The world didn't change overnight, but earlier this month when scientists announced that levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had hit 400 parts per million, the future did.
The measurement was taken by a research station in Hawaii and showed that the global concentration of climate change-causing CO2 emissions had passed a critical threshold, rising to a level not seen in two million years.
"We have entered a new danger zone," said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations framework convention on climate change, the treaty that gave rise to the global Kyoto Protocol negotiations.
Calling for rapid intervention by all parts of society, she said: "The world must wake up and take note of what this means for human security, welfare and economic development."
Crossing the 400 parts per million threshold was "a wake-up call" that global temperatures were on a path to rise beyond the tipping point for human survival, said Earthlife Africa.
"We need to act now. We need to shift towards clean and renewable energy technology and drastically reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, otherwise we will bring our livelihoods even closer to collapse," said the nongovernmental organisation's spokesperson, Makoma Lekalakala.
Most of South Africa's energy needs are supplied by coal-fired power stations that not only contribute to the global build-up of CO2, but also emit other harmful chemicals into the atmosphere, he said.
The demand on Eskom's power stations is rising as winter approaches: the power utility's figures show daily electricity consumption reached a peak of close to 34 000MW in early May, compared to less than 32 000MW during the summer months.
In mid-May the available power supply exceeded demand by a margin of only 0.17% — the recommended reserve margin is between 10% and 15%.
Peak demand occurs from 5pm to 9pm, when people return home from work and use electricity for lighting, cooking and hot water. The flick of a switch sets off a complex chain of supply that stretches across hundreds of kilometres to power stations across the country. In an effort to encourage more efficient use of energy by all consumers, Eskom launched its annual eta Awards 24 years ago.
The motivation behind the competition is that as the high peak demand for electricity grows, the more new power stations are required. This not only requires massive capital investment and adds to South Africa's CO2 load, but also pushes up consumer energy costs.
Energy-efficiency benefits the environment in a number of ways. Every kilowatt-hour of electricity saved, for instance, translates into a saving of 1.4l of water and one less kilogram of carbon dioxide generated by a power station.
The Mail & Guardian has joined forces with the eta Awards as a media partner, to support efforts to scale up renewable energy projects and to encourage innovative leadership in the sector.
Rewarding excellence in energy efficiency
Eskom is celebrating the 24th annual eta Awards, which rewards excellence in the field of energy efficiency. Named after the Greek letter for efficiency, the awards recognises the exceptional and innovative efforts of individuals, students, companies and other institutions.
All the awards comprise a cash prize of R30 000 for the winner in each category and R5 000 for each of the runners-up, subject to the judges' discretion.
The categories are:
Commercial: the application of sound energy-efficiency principles for at least 12 months in the commercial sector, such as projects in hotels, shopping centres, businesses or hospitals.
Industrial: the application of sound energy-efficiency principles for at least 12 months in the industrial sector, such as projects at manufacturing plants, smelters, mines, and others. Innovative energy-saving solutions with an impact on the sector as a whole, or with the potential for uptake, are rewarded.
Residential: the application of sound energy-efficiency principles for at least 12 months in the residential sector, such as people reducing their household consumption drastically or residential street lighting projects.
Energy champion: aimed at individuals who have made a huge impact in terms of advocating or promoting energy efficiency.
Community: individuals or groups who are working hard to empower communities living in rural or urban areas by developing energy-efficient solutions that are sustainable, cost-efficient and improve the environment in which they live.
Young designers: aimed at school-going children with a creative idea, programme, design or prototype that looks at the efficient use of energy, not the generation of energy.
Energy-efficiency awareness: aimed at communication managers who have made an exceptional effort to promote energy efficiency among employees. The award also targets media specialists, including journalists and television producers, who actively promote energy efficiency through their work.
Innovation: prototypes that reduce the energy consumption of equipment of buildings in any way, or brilliant ideas that could contribute to energy efficiency.
Energy savings in households: celebrates people who have implemented innovative energy-efficiency applications at home.
Entries close on August 2 and the winners and finalists will be celebrated at a gala event on December 5 2013. Enter online at eta-awards.co.za or contact Annamarie Murray on [email protected]
This feature has been made possible by the Mail & Guardian's advertisers. Contents and photographs were sourced independently by the M&G's supplements editorial team. It forms part of the bigger supplement.