Climate change: Is it time we ‘look up’ ?

AN OVERFLOWING river caused havoc in Durban recently, as hundreds of shacks were washed away or damaged. Picture: THEO JEPTHA/ African News Agency (ANA)

AN OVERFLOWING river caused havoc in Durban recently, as hundreds of shacks were washed away or damaged. Picture: THEO JEPTHA/ African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jul 22, 2022


Durban - For a long time, South Africans have known that they have been lucky when it comes to the weather, but as the recent effects of climate change have unfolded, one could argue that the tables have turned on the sunny nation.

This comes amidst a heat wave that is sweeping across parts of the northern hemisphere.

With the death toll rising in parts of Europe and the UK, people have been making reference to Adam Mckay’s movie “Don’t Look up”, starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Jennifer Lawrence.

The movie, quite simply, is a depiction of how scientists for a long time have warned world leaders against climate change, but were not taken seriously until catastrophe struck.

The movie also explores how politicians make light of scientists’ warnings about climate change.

In one of the scenes, Di Caprio and Lawrence go on live news to share the details about a meteoroid heading in the direction of Earth, but the news anchors laugh and make fun of the two scientists.

That scene was juxtaposed to a live broadcast of UK’s GBN News, when an anchor joked about what a British meteorologist was saying about the current heat wave.

But South Africa is no longer exempt from the effects of climate change, as the recent flooding in KwaZulu-Natal and the near-drought stricken city of Gqeberha have proved.

In April and May this year, KZN was rocked by heavy rains which caused major flooding and landslides, claiming close to 500 lives.

SHIPPING containers were swept away by floods and major damage was caused in and around areas of Durban. Places most affected were in Prospecton, iSipingo, Ntuzuma and North Coast Road, among others. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency (ANA)

Buildings were destroyed, shipping containers floated along the N2 freeway while thousands were left homeless.

In Gqeberha, residents are in fear after it was announced that the city was approaching ‘day-zero’, a moment when taps run dry due to the shortage of water.

While many played the blame game, trying to pin the issue on the failures of the municipality and years of drought, climate change was evidently making its mark on South Africa.

In the western parts of Durban, a relatively warm coastal city, areas like Kloof and Hillcrest saw snow for the first time last year, despite the usually high levels of humidity.

Dr Peter Johnston, a climate scientist at the University of Cape Town, said the country could experience more cases of extreme weather.

“The melting of the Antarctic ice, which is a consequence of global warming, is releasing a lot of cold water into the sea around the Antarctic, which cools the air, and that doesn’t happen every year. It caused this cold weather, but we have been suggesting that we are going to be experiencing more of these extreme events,” he said.

“Not all of them will be very hot weather; some of them will be very cold, like we have seen in North America over the past couple of years, where we have seen incursions of very cold air and very severe ice storms, but then they also have had very hot weather and the fires,” Johnston said.

In Bangladesh, more than 4.3 million people were affected by the flooding that hit the north-eastern parts of the country.

The flooding was the worst in 122 years in the Sylhet region, Atiqul Haque, director-general of Bangladesh’s Department of Disaster Management, was quoted saying in a Reuters report.

Last month, Yellowstone National Park in the US was hit by heavy rains and flooding, which damaged roads and other critical infrastructure.