Opinion piece

Patrick Dowling

Saturday, September the 8th is going to be a big day as thousands of people around the world “rise” for climate action and instruct leaders, real and aspirant to stop the madness and shift the world economy towards freedom from fossil fuels.

During the Cape Town event taking place at the Rosebank Methodist Hall, representatives of youth, farmers, government, media, faith-based communities, business, academia and the legal profession will talk briefly about what we all in these different walks of life must be doing to avert a looming crisis.

This is part of the lead up to the global climate action summit being held in San Francisco bringing leaders and people together from around the world to “Take Ambition to the Next Level” and providing a launchpad for deeper worldwide commitments and accelerated action from countries—supported by all sectors of society—that can put the globe on track to prevent dangerous climate change and realize the historic Paris Agreement setting the stage to reach net zero emissions by mid-century.​​

In 2015 world leaders finally, very belatedly, reached an agreement in Paris where there was recognition, formally and consensually that we had better all attend to the science and the mounting daily evidence of climate change. As the usually staid and scientifically careful National Geographic magazine put it last year in one of their lead articles – the world is getting warmer – it’s because of us – we’re sure.

The evidence has in fact been conclusive since the late nineteen seventies when NASA scientist, James Hansen pointed out to those in decision making power who would listen, that Earth had been warming since 1880, and the warming would reach “almost unprecedented magnitude” in the 21st century.

Leadership listening has always been a problem, then and more recently. As the facts mounted, so did levels of denial and doubt mongering. A few of the favourite arguments, all thoroughly countered by climate science, are:  it’s happened before, it’s the sun, it’s not bad, there is no agreement, the temperature record is unreliable, Antarctica is gaining ice etc etc).

Throughout the painful decades of COP process and Kyoto protocol the main purpose has always been to delay concrete and binding decision making, not to address the dire need for humanity to reverse the coal and oil-fired trend that has seen us go from 280 parts per million CO2 equivalent in the atmosphere to over 400 parts currently.

Owing to our extra green-house-gas induced return of more long wave radiation back to Earth, our climate is absorbing a lot of heat, warming the oceans, land, and atmosphere and melting the ice. Disturbingly it adds up to 4 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs worth of heat every second or more than a million degrees centigrade per second, a little physics that should not be taken lightly by the species allowing it to happen.

350.org under the visionary leadership of Bill McKibben has steadfastly demanded that attention be paid to the planet’s safe operating space of not more than 350 ppm of greenhouse gases. This requires that more than half of the world’s known fossil fuel reserves of oil, coal, gas and tar sands be left wherever they are, under deserts, beneath the ocean floor, in mountain tops, trapped in deep rock fault lines.

The number of other voices of courageous and credible leaders speaking out about climate change and what we should be doing about it is increasing all the time: Pope Francis, Naomi Klein, Kate Raworth, George Monbiot, Charles Keeling, Katharine Hayhoe, Barack Obama, James Hansen, Syukuro Manabe and Liliana Jaramillo to name but a few.

Though significant, the number, volume and authority of these voices need to grow, especially in countries like South Africa where emissions are high and ambition low.

That is why on the 8th of September Cape Town is joining the world community of concerned citizens to send a strong message to leaders from leaders. Influential individuals from the ranks of youth, journalists, academics, women, farmers, lawyers, government and business will be providing answers to questions that focus on the relation of their work and struggles to climate change; questions like:

How much confidence should South Africans be putting into the development of a robust, world class and implementable Climate Act?

How is provincial government working with information such as the above average temperature increases expected both along the coast and in the interior?

How does the City propose to address issues like reduced resource use such as water and coal derived electricity which are necessary climate change responses when it is so dependent on income from the sale of such services?

The world has overshot several greenhouse gas reduction targets. Has science reviewed those calculations and put forward new proposals or have researchers entered a wait-and- see period? What would you suggest for Cape Town and South Africa policy makers on how to get beyond the socio-political inertia?

Many of South Africa’s biggest banks are still planning to finance new polluting coal-fired power stations. How can SA’s good-on-paper legislation best be used to stop this trend soon?

Is there any evidence of businesses moving away from the DUD (dig, use, dump) approach to more circular economic models and how do we spur on such a transition?

Climate change is expected to reshape the global economy and reduce its output while possibly amplifying existing global inequalities. What should we be doing right now in response to such an eventuality being possible, but not guaranteed?

In North America 21 youths are taking on the U.S. Government with regard to climate change and its effects on future generations. Are youth-based organizations in South Africa following these proceedings or pursuing other strategies related to climate change and the accountability of leaders? If so what are the main goals and how can civil society support youth’s efforts?

Pope Francis is quoted as saying “The world can no longer afford the politics of delay. We desperately need both courage and foresight that prioritizes long-term sustainability.” How much traction is this sort of message getting on the ground where faith adherents live, gather, pray, work, learn and interact with the world and its leadership?

Disrupted as they have been by the digital age and corporate / political interference in journalistic objectivity, how do news people nowadays take on the embattled issue of climate change and do they see positive effects of their work?

Farmers in the Western Cape have apparently lost 14 billion rand in the latest drought. Is this seen as a clear climate change indicator or a seasonal misfortune. Either way how does this sector, large and small, traditional and emerging, see itself coping in the years to come?

Such questions, the responses and ensuing discussions will, it is the hope of the organisers, contribute to a dynamic South African climate discourse that considers how a developing, unequal, but polluting country can participate meaningfully and actively in confronting a threat to human existence.

Join us physically or in spirit on the 8th September

Enquiries can be directed to:

Vainola Makan – vainola@safcei.org.za

Lerato Ngakane – lerato.ngakane@350.org

Patrick Dowling – patrick@tops.org.za