The loss of life and monumental destruction in KwaZulu-Natal resulting from the recent astronomical floods is an event unprecedented in the history of our country.
The profound contents of the 2018 World Meteorological Organization report on climate change and its global consequences delivered a chilling message to humankind to modify its reckless behaviour, or face climatic catastrophe. It was Chief Seattle, after whom the city of Seattle was named, who said: “We did not inherit this planet from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”
Inaction will haunt the entire planet for generations to come. It is evident that many will choose to ignore the report, supported by right-wing politicians, the coal industry, unenlightened industrialists and self-appointed experts, many of whom speak not from the high ground of sound technical knowledge and wisdom, but from the pit of scientific illiteracy.
Sir John Houghton, former chief executive of the United Kingdom’s Meteorological Office, remarked on climate change: “This force knows no boundaries. It can strike anywhere, in any form: a heat wave in one place, a drought, a flood or storm surge in another.” The world’s ecological health is now linked to an artificial life support system. Irrefutable scientific evidence graphically reveals that forests are disappearing and agricultural lands are eroding.
In November 2006 in Nairobi, The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 12) heard that a warmer earth over the next 25 years would put the lives of 65- to 95-million Africans at risk, most of them in and around the Sahara. The UN’s prediction prompted the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to declare Africa “the continent most vulnerable to global warming”. Fish stocks are rapidly diminishing. Land, water and air are being poisoned. Many species of living things are disappearing. The planet is getting warmer, resulting in increasing super storms and dramatic changes in rainfall.
We are graphically witnessing the impact of global warming all around us. The past 100 years has seen an unprecedented retreat of glaciers all over the world; in the Alps, about half of the total glacier mass was lost between 1850 and 1990. In the US the 150 glaciers that gave the name to Glacier National Park have been reduced to 48, while the ice caps of Patagonia are melting at an alarming rate, creating a deluge of freezing water. In the Himalayas, rapidly retreating glaciers have created 40 huge lakes in Nepal and Bhutan. Hundreds more glacier-fed lakes continue to expand and threaten towns, villages and even cities in Tibet, China, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Northern India.
When trees absorb carbon dioxide from the air and sequester carbon, they slowly release the oxygen that all animals breathe. When they are chopped down for wood and burned to clear land, their carbon is released back into the atmosphere. Having too much carbon in the atmosphere has been proved by many scientists and researchers to cause global warming. Unfortunately, we are rapidly losing most of our forests, thus less carbon is being sequestered, and global climate change is increasing at an exponential rate. Even before we invented the chainsaw, we stripped the forests of Greece bare and felled most of the fabled cedars of Lebanon.
By the middle of this century, global warming is likely to have displaced 175-million people. Diseases associated with climate change will spread globally. According to the World Health Organization, global warming is already directly responsible for 175 000 deaths due to malaria and other associated diseases. Countries with coastlines could see 200-million people affected by 2080 as coastal flooding intensifies. Many of us are blissfully unaware that we are hurtling towards climatic Armageddon. Time is not on our side.