Fossil-fuel industry a grim reaper

Over the next 20 years the deaths will rise to 20 000, as will the costs of an environment going awry.

These are the findings of a mammoth analysis of 184 countries, titled Climate Vulnerability Monitor, by the Spanish environmental non-governmental organisation Dara.

It has called for the report to serve as a warning. "Inaction would see a continuing escalation of the costs of the climate crisis and a diminishing ability for any policy action to bring it under control," Dara said.

The picture the 331-page report paints is bleak. It said the biggest problems were caused by power plants, cars and industries that run on fossil fuels. The pollution emitted gets into people's lungs, with fatal results. "Children are particularly vulnerable, in particular to mortality resulting from acute respiratory illnesses worsened by high levels of particulate exposure," it said.

The pollution also warms the planet, changing the climate, which  means weather patterns are starting to change. And, as the climate turns increasingly weird, so centuries of human activity will be dramatically affected. Wildfires will burn in the dry seasons, in the wet seasons heavy rain will flood countries, as has been happening in England, and crops will fail.

Weather change
"Agricultural losses from climate change harm subsistence farmers whose insufficient income or capital reserves prevent them from taking steps to adapt to weather change," Dara said.

And these are just a few of the findings. The report looks at 34 different aspects of society and the planet that will be adversely affected.

Dara's headline findings are that R4.6-trillion worth of global gross domestic product (GDP) is being lost through the damage caused by burning fossil fuels. This goes right from the hospital costs of asthma patients to forests dying from acid rain.

A further R5.9-trillion is lost because of an unpredictable climate, an example being the failure of crops in the United States and Russia in recent years.

For Basic countries – Brazil, South Africa, India and China – the report found that the GDP cost of fossil fuels was 2%. By 2030, this will increase to 3.1%.

Following are the sectors that the report predicts will be most affected in South Africa. All the figures are in addition to the death and damage that are not caused by climate or carbon-related activities.

Agriculture: R1.2-billion in damage a year is predicted by 2030. South Africa has enjoyed two decades of above-average rainfall after the devastating droughts of the 1980s. However, climate change will move rainfall to the far north and south of the planet. It will also bring sharp and heavy rain mainly in the wet season, leaving the dry season totally dry. Drought and inconsistent rain will lead to soaring food prices and famine.

Forestry: R16.9-billion is predicted in damage and lost productivity by 2030. Heavy industry emits chemicals that damage ozone levels and create acid rain, which damages tree fertility and growth. South Africa is one of only seven countries in the highest risk category.

Air pollution: It will cause 9 000 deaths and 400 000 people will be affected by 2030. Rapid urban growth is the problem here. Cities now hold 50% of the world's population and produce 80% of its greenhouse-gas emissions. Death will come from asthma, lung cancer, cardiopulmonary disease and acute respiratory disease. A total of 7500 deaths have occurred from air pollution driven by carbon intensity and climate change in South Africa.

Wildfires: They will cost the economy R4.4-million by 2030.

Hunger: 850-million people go to bed hungry every night around the world. Of these, 200-million are in this situation because of climate change. Of all the millennium development goals, eliminating hunger is the one making the least progress. Declining agricultural and fishery yields and crop failures will put more and more people in danger of hunger.

Sipho Kings
Sipho is the Mail & Guardian's News Editor. He also does investigative environment journalism.
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