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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Keep your tyres at the correct pressure. This will help you save fuel, which means saving money and less CO2.
- Use less hot water. Make sure you have a low-flow showerhead and wash your clothes in warm or cold water rather than hot.
- Pick products with less packaging!
- Turn off lights and appliances when not in use. And that means OFF not STANDBY.
- Take local holidays every other year. Driving and flying to far flung destinations regularly will up your carbon footprint exponentially.
- 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.