Voices

We are killing our planet

2019-05-17 16:00

Our arrogance in thinking that we are not ruled by nature will doom us. We are at its mercy, writes Matthew Fields.

Look around at all we have built. I see our buildings that scrape the sky. I see people stroke the clouds on planes that take them around the world.

I see economies so interconnected that it is cheaper to buy a shirt from the other side of the planet than it is to go to your local store. I see a world where freedom and human rights are given seats of honour.

Alongside them are technologies almost magical. Our societies are so advanced that we could reasonably call ourselves gods.

We can fly like gods. We can build like gods. We control the weather like gods. Soon, we will create our own mechanical intelligence. And we will be their gods.

But we are not gods. It only takes one bad summer for us to starve. It only takes one bad drought to push society to savagery. It only takes a few metres of a rising ocean to sink our great cities.

It only takes a change of a few degrees in the temperature to destroy all that we gods have built.

We are not gods. Gods control nature. We are at its mercy. Our arrogance in thinking that we are not ruled by nature will doom us. The “us” that I refer to is the entire human species.

All of us have joined hands to systematically destroy the planet we live on. We are sinking our lifeboat. Water is pouring in, yet some of you say that the leak doesn’t exist.

It is this attitude that is killing us. We are in a swimming pool and we are pouring boiling water into it. You are not worried because the water does not land directly on you. But trust me, it will.

Man-made climate change will boil all of us. What else could we expect? Can we seriously imagine any lighter response from a system that has been heated, suffocated, stuffed with plastic and disinfected of life?

We have treated the planet like a roast chicken. It will now treat us like an oven.

Nowhere is immune from this. Most of the climate change coverage focuses on the rest of the world. We hear about the Artic melting and Florida sinking. Why should a South African care?

Now, 300 000 people are employed in our wine industry. Climate change will wreck all of them. The farms will dry up and burn under the sun. That is climate change.

Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, East London and Paarl (yes, even inland Paarl) will be under water by 2050.

Our top tourist destination: gone. Our most productive harbours: gone. Millions of people: gone?

Nearly every political issue in this country will be meaningless if we do not beat climate change.

Land redistribution? Not when all the farms are barren and useless. State capture? Not when the state is too overstretched trying to hold a starving nation together. Crime? You have seen nothing yet. Foreign debt?

Let’s just say that the oceans are not the only thing we will be drowning in.

Disease, famine, the breakdown of government institutions and the possible collapse of the state. Civil war. You may say that this is far-fetched. You may say that this is depressing.

You may ask why I am so doom and gloom. This is real. The scientific community is unanimous. This is depressing. It should be.

South Africans do not realise the danger that we are in. The world does not realise it. On the list of problems we face, climate change should be number one. It isn’t.

We are in grave danger. This century may be the worst in our history.

It may also be the best. There is hope. There is always hope. That is the most beautiful thing about humanity. We can do something; we just have to know that something must be done.

We are massive contributors to the problem. South Africa’s energy system is one of the most polluting in the world. We South Africans haven’t fully embraced the “trends” of recycling and reducing waste.

(To be fair, the resources are not there for most of us). We do not care where our trash goes and we don’t care about what goes into the air.

The fact that we are a big cause of the problem means that we can be part of the solution. The first step for South Africans is to realise that this is a problem, and it is our problem.

If you know about climate change, do not keep it to yourself. The second step for us is to become lovers of science. Too many people trash climate change because they do not understand the science behind it.

If you are reading this online, open a new tab and read a summary of the UN’s latest findings. We have 11 years to prevent catastrophe. If you have the privilege of having a phone with basic search capability, use it. Teach your children to love science and to love the environment.

The third step is to use your power as a voter. None of the parties has made climate change a priority in their manifestos. It’s still early, so they will if you pressure them. They serve at your pleasure. They are your representatives. It is your job to tell them what to do.

Write to them. Pressure your councillors. Find out who your member of Parliament is – and don’t let their phone stop ringing!

Our generation, like the one before, has its own struggles. We must approach climate change how the stalwarts of old tackled apartheid. This is our apartheid. We need a renewed rolling mass action – we must pressure government to end the wholesale butchering of our planet.

Just as the entire international community turned on apartheid South Africa, so too must the entire world turn on those in power who intend to do nothing.

If Oliver Tambo could galvanise resistance to apartheid around the world, we can surely do the same. We have modern communications, transport and a crisis just as deplorable.

We have the power, and the cause.

Organising global civil action against climate change, or helping to do so, is the greatest contribution that you can make.

You can also use your power as a consumer. Buy products with lower carbon footprints and products that are not wastefully shipped across the world.

Invest in green solutions for your homes, such as solar power, solar geysers and the simple act of turning off lights that you are not using. Recycle your trash.

Beating climate change will be hard, it will be expensive and it will take a very long time, but it will be worth it. It will be worth it if our children can swim at Addington Beach, drink Cape wine, eat mealies grown in South African soil and breathe clean air.

We owe it to them, and we owe it to ourselves.

If you are still not convinced, I would encourage you to watch Mad Max. It will give you some survival tips for the coming apocalypse.

Fields is an economics student at the University of Cape Town

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October 13 2019