One Minute to Midnight: We are fast running out of time
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ON AUGUST 9, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its sixth report, which prompted the UN Secretary General to declare a “code red for humanity”.
Often when I make predictions, I pray that I’m wrong. After having read the report, this sentiment presents itself stronger than ever. Why is it so difficult for so many to trust in science on this issue?
Even as an individual, if you pay enough attention to your surroundings, wherever in the world you are, you will notice our influence on the environment, and it’s not been positive. The consequences of taking the gamble of turning away from the finding of the report is not something any thinking person should be willing to do.
This is the most consequential decade for humanity so far. What we do in the next 10 years will determine what kind of future will be faced by future generations or whether they will have one at all.
Considering what science has been saying loudly for a long time and the substantial increase of extreme weather events, it is clear that we are too close to the cliff of catastrophic, runaway, irreversible climate change.
Just to be clear, the planet that we live on does not need saving. It is humanity that does. We are as much a part of this planet as any other organism, and even though we’ve created more resilience for ourselves artificially, we’re unequivocally aware that it’s not long till the devastation we’ve reaped on nature comes back to haunt us.
The planet will still be here, but we might not. The forests will grow back and the oceans will recover and so on; we should be painfully aware that the struggle to avert disastrous climate change is about protecting our children and their children’s future.
Many governments and businesses continue to make policies and decisions pushing us closer to the climate precipice. Though there have been and there is a growing number, we need more leaders speaking out more forcefully and taking practical action on climate change.
Fortunately, IPCC scientists believe there is time, though the window of opportunity is small and fast closing. Unfortunately, if we are too late; the ecosystem will not wait for us to get our collective act together, and with climate change, we are running against a clock that is ticking mercilessly.
A 2018 IPCC report made it clear that emissions need to have peaked and started coming down drastically by the end of the decade if we are to stand a chance of avoiding ruinous climate change. It is 2021 and we’re seeing the stark consequences of our inactivity in addressing the problem.
The climate challenge does not exist in isolation and is inextricably linked to our unjust economic system. This system has driven us to a point where we have destroyed our biodiversity and ecological integrity in pursuit of infinite profit on a finite planet.
When we reflect on the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, we saw those with power respond with system protection, system recovery and system maintenance when what was needed then, and is even more urgently now, is system innovation, system redesign and system transformation.
South Africa must stop new investments in fossil fuel now. Eskom needs to rapidly move in the direction of fully embracing renewable energy, and do it in a way that doesn’t punish workers in the industry. Our predicament is not their fault. Investment in clean energy will provide ample jobs for them and many others.
The longer Eskom, Sasol and South Africa, as a nation, delay, the more we jeopardise our present and future. The most successful companies and countries in the future will be those that embrace and get as far ahead of the green technology curve now.
South Africa, as a country rich in resources, is far behind in this regard, where we could have been an inspiration and support for much weaker economies in Africa. As a nation we’ve left it too late by relying on apartheid-era energy practices. In the same manner we’ve gotten rid of the exploitative, unjust and cruel system that was apartheid, we can do the same with our energy generation that exhibits some of the same qualities.
The horrific violence, loss of life and property damage which South Africa recently experienced could, sadly, turn out to be a Sunday morning picnic compared to what’s in store for us if we do not address the climate challenge in an intersectional way that also addresses deep income inequality.
The Covid-19 pandemic has laid bare the deep inequalities within our society, the weaknesses in our systems of governance, and the lack of vision of our political leaders, as well as the endemic corruption at all levels of government. Although this historical moment is one of extreme anxiety, fear and confusion, it also offers greater potential for substantial structural and systemic change at local and global levels than at any point in human history: If we do not change fundamentally, most will perish, and faster than we dare to believe.
It is astonishing to see the backward thinking in the Ministry of Energy. The Karpowership disaster is just one example of a combination of corruption and backward thinking. The idea of going back to nuclear energy is also a crazy option when all the studies highlight the capability of addressing all our needs with the cheapest electricity available in the form of renewable energy.
Why would we take a risk on nuclear energy that is too expensive, too dangerous and, as a proposed “solution” to climate change, will deliver too little, too late? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that the supply chain of corruption in renewable energy is nowhere near as long, deep and far-reaching as those to be found in oil, coal, gas and nuclear?
To capitalise on this moment and make the massive changes, we need a fundamental rethink of how we approach campaigning and activism. We have to be looking at how we can accelerate progress.
The way forward is in harnessing the power we, as citizens, have at our disposal and creating the maximum level of unity and resistance to those in government and business dragging their feet. We can follow the creative example of the Climate Justice Charter formulated by South African civil society.
Contained within are practical and vital methods for us to reach our goal of being a climate-conscious and prosperous society. These include, creation of socially owned and community-based renewable energy, feeding ourselves through food sovereignty, democratising the water commons and several others.
The reality of our predicament is upon us and we have to decide where we place our trust – the obvious answer being in ourselves. If we refuse to rectify our mistakes, Mother Nature will do it for us, and she will not be forgiving or discerning. The IPCC report shows us that nature will not negotiate, but thankfully it has given us plenty of warning.
Though we cannot change the science, we can change political will. It is fortunate then, that political will is a renewal asset since, as a democracy, we should be able to toss such failing leaders out of power. This might necessitate some significant changes to our political system and Constitution to ensure a governance system that does not get hijacked by political parties which operate in wholly unaccountable ways.
Hopefully, the consequences of not making these changes to our food, transport and primarily our economic system as they become clear, will spur humanity to take up the highest level of moral courage yet seen. Hopefully, the government and business will be pushed into taking up the urgent action required to secure a prosperous future for all life on our planet.
* Kumi Naidoo was the global head of Greenpeace and Amnesty International. He is a global ambassador of Africans Rising for Justice, Peace and Dignity.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.