On the day of the Global #ClimateStrike, a climate rant.

My climate rant (first published on Facebook).

It seems, from the solid turnout at the Global #ClimateStrike march led by school children in Cape Town today, joining millions more around the world, that more and more people are getting worried about climate breakdown. (Guarded yay… )

But it also seems that even amongst the very well-intended there’s still an absolute s**tload of de facto denial about the extent of the problem and what it’s going to take to undo it.

You care about climate change, you say. You marched behind your children today. (Well, I hope you did.) So why are you still invested in Sasol?

I’m STILL seeing (lots of) people concentrating their focus on personal solutions. “Get on a bike, install LED light bulbs and solar power, drive and fly less” – all these things can be good – and they’re all staggeringly inadequate given that we have to HALVE GLOBAL EMISSIONS IN THE NEXT ELEVEN YEARS if we are to avoid [no, not the end of the world for everyone, but, yes, the end of the world for those whose lives will be destroyed by ever more vicious cyclones and hurricanes in the next decade, total destruction of the Great Barrier Reef, tripling the portion of the world’s population exposed to heat extremes, doubling extinction rates, and bringing us ever closer to passing tipping points in natural systems that could accelerate climate breakdown even when we stop emitting carbon].

People, we are up against corporations like Sasol that have missed every carbon emissions reduction target they have ever set themselves, and you’re still investing in them.

The Arctic and Amazon are burning, and you’re still investing in Sasol (and Billiton, and Exxaro, and Anglo).

We’re up against global fossil fuel corporations that spend more money marketing their pitifully small “green” investments in wind and solar energy than on the investments themselves, companies like Shell that have corrupted whole governments in the service of their ruthless extractivism.

We are up against ANC politicians who still seriously believe there is such a thing as clean coal. I met one in Parliament last week.

We are up against fellow citizens who 20 years after Google was invented still do not bother to check their profoundly misguided assumptions about how we still need coal for “baseload”. (New wind and solar power are now HALF the cost of new coal power in South Africa. Chile cut its electricity prices by 75% in JUST FOUR YEARS by investing substantially in wind and solar energy.) You still love a growly car so much that you’re prepared to leave your household budget hostage to deadly US-Saudi-Iranian geopolitical shenanigans?

Every item of worthy personal, individual change (Meatless Mondays, cycling more, etc) is, IF NOT COMBINED WITH SOCIAL AND POLITICAL ACTION, a half-assed act of self-delusion that is staggeringly inadequate when measured up against the scale of the problems.

Our SA government has supposedly signed up for the target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees – but three years after signing, our ACTUAL EMISSIONS STILL HAVE US HEADED FOR FOUR DEGREES.

You care about climate change, you say. Again, why are you still invested in Sasol?

Our business media is so terrible that MoneyWeb and Classic Business refuse to cover the fossil fuel divestment movement, even as total global assets under management committed to some form of decarbonisation pass 16% of total global equities.

In our so-called democracy, where we STILL don’t know who the hell funds the ANC or the DA or the EFF, we do know that in 2019 – 2019! – none of them has anything resembling a serious climate change policy; and that the Minister of Mineral and Energy Resources sounds more like a coal industry PR shill than someone who has sworn an oath to uphold a Constitution that promises a safe and secure environment; and that our ostensibly reformist president wants to help the Chinese build yet another absolutely massive coal-powered plant in Limpopo that will completely f**k our national carbon budgets and already teetering water security.

We have a National Treasury that in 2019 can release an economic policy document that (despite many good points) still does not integrate the simple fact that the most fundamental pillar of any economy is the environment, and that South Africa has one of the most degraded environments in the world, but apparently seriously expects this self-cannibalised rust bucket of an economy to be able to accelerate just by putting coal-powered pedal to the metal yet again, without making environmental recovery an over-arching imperative.

