you think it is

2019-09-18 08:41

The earth is rapidly warming up. As extreme weather events continue, we will see an increase in refugees and migrants – especially into places like South Africa, which would increase xenophobic sentiments, writes Melanie Verwoerd.

I think we
can all agree that it was tough to be a South African over the last two weeks.
We had to face the violent undercurrent that runs through our nation. Men in particular
continue to turn on the weak and vulnerable – children, women and foreigners. As the
extent of this became more and more evident over the last few weeks it was
really hard to stay positive.

Then, to
add to my general sense of despair, I was invited to a talk by Mary Robinson
(former UN Human Rights Commissioner and President of Ireland) and Kumi Naidoo
(former head of Greenpeace and now global head of Amnesty International) on
climate change.

I regard
myself as generally well informed on environmental issues, but just hearing the
facts scared the living daylights out of me. The bottom line is that if we
don’t act immediately and decisively, we are facing a catastrophe that could
totally eradicate the human species – which might be great for the planet, but not so
much for our children and grandchildren.

You might
think I’m exaggerating, but this is what we know for sure:

The earth
is rapidly warming up. Its average temperature has increased by about 1°C since the Industrial Revolution and it keeps on rising. This is
bringing us very close to the 1.5°C global average increase that
scientists say is the real danger point.

Why the
danger? Because it would mean that
nature and climate cycles will change irreversibly. For one thing the polar ice
caps, already melting at an alarming rate, will melt completely. Ok, so that
means your bucket list of going to Antarctica will be something of the past?
Not the worst, but it will also mean that the ocean will rise by between 6 and
8 meters (3-4 storeys high). This will result in large scale flooding of coastal
towns (including Cape Town) leaving large sections of it under the ocean.

More
importantly, we will see more and more extreme weather events – which means
hurricanes (as we have seen in Mozambique recently) and lengthy droughts in
South Africa and neighbouring states. 

Of course
we are already seeing much of this happening. Remember Day Zero in Cape Town?
Many other towns have also run out of water and we have seen extreme floods in
places such as KZN.

These
weather events are already having and will continue to have a negative effect
on food production – resulting in sharp food price increases.

As these
extreme weather events continue, we will see an increase in refugees and
migrants – especially into places such as South Africa, which in turn would
increase xenophobic sentiments.

So we
simply have to make sure that we do not get to a 1.5°C rise in
temperature by reducing our rate of emissions. The problem is that at the
current rate we will run out of time in eight years. Then we can not reverse
the effects of what we have done have.

This means
that governments (including our own) have to take dramatic steps such as
reversing our dependence on coal and other fossil fuels. However, there are a
few other things that they can do immediately that can make a big difference.

1)      Give generous tax incentives to people and institutions to change to solar power generation. There is absolutely no reason why homes
in South Africa should not be using alternative energy.

2)      Allow people to sell or get a rebate
for pushing green energy back into the grid.

3)      Generate a model where Eskom can
also invest in green energy and allow municipalities to make money out of alternative
energy sources.

4)      Protect our strategic water
resources. It is just mind boggling that mining continues to be allowed in strategic water catchment areas (the
10% of our land that generates over 50% of our water), reducing and polluting the
little water we have.

5)      Educate girls and women. Scientists
have shown that this has a massive positive impact on climate change.

6)      Make climate change an important
part of the school syllabus.

7)      Look closely at our farming
practices. We have to find more climate resilient ways of growing food.
Agriculture currently uses 60% of all our water and pollutes a lot of what is
left.

8)      In our cities, designate certain car
lanes for cars carrying more than one person. This has had a lot of success in
other countries. By encouraging carpooling, you reduce the number of cars on the road, traffic flows more
easily and emissions drop.

9)      Ban all single use plastics. Don’t
let the plastic industry tell you the answer lies in recycling. It doesn’t! Single
use plastics – which we really don’t need – are choking our oceans and animals.
Many of our neighbours have banned these types of plastics – so can we. There
are many other alternatives.

As private citizens, we can also do things that can make a
difference:

1)      Educate yourself about climate
change and how you can help to reduce emissions.

2)     
Plant
a few Spekbome (Portulacaria afra). These clever little plants are
environmental miracle workers. Hectare for hectare, they are ten times more effective than the
Amazon rainforest at removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
One hectare of Spekboom can remove between 4 and 10 tons of carbon per year out
of the atmosphere. They are indigenous and really easy to grow.

3)     
Stop
using plastic. Period. Complain to your supermarket about all the packaging and
encourage them to get alternatives.

4)     
If
you can afford it – install solar panels.

5)     
The same goes for water tanks.

This week the children of the world are going on
climate strikes. There will be events from Cape Town to Klerksdorp and Louis
Trichardt. Get involved. The future of the world depends on it and perhaps it
will make you feel a little bit better about our world and country. 

– Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland.

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