It reportedly reached nearly 38°C in the Siberian town of Verkhoyansk this week. That’s a hot day even in Musina, in the sweltering north of Limpopo on the Tropic of Capricorn. It is unheard of in the frozen north of our planet, where the winter temperature drops to -50°C.
The United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says there is a 75% chance that this will be the hottest year on record, a record it will take from 2016. We are living in the hottest decade in recorded history.
At the same time, research in the US showed that air pollution and hotter temperatures disproportionately affect pregnant black women, because they tend to live in more polluted areas. This is probably the case in a South Africa where industrial pollution falls on those who earn the least.
The world is burning and lives are being destroyed.
Our institutions are not reflecting this. This week it emerged that Facebook — a company that refuses to accept its responsibility in shaping public opinion with its algorithms — has created a loophole that allows groups to push climate change denial without it being checked.
This year’s global climate negotiations have also been pushed back to 2021. Most countries were meant to have submitted plans by November for how they would drop carbon emissions, in line with a 2018 United Nations report that said those emissions need to drop by 7% a year all the way to zero. Quickly.
We are understandably focused on this crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic, that is killing people and destroying livelihoods everywhere. But we are losing sight of the other crises that destroy life. President Cyril Ramaphosa crucially reminded us last week that women continue to be destroyed by men.
All of these crises will be made immeasurably worse by a planet spinning out of kilter as it boils in intense heat released by us.
Some countries are using their fiscal responses to the Covid-19 economic collapse to also tackle carbon emissions and other forms of pollution — using this crisis
to make life better in many different ways. Cycle lanes and city centres without vehicles are being fast-tracked with the money being poured into economies.
Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s supplementary budget didn’t go near the climate crisis. It focused on funding a narrow definition
of health, even though pollution makes people more susceptible to respiratory problems. The arguments used to keep the ban on cigarettes hold more powerfully in the context of industrial pollution.
Our world is on fire. In his midterm budget in October, Mboweni has to show ambition in tackling the climate crisis. Even if his peer ministers think business as usual will somehow solve our ills.