Plant trees, save the planet
There is always a lot of hot air in discussions about climate change — is it part of a natural cycle in climate variation, or is it a phenomenon created by humans and their carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions? When scientist Dingane Sithole, who is also chairperson for the Business Council for Sustainable Development in Zimbabwe, addressed this topic at a meeting of the Advertising and Publicity Club at the Coffee Shop at the Mukuvisi Woodlands, he was adamant that climate change is caused by humans. “When you disturb the balance,” said Sithole, “the temperatures go up.”
As the meeting coincided with World Environment Day, guests were asked to wear green attire, but Sithole intentionally wore a grey suit, claiming that “Climate change is a grey area, always evolving!”
Although scientists became aware of the harmful effects of CO2 in the air by the late 1950s, it took until 1997 for the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement in which a number of industrialised countries undertook to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to be adopted. Zimbabwe signed up in 2009, and currently 192 parties have joined the convention.
Waste CO2 can be captured (carbon sequestration), transported by pipes and stored underground. Forests also have the capacity to sequester CO2, so a viable means of reducing greenhouse gases would be to preserve existing woodlands and to plant groves of trees. In Zimbabwe the Designated National Authority exists to assist projects that have the potential to reduce emissions, so if you have some land, green fingers and the patience to wait 20 years for a woodland to grow, a financial partner could be at hand. In addition, by reducing deforestation, one can generate income through selling carbon credits to companies with a voluntary carbon reduction strategy.
Sithole spoke at length about the International Panel on Climate Change which scientifically assesses the worldwide risk of climate change caused by human activity, its environmental consequences and ways of mitigating its effects. In 2007 reports written by 1 250 scientists cited rising sea levels and melting ice to be proof of climate change. Sithole suggests that globally temperatures will increase by between one and six degrees, affecting agriculture and ecosystems.
By the year 2020, 250 million people will live in water-stressed areas. In many areas of Zimbabwe, Sithole claimed, rural folk are no longer self-sufficient or able to live off the land, requiring financial assistance from relatives working in the towns.
Individuals can reduce their carbon emissions by reducing the number of vehicles they own, by sharing transport within communities, or by walking to work.
Living within constraints such as switching off geysers, swimming pool pumps, garden lights, or wrapping up in a blanket instead of switching on the heater, can all make a significant difference. Buying locally-produced food instead of imported goods that eat up air or road miles will reduce your carbon footprint and support local farmers and industry.
Meat-loving Zimbabweans may be unwilling to exchange their favourite oxtail stew, biltong or trotters for a diet of sweet potatoes and rice with peanut butter, even though meat production consumes far more energy than cultivating a vegetable garden.
Significant gains, however, can be made in other areas such as waste management in the home. Vegetable waste from the kitchen should be composted and non-biodegradable waste such as plastics, tin and glass can be collected for recycling.
Sithole touched briefly on green architecture, praising the Eastgate Complex in Harare that is ventilated and cooled by natural means.
In conclusion Sithole stressed the importance of giving people the correct information about climate change, enabling them to make educated decisions about ways to preserve the planet for future generations.
As CO2 levels in the atmosphere have currently reached four hundred parts per million, his warnings come not a moment too soon.