Climate change: It’s clear the world has to wake up. We are not ready, says expert
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The flood disaster in New York City is a big wake up call for the world: We are not ready for the intensity and increasing number of natural disasters that will be coming at us like a “freight train”.
“If one of the richest countries such as America and one of the richest cities in the world such as New York City isn't ready for what hit it…. It’s clear the world has to wake up. We need to improve the resilience of our cities urgently. As it is right now, we are not ready,” says distinguished Professor Guy Midgley from the School of Climate Studies at Stellenbosch University.
NYC mayor, Bill de Blasio, declared a state of disaster earlier this week, describing the flash floods, that had already claimed one life as “a historic weather event with record-breaking rain across the city, brutal flooding and dangerous conditions on our roads”.
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Midgley, who works with ecosystems’ responses to climate changes, says developing countries have long been suffering from the effects of extreme weather conditions, but it is a “gamechanger” now that it is hitting richer countries.
From hurricanes to floods and fires, locust swarms and cyclones, in Europe, the Far East, Africa and America, no one seems immune to the projections of climate change.
The recent floods in Germany also caught them off guard and flat-footed.
Even Cape Town, one of Africa’s richest cities, got through a drought and managed to avert a Day Zero by “only the skin of its teeth and with some thanks to donations of water from privately owned agricultural dams”.
“Cape Town - which has one of the best developed hydrological supply systems in Africa…just scraped by … but we did learn a lot and hopefully this is being used to make us more resilient in future,” says Midgley.
And it is the poor that continues to feel it the most, says Midgley.
“People in New Orleans who stay behind in response to a hurricane, for instance, do it not because they want to but because they can't afford to leave - they can’t afford accommodation and petrol to get out and so are forced to stay and be exposed to the elements...
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“Climate change is a poverty issue …. it’s about inequality, and how that inequality brings about exposure to the elements. With poverty and a lack of resources to help you bounce back, natural disasters are devastating”.
So how does the world, and South Africa, become more resilient to inevitable natural disasters?
It is certainly not all doom and gloom, says Midgley.
“From what we learned through Covid from the government is that they can make resources available that support the economy and people. We will come back from Covid, and when we do we need to ensure we do it in a way that does not increase environmental issues and that government invests resources in preventing exposure of the poorest of the poor to disasters -... think housing and infrastructure.”
We also need to build back better after disasters. “We do need to look in the area of urban and infrastructure design and how to use natural systems to build resilience, and when we build back after a disaster to build back better.”
Midgley believes if COP26 in Scotland later this year is successful, and they can get most countries on board to get behind low-cost renewable energies, “we could see at first a peaking in global temperature followed by a cooling period..” It is necessary to find ways for the world to adapt to that time when it goes into an overshoot.