A lofty, sobering conversation about climate change


Professors Bob and Mary Scholes, both inspired by the creativity of the National Arts Festival, decided to dramatise their climate change Think!Fest presentation and model it after Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems by Galileo Galilei. After a few minutes of wig and hat switching to signal character change, and a few amusing quips about Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement, the seriousness of the topic anchored the discussion.

Professor Mary Scholes presented with Professor Bob Scholes on climate change in a ThinkFest! discussion. Photo: supplied.
Professor Mary Scholes presented with Professor Bob Scholes on climate change in a ThinkFest! discussion. Photo: supplied.

The usual statistics, represented by graphs and scientific jargon, washed over those present like a sobering tidal wave. The question washed up: what will climate change mean for South Africa? It is a salient question that requires detailed presentations illustrating our consequential forecast in terms of agriculture, livestock farming, and animal migration.

A more relevant question would be: what will climate change mean for the average South African? This focus would have transported the discussion from its inaccessible academic loftiness to the practical grass-roots level. The desire to save the planet from irreversible destruction was oddly complemented with long-term capital interest as a by-product.

One’s train of thought naturally wonders: what will climate change mean for the poor of South Africa? As a response, theoretical economic notions of developmentalism erupted and delineated the climate change agenda. Prof. Bob Scholes referenced an ethical consideration from the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change: Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR).

This principle of international law reconciles the problem of unfairly stunting the progress of a developing country in the effort to lower carbon emissions. Simply, it claims that all states are responsible for amending global environmental destruction, but this responsibility is not equal. However, the consequences of climate change are unequally experienced as the most vulnerable in society will be exposed to the disruption of violent storms and extensive droughts.

In an ideal world, climate change concern would be the top and uncontested priority of every living member of the human race. But in societies where people experience more immediate social threats like poverty, climate change discussions need to include these realities in their plea for action or risk alienating this portion of society in the search for global sustainability.

By Ayanda Gigaba