What chance, then, do climate scientists have of convincing even a fraction of the billions alive today that humans are collectively jeopardising their own futures and those of their children and grandchildren?
We’ve heard the warnings: if average global temperatures rise by 2°C by the end of this century, the Earth will be unable to feed and support its multitudes, leading to chaos and anarchy.
Our planet is getting hotter at unprecedented rates because coal is used to generate power and oil is used for transportation. The burning of fossil fuels releases greenhouse gasses which absorb the sun’s radiation and raise temperatures incrementally.
South Africans are among the worst per capita emitters of greenhouse gases. We urgently need to replace coal-fired power stations with solar and wind power and change to electric cars fuelled by renewables. All nations need to clean up their acts and not allow politics and greed to nullify their efforts.
Individual responses tend to be: “Well, I’ll be dead by 2100 and the next generation of scientists will solve the problem with new technology.”
But what if the dates are wrong? What if we should be talking about 2030 instead of 2100? All the signs show that temperatures are rising much faster than predicted, resulting in vanishing sea ice, melting glaciers, rising sea levels and thawing permafrost. The latter is a disaster that could potentially release 40 gigatons of harmful gasses into the atmosphere.
The effects can already be seen: extreme climatic events like droughts, floods, runaway fires, hurricanes and tornados follow each other in quick succession. Already, climate refugees from low-lying islands in the Pacific are swelling the numbers of displaced people, and hajj pilgrims face serious risks of heatstroke.
Some scientists believe that we are on a slippery downhill slope that will lead to food shortages, riots, social disintegration, disease and death.
The plunge will lead relentlessly towards a sixth mass extinction event, which could happen before 2026.
Others think we might have a little more time - provided nations act urgently. So, what can we do? Educate ourselves - there’s a wealth of information on YouTube and the internet. Spread the message, join interest groups and lobby for policy changes.
A Swedish pupil, Greta Thunberg, 15, is protesting outside parliament in Stockholm to draw attention to the climate crisis in her country. Shouldn’t we be doing the same?
Mother Earth is in trouble and she needs all the help she can get.
* Jackie Loos' "The Way We Were" column is published in the Cape Argus every week.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.