Thursday, 15 October 2009

Climate Change in South Africa

So it's Blog Action Day today. And the theme is Climate Change this year. While it's an important global issue, I want to look at it from a South African perspective. First, a definition. Borrowed from the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism's (DEAT) Climate Change webpages.

The climate of the Earth is always changing and several centuries ago the causes of this change would have been primarily natural in origin. Nowadays, although natural changes in the climate continue do occur, the term 'climate change' is generally used when referring to changes in the Earth's climate which have been identified since the early part of the 1900s. Many of the causes of these changes are related to humanity's emissions of 'greenhouse gases'.

According to WWF, South Africa uses 40 % of the total electricity consumed within Africa. Most of this electricity (79%) is coal-generated, which is not only a major factor in greenhouse gas emissions, but also creates acid rain.

South African electricity is one of the cheapest in the world (although Eskom seems hellbent on changing that), which means that we've often taken it for granted and not been particularly conscious of the need to conserve energy. WWF points out that South Africa is one of the highest emitters of greenhouse gas CO2 in the world, especially when emission per capita is considered.
One would think that in a country that has so much sun, we'd be maximising on solar power, but to date this has not been the case. See, in comparison to our cheap coal power, every other form of energy (wind, solar, hyrdoelectric etc) seems incredibly expensive.

According to DEAT, possible changes we'll see in SA in the next 50 years if we don't do something about our greenhouse gas emissions are as follows:

  • Potential reduction of approximately 5-10% of current rainfall
  • Increased daily maximum temperatures in summer and autumn in the western half of the country
  • Increased incidents of drought and flood
  • Enhanced temperature inversions exacerbating air pollution problems

That all sounds like stuff we've heard before. But there's also stuff we haven't stopped to consider yet. Like the fact that climate change in South Africa might create a shift in the malaria areas and increase the number of people exposed to the disease.

Another sobering quote from DEAT:

Maize production (in SA) contributed to 71% of grain production during 1996. To meet the increasing food demand, agriculture has to expand by approximately 3% annually. Under the climate scenario that predicts a hotter drier climate, maize production will decrease by approximately 10-20% over the next 50 years, and
speciality crops grown in specific environmentally favourable areas may also be at risk. An increase in pests and diseases would also have a detrimental effect on the agricultural sector, and invasive plants could possibly become a greater problem.

So not only will we be be short of water, experiencing droughts and floods and finding an increase in pests and disease, we'll probably also lose tourism business, find plants and animals becoming extinct more quickly and lose huge revenue in the farming sector, among other industries.

All sounds miserable, no? That's because the situation is rather dire, truth be told. BUT (there's always a but) there are ways you and I can help to make a change. And some of them are so simple, it would be a crime not to try.

Visit the WWF page on how to lesson your environmental impact for great tips to use at work, at home, in the garden, in politics, when you're out shopping etc. You can also use the carbon footprint calculator to see what your personal damage is.

And here are a few easy things you can do to make a difference, no matter where in the world you live:

  1. Swap your light bulbs for eco-friendly compact fluorrescent light bulbs. Accoridng to WWF, you can save up to 70kg of carbon dioxide a year by doing this.
  2. Recycle! you'd be amazed at what is actually recyclable. Aside from paper, glass and cans, you can also recycle some plastics, including polystyrene. Here's a list of recyling depots in major cities in SA.
  3. Walk, ride your bike, start a lift club or use public transport instead of driving whenever you get the chance. Hopefully this will be easier once the Gautrain and integrated public transport solutions are in place in SA.
  4. Drink tap water rather than bottled water where possible. It takes 3 litres of water and lots of carbon dioxide to produce one litre of bottled water.
  5. Keep your tyres at the correct pressure. This will help you save fuel, which means saving money and less CO2.
  6. Use less hot water. Make sure you have a low-flow showerhead and wash your clothes in warm or cold water rather than hot.
  7. Pick products with less packaging!
  8. Turn off lights and appliances when not in use. And that means OFF not STANDBY.
  9. Take local holidays every other year. Driving and flying to far flung destinations regularly will up your carbon footprint exponentially.
  10. Don't print out emails / documents unless you need to. And use recycled paper where you can.

Please feel free to add your own green living / CO2-cutting measures in the comments.


Damaria Senne said...

Wow! This is very detailed. and easy to understand. I think I'll pass the link to one of my nephews, who thought climate change was a myth:-)

Tara said...

I still think it's something that is overhyped. Not that it doesn't exist, just...overhyped.

But it wouldn't do any harm for people to follow some of those tips. Except for the flourescent light bulbs thing - flourescent light actually makes some of us feel very very ill.

boldly benny said...

A big one for me. Try to only eat what is in season - there are so many benefits! The food is tastier because it hasn't been kept in cold storage, so you will eat less but feel satisfied. You body needs what is in season - there is a very specific reason why certain fruit and veg are in season when they are. AND you reduce your carbon footprint because your food is grown locally!

Cam said...

It's not climate change I'm worried's 'people' change thats the problem!

Jeanette said...

Yay for taking part in #BAD09!
Love your article, it's very detailed

Tamara said...

Damaria: Thank you. That would be lovely ;-)

Goblin: I disagree, but I'm glad you think these things are worth trying anyway!

Benny: Good one! Winners all round - our bodies and the environment. And the local greengrocer ;-)

Ches: Sadly, you make a good point :-(

Jeanette: Why thank you!

Susan said...

Over in our land of Costa Rica it is not raining and it's supposed to be. We're feeling it everywhere.

Good list, I am able to get much of my food organic here and it comes in packages we either reuse or just a big bunch of lettuce with no plastic on it. It's not hard, but does take effort to break away from the packaged world of over-processing all our energy to death.

Anonymous said...

Its so weird... I just realised how big my carbon footprint has been by looking at all the things I could do to change that. WOAH!

Tamara said...

Susan: True. Packaging is just so shiny and pretty... and terrible for the environment.

Paula: Well, hopefully you can change that with some little alterations ;-)

SonnyVsDan said...

we don't realise how dependant we are on electricity and oil until we don't have it on tap!

I say poo to the people who don't believe, but don't worry, we care enough to do something about it for you.

Amanda said...

Hi Tamara
Thanks for introducing yourself. You have a great blog, I'll be a regular.

Tamara said...

SvD: totally! I wish everyone cared enough to do something. *sigh*

Amanda: Thanks for the vote of confidence ;-)