12 September 2006

Global Climate Change

Earthtimes.org has a story on the EU-funded Antarctic ice core project, "Air bubbles from Antarctica ice core tell a scary environmental story".

"we know for sure that carbon dioxide has increased by about 35 per cent in the last 200 years. Before the last 200 years, which man has been influencing, it was pretty steady."
– Dr Eric Wolff, British Antarctic Survey
the natural level of carbon dioxide over most of the past 800,000 years has been 180-300 parts per million by volume (ppmv) of air. But today it is at 380 ppmv.
In one of the universe's divine jests, on the same day we have our Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, speechifying:

[Africa will] see "an increased incidence of extreme weather events; substantial reductions in surface water resources; accelerated desertification in sensitive arid zones; and greater threats to health, biodiversity and agricultural production"
Now, my opinion is that van Schalkwyk is a halfwit. He has absolutely no clear understanding of the urgent need for strong protection of the environment.  He has been handed what is seen as a sinecure post in Cabinet – his reward for screwing the voters of the now-thankfully-extinct New National Party by delivering their votes into the hands of the ANC. 

One of his first actions as Minister of Environmental Affairs was to ease requirements for Environmental Impact Assessment in constructing cellular phone masts.  His department has recently granted carte blanche to golf course developers in the local area to do as they will, in clear conflict with provincial attempts to ride herd on these megabuck millionaire retreats that trash local environments, returning nothing but lies and broken promises to the affected communities.

That aside, I am very happy that he acknowledges the fact of global climate change, unlike some of his counterparts in other countries, who remain steadfastly in denial.

The question remains, though: What is government doing about it?  As a nation we are one of the worst polluters of the environment on a per capita basis.  We produce more pollution per South African than almost any other country on Earth.  The state-owned electricity utility, Eskom, largest electricity supplier in Africa, runs the dirtiest coal-fired power stations in the world.  That is why our electricity is among the cheapest in the world.  At least in the very short term.

Environmental pollution limits, lax as they are, are seldom enforced.  Simply getting chemical suppliers and toxic-waste management companies to comply with regulations commonly takes years, and seldom results in permanent and effective solutions, even after the courts have spoken.

The saddest indictment is that the post of Minister of Environment Affairs and Tourism is considered unimportant-enough by the ANC government to award it to an ex-Nat!  (And guess which part of his portfolio gets the significant porion of his limited attention; Environment or Tourism?)

So: The South African government believes that climate change is before us.  That is, at least, reassuring.  We might have to say goodbye to Cape Town, goodbye Knysna Forests.  Are we doing anything about it, yet?  No chance.

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