It was around the year 2000 that I started taking a keen interest on the subject of climate change after watching the documentary film An Inconvenient Truth (2006) directed by Davis Guggenheim about former US Vice President Al Gore`s campaign to educate people about global warming.
Since then I became actively involved in the climate change advocacy through the African Green Campus Initiative (AGCI) which was instrumental in the initiation of the Green Campus Initiatives (GCI) in many college and university campuses in South Africa.
A year after the 2010 FIFA World Cup, I was fortunate to attend – as a civil society delegate – the United Nations Climate Change Conference hosted in November 2011 at the Chief Albert Luthuli Convention Centre in Durban.
But even after the conference triumphantly declared “What we have achieved in Durban will play a central role in saving tomorrow, today”, many global communities and governments – especially the most powerful countries like China and the United States – have failed to honour and effectively implement the agreements towards the reduction of the greenhouse carbon emissions that have over the years damaged the ozone layer – that thin and permeable layer in the atmosphere that protects us from the full hit or radiation of the sun.
It would seem that the advent of the COVID-19 virus has managed to achieve what many climate change activists (including the 17-year-old Swedish environmental activist Greta Grunberg) by reducing almost “overnight” industrial pollution and toxic greenhouse emissions. The global lockdown of major global economies – including the current 21 days lockdown in South Africa and other African countries – has given an unexpected reprieve to mother earth.
In highly populated cities like New York with its 24 hours, around the clock economy, the pollution levels and carbon emissions have fallen by almost fifty percent due to the closure of transport networks including aviation and business activity. According to the BBC feature writer Martha Henriques “In China, emissions fell 25% at the start of this year as people were instructed to stay at home, factories shuttered and coal use fell by 40% at China’s six largest power plants since the last quarter of 2019. In Europe, satellite images show nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions fading away over northern Italy. A similar story is playing out in Spain and the UK.
In South Africa, there`s a visible absence of high travel volumes on major freeways, especially in the economic hubs of Johannesburg and Pretoria in the Gauteng Province including other major metropolitan centres around the country. Transport alone contributes about 23% of the total global carbon emissions. Major industrial production centres that contribute to high pollution levels and harmful emissions into the atmosphere have been forced to close due to the forced national lockdown.
Even to the uninitiated, the evidence is obvious to the naked eye that COVID-19 has given a reprieve to mother earth. With no intrusion from human beings in the major game reserves, animals and the environment in places like Kruger National Park are enjoying their space, freely roaming and grazing in their grasslands and forests. With many towns and cities empty, there`s a visible reduction of littering and human movement. The thick clouds of smoke in and around major cities are no longer obstructing the clear view of the sky and the stars at night. Mother nature can exhale again. The change of human behaviour including consumption patterns seems to have improved our relationships with the environment.
The lockdown period provides an opportunity for humanity to learn new ways of making a contribution to the reduction of global warming and healing the world. And this can start from where I started in 2000 by educating ourselves – through reading and documentaries –about global warming from the following instructive documentaries (https://www.imdb.com/search/keyword/?keywords=climate-change)