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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Plugging the trickle and ignoring the torrent

South Africa is again set to get stricter smoking laws, including making it illegal to smoke pretty much anywhere that's even remotely public, graphic warnings on boxes, and other anti-puff actions. As a non-smoker, I'm all for this. I look forward to going to a restaurant in summer and not having the pleasant outdoor areas reserved for those slowly killing themselves off by tarring their lungs. I also applaud the stricter rules regarding smoking around children and heavier fines. There are those who are skeptical about how effective and policeable these laws will be, but then there were skeptics when SA first started clamping down on smokers, and look how our culture has adjusted to the changes.
I really have no complaints about the emphasis being placed on regulating such a dangerous, selfish habit. What concerns me is that something far bigger gets almost no media or legal focus in this country-tackling climate change. Cigarette smoke (primary and secondary) is proven to cause numerous health conditions and shorten lifespans-but how worthwhile will these extended, healthier lifespans be if within a couple of decades we'll be dealing with serious food and water shortages and an onslaught of climate refugees? Will we look back and pat ourselves on the back for dealing harshly with cigarette smokers or will we realize we should have been placing at least as much emphasis, if not a lot more on cutting down emissions to prevent reaching the climate tipping point.
We hear on the news how Eskom is currently reporting back to parliament on their struggles with coal shortages-yet their expansion program focuses on new coal power and the pie-in-the-sky pebble bed nuclear reactor. The SA government even refuses to agree to carbon emission limitations for fear that it would impact this expansion process. Where are the safe, cost effective, renewable and future-proof solar-thermal projects that would go hand-in-hand with emission limits?
We hear of the poor in need of jobs, housing, clean water and sanitation, and that another reason for refusing emission limits is to avoid stunting economic growth. How much worse will their plight become when the price of foodstuffs skyrocket as agriculture is brought to it's knees by a warmer, drier climate in our country and our already limited water sources begin to dwindle. Will their new jobs at newly built coal stations pay enough to cover the cost of bread at record highs?
Our politicians aspire to an Americanized way of life with multiple cars, big houses and an endless cycle of buying and disposing of stuff they don't really need-in turn providing materialistic role models to millions of up-and-coming young black individuals who follow their example. Why when the American lifestyle of greed, waste and excess has brought our planet to the brink of extinction are we trying to emulate it instead of developing and modernizing the sustainable traditional African way of living, with a focus on community instead of personal wealth and advancement.
We have shown through the progressive legal and cultural change in attitude towards smoking in this country that South Africa can be a cultural leader and an example of  positive lifestyle change, now why can't we apply the same effort and enthusiasm to combating the environmental crisis that we face? As John Robbie asked recently on his morning show, why aren't we making "rock stars" of the individuals who are making it their life's purpose to combat climate change? Why can't we pull climate change out of the "funny stories and science bits" end-of-the-newscast status it has and bring it center stage, to be dealt with using strong laws and cultural change? Unless we do that very soon, we will see South Africa face a steady decline as all the gains made over the last couple of years are lost to the effects a changing climate will have on social stability.

Posted via email from Matt's posterous

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