Our climate is collapsing. At least 70 people died in KwaZulu-Natal this week, as tonnes of rain smashed into the ground and water tore through poorly built infrastructure. Hundreds died in Mozambique as Cyclone Idai ripped an entire city apart. The maize crop is staggering under the effects of last year’s drought, intense heat and now vicious hail.
All of this was predicted. This is the inevitable outcome of a global system in which we don’t pay the true cost for the things we use. Shopping centres and mines are built in the wetlands that used to slow down floodwaters. Oil refineries dump poisoned air into the lungs of children, denying them the chance to create a better future for all of us. Power plants pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, trapping heat and warming the planet that we live on. As we report this week, that warming means our economy is at least 10% smaller than it could be — that’s a loss of R500-billion.
It would seem reasonable to expect that this massive economic loss, and continuing deaths as ecosystems collapse, would be treated as issues of grave concern by the politicians asking for our votes in less than two weeks’ time. Without a living world, there is no life. Without life, there are no voters. Without a mandate, you cannot control the levers of patronage. But our political establishment has been deafening in its silence on climate change.
It isn’t because this is a complicated issue — if you do things that break the world, then you have to live in a broken world.
Our major parties all purport to care about climate change. They have neatly bulleted paragraphs talking about renewable energy and a sustainable future. The president even mentioned it in his State of the Nation address.
Words. Tick-box exercises, because climate change is now an issue of international diplomacy. You don’t want to be seen to be ignoring a problem that is literally drowning island states. But there’s no such concern about side-stepping the problem when talking to voters.
Instead, the minerals minister, Gwede Mantashe, uses words that show how little our government really cares about reducing carbon emissions. Extolling the virtues of an industry that continues to destroy communities, he has talked up “clean coal”, a term coined by the industry’s propaganda arm. There is no such thing.
Coal kills people and drives global warming. It poisons the mining communities that produce the industry’s immense profits. Renewable energy does neither.
But coal is deeply ingrained in the way our political elite loot the countryside to pay for their Johnnie Walker Blue Label whisky, Gucci clothes and lives of largesse. That looting is so blind that it has given rise to coal contracts that are so corrupt that Eskom struggles to keep the lights on.
This is really why our politicians remain silent when it comes to climate change, even as rising waters flood people’s lungs and snuff out their lives. To care about our future would mean a loss of income. None of our political elite deserves our vote. How can we entrust our futures to people who put their next shopping trip ahead of our continued existence?