/ 15 February 2019

Editorial: Our moment of reckoning is now

Howard College campus
Editorial: Our moment of reckoning is now (Photo Archive)

There’s a universally accepted joy in being a child. Or at least, there should be. Perhaps the only aspect that can compete with the wonder that the world holds in infancy is the sheer, madcap, unbridled sense of invincibility. From careening down hillsides and diving into murky waters to later experiments that, on reflection, draw an incredulous smile or shiver.

Of course, as we become older we become a lot less brazenly reckless and wanton in our behaviour. No longer endlessly seeking out danger we rather seek out those comforts afforded by society that offer us safety and succour. The likes of life insurance salesmen and news media warning of any monsters that threaten our mollycoddled existence.

And then sometimes, just sometimes, you will encounter events that shake your veneer of infallibility. Like a car accident that nearly takes a life. Or a house close by on fire. Or a pigtailed teenager telling you she’s scared and it’s time for us to panic. Addressing leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Greta Thunberg (16) tore back the curtain and told us that our economic successes, political parties and media are indeed failures.

The Mail & Guardian aims to bring you curated, considered and thought-provoking content to help inform your view of the world. In that we now too must plead guilty to not having done enough to drive home the crisis that we collectively face. As environmental reporter Sipho Kings writes in Age of environmental breakdown, we have reached our moment of reckoning.

For two centuries, since we turned burning coal and steam into power, we have achieved incredible feats. Of all the species on this planet, ours is the one curing diseases and piloting a rover around Mars.

But, as we report this week, we are now counting the cost of this incredible progress. The natural world is falling silent as our profligate use of pesticides kills off insects. They are joined by the rhino we’re hunting to extinction, and everything else that we don’t keep alive to eat.

READ MORE: We’re causing an insect apocalypse

We are living through the sixth mass extinction — the last one occurred when an asteroid crashed here, ending the reign of the dinosaurs.

So profound has been our impact on Earth that we are now living in a new era — the Anthropocene — named because it is us who are determining the destiny of everything else sharing the planet with us.

This catastrophic extinction will only get worse, because of that coal that we are burning. In 2015, all but two of the world’s governments pledged to do more to tackle global warming and climate change. Ours was one of these.

Yet, this year, the world will emit more carbon than at any other time in human history. South Africa continues to build the world’s third- and fourth-biggest coal-fired power stations. Our president does not say much about this extraordinary time of ecosystem collapse and climate change.

Make no mistake, this is our time of reckoning. We have been warned for decades. We can no longer warn about potential catastrophe. If we do not step out and change how we live in this world, our civilisation will collapse. And not sometime in the distant future. It is already fraying at the edges. Listen to the people who will inherit this world. They deserve one that supports their hopes and dreams.

At the M&G we have committed to redoubling efforts to ensure we offer even greater prominence to the threat of climate change and what we, our political principles, business leaders and you could and should be doing about it.

For now, in the words of Greta: “I don’t want you to be hopeful, I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear that I feel every day and then I want you to act.”