It is very easy, when entering the fray about the climate crisis, to become embroiled in a veritable barrel of environmental red herrings, as activists, politicians and scientists punt their own agendas.
If the polar ice-caps melt will the world’s seas rise and drown low-lying cities? Will global warming cause current arable land to be turned into deserts? Can we develop drought-resistant and heat-resistant crops fast enough to ensure adequate food for a growing world population? Will there be enough water to go round? And so on.
The fact is, nobody knows, at least not for sure, how this crisis is going to play out. Moreover, the issues are so complex and interrelated, and the whole thing so huge, that what will happen ~ and is happening ~ here in South Africa, and what will happen in any other part of the world, could be very different.
Thus, there are very few “one size fits all” elements to the crisis.
In other words, what we know about how this will all play out in our lifetimes and beyond amounts to a helluva lot less than what we don’t know.
Because taking the myriad studies, reports and predictive models developed by eminent scientists elsewhere provides scant guidance for us South Africans.
Thus, it was heartening last month to see a report commissioned by the Daily Maverick and compiled by the Global Change Institute of the University of the Witwatersrand, entitled The Climate Risks We Face in the 21st Century. You can read more about the report in this edition on page 11, and download it from our website for further study (the link is at the end of our article).
While it is not well-edited, the report is a soberly-compiled and carefully curated analysis of what we face in the next ten to 30 years, based on the current trajectories of changing climate, carbon dioxide emissions and the like.
In particular, it seeks to highlight the five most prominent likely effects we face as a nation, giving reasons for their inclusion, as well as an assessment of their possible effects.
Chief among them will be two issues around food security, on the basis that, firstly, households will become less food-secure, because of rising prices and shortages, and, secondly, farmers will face increasing challenges leading to bankruptcies and an exodus from the agricultural sector.
Hunger, clearly, will become a major issue, and one may wonder whether we are not already staring this crisis in the face, thanks to job losses etc hastened by the Covid lockdown.
Among the other risks identified by the study, shortages of potable water will become an issue and, again, one wonders if we are not already staring this squarely in the face, given the appalling way South African municipalities, and national government, handle sewage treatment, rubbish removal and water wastage.
The potential for violence, and even civil (or national) war, should not be underestimated if we as a society neglect to address the very real developing issues around hunger and thirst. For, there can be few more desperate situations of hopelessness than to be unable to access the very basics of human life, ie, a belly-full of food and water with which to slake one’s thirst.
One doesn’t need to be a genius to know that we could ~ and should ~ all be doing a lot more to save ourselves; as individuals, local authorities and national governments, and the records of many ~ if not most ~ governments has been appalling. Donald Trump’s America, Bolsonaro’s Brazil, and our own ANC government’s approach have all been criminally poor, the consequences of which we will come to regret, sooner rather than later, and the report highlights one particular aspect in the lackadaisical approach of the government to the implementation of renewable energy strategies.
As smallholders we have, at least, some ability to mitigate the hunger issue for ourselves and our families, simply by becoming proficient and productive in growing and harvesting food, and conserving our water resouces, recycling waste etc.
But food production aside, perhaps most importantly the report gives each and every citizen and local authority five risks on which to focus. Five simple points on which we can start to develop strategies of mitigation, in the hope that we will at least survive as a species until mid-century.
Because the fifth point on which the report focusses is the question of species loss in the face of changing climates and diminished habitats.
The report is sobering, to say the least, and perhaps, frankly, it’s all too late to save us.