Climate jobs for SA?

by Aug 1, 2011All Articles

AMANDLA ISSUE 17 and 18 | EDITORIAL : Climate jobs for SA?

South Africa, especially its transition from apartheid, faces many challenges. It is impossible to build a united and cohesive society with current obscene levels of inequality so firmly in place. Two worlds separate township and suburban life and an even greater divide separate life in the former Bantustans from the major urban centres. We face extreme difficulties in dealing with mass unemployment and poverty. The HIV/AIDS pandemic is still devastating in its spread and impact, even if the age of AIDS denialism is over. Nor can we stay aloof from the crises in our education, health, water and housing systems. No wonder that crime and violence continues to shake our society.
We do not need climate change to intrude into this vortex of social disasters. We already have more than enough challenges on which to concentrate our attention and limited resources. Yet the earth’s rising temperature poses a serious threat to our planet. The emission into the atmosphere of gases, including carbon dioxide from petrol or the burning of coal and oil to make electricity, act as a blanket around our planet, trapping in heat. It is this greenhouse effect which has led to global warming with the average temperature constantly rising.

South Africa is no small contributor to greenhouse gas pollution. According to a United Nations report of 2008, South Africa was the 13th biggest emitter of carbon dioxide with 433,527 tones in 2007. According to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, June 2010 was the hottest month in recorded history. Scientists warn that if current trends continue the world’s average temperature will increase by four degrees centigrade within 50 years – and it will cause mass devastation.

Even with a two-degree rise, most of the world’s coral reefs will be lost, large portions of the ocean will become dead zones, mountain glaciers will largely
vanish and many other ecosystems will be at risk. There is the danger of reaching a tipping point whereafter the warming rapidly accelerates. With a four degree increase in temperature one to two billion people will not have access to adequate fresh water because of the major shift in rainfall patterns. 40 percent of existing or potential cropland in Africa will become too dry and too hot for food production.

Flooding will affect at least 500 million people because sea levels will rise more than one metre by 2100. Places like Cape Town, especially low lying areas
like Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain will mostly be under water. In the dry areas of our country, farming will be impossible. Ever since the 1992 Rio Summit
countries have come together under the auspices of the United Nations Climate Change Conference to seek international agreements to address the danger of climate change. The sixteenth Conference of the Parties (COP 16) is to be held in Cancun, Mexico, from 29 November to 10 December 2010 and will be followed by COP 17 which will take place in Durban in December 2011. And, yet, the major governments of the world – including our own – fiddle while the earth burns.
Other than jetting around the world since 1992, at great expense and damage to the environment, little, if any, progress has been made. Indeed, while the talking has been incessant and the finger pointing more violent, progress has probably gone backwards. Why? This is not because they are stupid or badly informed but rather because they are trapped. The only remedy -perceived by all in different ways and to different degrees – is seen to be worse than the disease. The end of the world is more palatable to them than the end of capitalism, and it is the capitalist system which is, unavoidably, the fundamental cause of climate change. South Africa is due to host the next international Climate Summit – COP 17 – in Durban in December 2011. Progressive forces in South
Africa have a year to shape the agenda of this Summit. It must be used to overcome the idea that dealing with climate is at the expense of overcoming underdevelopment and inequality.

So while we need to tackle underdevelopment and provide all our people with decent livelihoods and access to basic services – which means developing our industries – we have to do this in ways that stop climate change. In some countries progressive forces have considered strategies by which the climate crisis and the economic crisis can be tackled simultaneously and in mutually reinforcing ways. So in Britain a campaign has been initiated for a million climate jobs. The idea would be to set up a National Climate Service similar to a National Health Service and would employ thousands of workers to build the renewable energy plants that are immediately needed. Thousands of others would be employed in initiatives to save energy. All of this has been carefully
researched to add up to 1 million jobs.

As we debate the government’s new economic growth path and as we consider COSATU’s alternative we must ask can we not do better. Hundreds of thousands are needed to protest in defence of Mother Earth and in defence of jobs during COP 17. Let’s make climate change relevant for all by showing that we can create
jobs and overcome underdevelopment by fighting climate change.

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