News in South Africa

News in South Africa

Global warming the hot topic everywhere, for everyone

Sunrise over Soweto


Article by Andrew Muir | CEO of Wilderness Foundation

WHAT is climate change and global warming and how does it affect us? This is a question I hear a lot. It seems that many environmentalists and scientists have got so caught up in the issue and debate that Joe Public has been left in the cold ... or should I say heat.


Climate change is a complex issue and when scientists start talking in acronyms and code speak we get confused and at times fearful of something that feels so much larger and bigger than anything we can handle. So we simply do nothing and hope this will all go away.


In reality our climate is in a constant state of change; temperatures have risen and fallen throughout history.


These natural variations are caused by many different natural phenomenon including changes in the earth’s orbit, volcanic eruptions, and changes in the sun’s intensity and natural weather cycles such as El Nino.


Our current reality is that we are in a warming cycle and have been for at least the last three decades, and this cycle cannot be explained or accounted for by natural climate variations alone.


According to the world metrological organisation, this warming period is unprecedented in the past 1300 years and can only be accounted for if human activity is included. As a sobering example since recorded global temperature readings began roughly 130 years ago, 11 of the hottest years recorded have taken place since 1995.


While I was at the World Wilderness Congress in Mexico in November I met colleagues from the US National Park Service who gave me the latest update on Glacier National Park in Montana.


When this reserve was created in 1910 as a natural jewel of the world it had 150 glaciers. As of today 27 are left and reducing rapidly in size, and they now predict that within 15 years (by 2025) there will be no glaciers left in this national park.


It appears then that evidence seems clear. While there are plenty of uncertainties about how bad climate change is going to get, and how fast and how these impacts will be felt, and by whom, there are no illusions that the climate is changing and warming rapidly and is doing so relative to our emissions of greenhouse gases.


In essence, if we had a part to play in our climate deterioration, we have an active part to play in a global (and Eastern Cape) solution.


So, to answer the second part of the question, how will this affect us here?


To begin to get answers we need to look and examine the recent climate change modelling done by a few of our universities and national institutions such as Sanbi.


They all say roughly the same thing; with ongoing temperature rises we can expect long periods of dry spells (droughts) broken by shorter but more intense periods of wetness (floods) with increased storm activity along the coastlines in our part of the country.


In other words, we are going to become more of a water- stressed region.


Is this not already happening? When we look back over the past decade we as a province have experienced the highest incidence of extreme weather events such as flooding, storm surges and droughts in our country.


In terms of our current drought crisis I often wonder if we are in fact in an extreme hundred year plus drought cycle that will eventually “break”, or are we already moving into a new climate period for our region?


My rudimentary science tells me that this may be too early to tell or predict, but common sense would tell us that the precautionary principle should apply and we need to look at how we as a region cope and adapt to our changing climate and environment in the future and plan and prepare accordingly.


I plan to explore this in more detail as well as people and environment issues in future columns and look forward to your feedback and participation in this journey.


Port Elizabeth-based Andrew Muir is CEO of the Wilderness Foundation, a national conservation and leadership NGO


Article courtesy of Andrew Muir as appeared in the Herald, Port Elizabeth on 2 February 2010. The Wilderness Foundation is a partner in OLIVE LEAF Foundation's vision of enabling sustainable community development. 













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