These are some of the SYSTEM CHANGES you should be fighting for:

  • Demand that your government and political party has a plan for transitioning the economy to 50% cuts of current emissions by 2030 and 100% by 2040 (the UN says 2050, but we need to be even more ambitious).
  • Demand that your political party discloses its funding and pledges to take no money from the fossil fuel industry.
  • Demand that your asset manager or retirement fund has a plan to decarbonise your portfolio over five years at most (all the evidence is that your returns will only be enhanced, not that Allan Gray or Coronation has bothered to tell you this).
  • Meet your MP. Supposedly we have all have access to a constituency MP in this country. The arrangement’s a bit of a joke really, given MPs answer to our gangster parties, not us, but still: demand to meet your MP, demand their party disclose its funding, demand a serious climate policy, demand a Green New Deal for SA.
  • Demand that we have an electoral system that is not just proportional representation but also has a large constituency element so that you can vote out your local MP if they turn out to be a coal industry shill.
  • Picket the offices of our awful, gobsmackingly blinkered and ignorant news media and besiege the inboxes of their public editors. Today, millions of children around the world marched for the climate – and the headlines on News24 are the Rugby World Cup and, literally, I kid you not, “How to braai the perfect steak”. The editors should be shot, or at the very least, exiled to Beira. The Daily Maverick’s headline is (as usual) something about “Juju”. (Even while publishing its excellent Burning Planet series and noisily proclaiming its dedication to truth, the DM still publishes occasional climate obfuscation without rudimentary fact checking, and has refused to entertain the suggestion that publishing daily climate statistics might be of more lasting consequence than the R/$ exchange rate.) Nothing on Business Day about the climate marches, IOL is talking about some poor woman’s sinus infection, EWN is much more excited about a youth choir. If an asteroid is ever headed for Earth, astronomers will have to name it after a Kardashian for the farcically incompetent SA media to even think about alerting us.
  • Become seriously intolerant of our world-beating inequality. Inequality cripples democracy, and crippled democracies cripple climate action. We need a Green New Deal for South Africa that simultaneously attacks our problems of mass poverty, inequality and degraded environments; and you need to be not just willing but gagging to pay higher taxes to fund it if necessary, because when global catastrophe threatens, it may be time to happily give up the big 4×4, the second home and the annual holidays abroad.
  • Demand that our government starts paying women for just being women, because just being a woman is costly; and fully empowering women is essential to fixing the climate.
  • Don’t think technology alone will save us. Wind and solar energy have huge potential to ween us from fossil fuels, but without political and social solutions, they’ll never reach that potential; and creating eco-friendly agriculture, the other 20% of climate breakdown, requires deep CULTURAL change.

And for pity’s sakes, stop whining about how people are the problem and how we need to “save the planet”. The real, itchy, uncomfortable truth is that rich people are the problem – 20% of the world’s population is responsible for 80% of the emissions. The planet is – yes, really – a living organism currently running a very nasty fever called industrial civilisation, but it will recover with or without us (hopefully with); and if you’re weeping for the whales and the animals and wildlife, please weep as much for people, because in this era, only looking after people properly ensures that other species get the chances they deserve.

The truth about people is that when treated with dignity and freed from the multiple layers of exploitation in which they have all too often been embedded by early 21st century “civilisation”, they, we, almost always become the progenitors of solutions. The problems we have created for ourselves demand that we create a TOTALLY DIFFERENT KIND OF GLOBAL ECONOMY WITHIN ONE GENERATION, A RESTORATIVE/REGENERATIVE/INCLUSIVE ECONOMY; and we have to start seeing our current massive global population not as the problem, but as a global massed choir (not an army) of potentially individually creative spirits who can, who must, start working together to rebuild Mother Earth’s tattered life support systems.

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I am a writer, journalist and campaigner for ethical investment living in Cape Town, South Africa, working to inspire people with the potential for a restorative economy and society that rebuilds our battered relationships with each other, and with the natural world, Mother Earth, on which we are completely dependent whether or not we realise it.

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