Not a single day goes by without an article in the newspapers or a programme on television bemoaning the precarious state in which the planet finds itself.
Now if you are a perceptive individual, you will heed these calls and know it is not a hoax or mere fearmongering. In my view, this is one of the greatest threats of our time since the rise and fall of fascism not so long ago, and one that this generation will have to confront head-on.
If it is not arrested, it could seriously interfere with the quality of life on earth.
It does not matter where we look, the planet seems to be experiencing an environmental crisis, whether it is the fires in the Amazon, the melting ice in Antarctica, oil spills in the ocean, pollution in Mumbai or Beijing, or the dangerously polluted waters of Lake Baikal in Russia. On the odd day in a city like Mumbai, you can hardly see 80 metres ahead of you and no one can swim at the city’s polluted beaches.
An old school friend of mine hailing from the countryside tells me how a river – where his grandfather, his father and, later, he as a young boy growing up, used to swim – has run dry. In the next five to 10 years, water will become a critical scarce resource in Africa, which is already the case in numerous rural towns in South Africa.
In addition, South Africa is categorised as one of the 30 driest countries in the world. Therefore, as this situation will not improve, we must change our habits and behaviour. We could start in the morning by saving our shower water to use for a secondary purpose, and then continue being water-wise in the course of the day.
It is argued that no one will be spared in this crisis, but that the effects on the poor of the world will be particularly grim.
Even in Europe, the temperatures have increased dramatically, and heatwaves have become more common there.
Moreover, many Europeans will attest to hotter conditions than in the past.
These changes occur gradually and incrementally over time and are not dramatic, which complicates matters for the human species, who are not always the best judges of evolutionary change or historical time. We are much better at judging shorter portions of time since our own lifespans are between 70-90 years. Judged against the history of time, that is an exceptionally short period.
It is no wonder that so many people regard climate change as a conspiracy theory, as they fail to comprehend changes over longer historical periods and place it in a proper perspective.
The indigenous peoples of the world seem to have a much better and deeper grasp of the consequences of climate change and the degradation of the environment, and are standing up everywhere against the excesses of greedy corporate-driven devastation. They seem to be more in harmony with the earth and have a spiritual connection with it. Although climate change and the degradation of the environment are predominantly institutional, that does not exonerate us as individuals to take action as well.
One of the most compelling contemporary laments against the state of the planet is encapsulated in the lyrics of Michael Jackson’s Earth Song. In this song, he does not provide solutions for this crisis but engages his listeners/audience with the Socratic teaching method by asking penetrating rhetorical questions.
It goes : “What about sunshine? What about rain?”
In another stanza he continues:
Did you ever stop to notice?
All the children dead from war
Did you ever stop to notice?
This crying earth, these weeping shores
His understanding of the problem is a much more encompassing one in which he connects both the physical and the social world with all its evils like wars and inequality; hence, he asks, “What about killing fields?” to link the notion of mankind’s inhumanity to the environmental crisis.
It is no surprise that humans’ negative footprint on the earth has become so pervasive after almost 6,000 years of civilisation.
Not only is the destruction visible on earth, but waste is now also common in outer space. Imagine living in a world where everyone has to wear a facemask against inhaling polluted air, or where we cannot eat fish from the ocean because it is contaminated with plastic.
Everything changes and nothing stays the same.
Should the ocean temperatures increase in the next decade and more regular droughts and floods occur, it could seriously interfere with food production and threaten food security and the sustainability of the agricultural sector.
The time to think anew about climate change and act is now, as time is of the essence.
Throughout history, humans have been confronted with adversity, and it is not as if this current threat does not have an antecedent or historical precedent. However, the human species has always risen to the occasion and made judicious decisions for its survival. So much awareness, and advocacy, has occurred over the past few years, and the choice is once more ours to make in the interest of a better future for all.
Blignaut is a professor in the faculty of education at NMU