In April more than 80 people lost their lives in flash floods as hundreds of homes were washed away by a “rain bomb” that hit areas of Durban.
Speaking on 24 April, President Cyril Ramaphosa said: “This is partly what climate change is about, it just hits when we least expect it.”
The problem with that statement is we do know when climate change will hit. It happened years ago, when scientists and activists started noticing rising temperatures and environmental degradation and called for change. But their findings were suppressed and climate change went unnoticed until recent years.
Now we are experiencing a crisis.
July was the hottest month on record since scientists started recording global temperatures, with Paris – the city where global leaders signed the Paris Agreement in 2016 – experiencing its hottest day in 72 years. Across the world, São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, was enveloped in darkness as ash from the burning Amazon forest blocked out the sun on 19 August.
In southern Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi are still reeling from the effects of Cyclone Idai, one of the worst tropical cyclones to hit the area, with a death toll of more than 1,300.
Research shows South Africa heating up at twice the global average. Cape Town managed to avoid running out of water, but taps in other parts of the country have been dry for long periods.
The size of the climate crisis is difficult to grasp; one cannot see direct results from carpooling or going plastic-free. There is climate denialism from the likes of US President Donald Trump, then there is climate apathy and paralysis in the face of global ecocide – a mental health issue experienced by many on the frontlines of the crisis.
Young people around the world are shaking awake adults and those in power and forcing them to engage with the issue.
Today, youth will march for climate justice, millions of children leaving school early to protest under the global #ClimateStrike banner, demanding climate justice for all and an end to the age of fossil fuels.
In South Africa, the African Climate Alliance, started by young activists earlier this year, is sending young people from more than 50 schools in Western Cape to protest outside Parliament.
They will demand the following action from the government:
- Declaration of a provincial and national climate emergency;
- A ban on new coal-fired power stations and fossil fuel mining licences;
- A commitment to 100% renewable energy generation by 2030;
- The creation of a mandatory climate-education curriculum for South Africa; and
- Prioritisation of much-needed restoration of degraded landscapes and funding of ecological infrastructure.
On Monday 16 September, Greta Thunberg, the young environmental activist who started the Fridays For Future movement earlier this year, was awarded Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award.
In South Africa, the ACA will accept an award on behalf of the South African youth movement. They will accept the award via Skype rather than flying from Cape Town to Johannesburg, because, to quote ACA liaison Sarah Farall: “What would Greta do?”
Ruby Sampson, a founder of ACA and chair of the youth wing, told Daily Maverick Friday’s protest has been the motivation she needed to get her through her mock matric exams.
“For me, Friday is the day we get together in solidarity and say, ‘We actually do care’. And I’m really hoping the government will stand up and say, ‘Yes, we hear you and we care too’. And maybe they’ll start doing something,” said Sampson.
It’s a youth initiative, but adults are not barred from attending any climate strike.
“What we’ve started to realise and what the evidence is proving is that the climate crisis is affecting us now,” Sampson told Daily Maverick. “So, whether you’re an adult or a kid, you should be striking, because this isn’t about your future, it’s about our present.”
ACA has organised a week of “positive climate action” starting tomorrow, including beach clean-ups and removal of alien plant species. -DM