Currently in Durban, South Africa there are shuttle buses running from where delegates, NGO reps, and media are staying to the convention center where COP 17 is being held. The shuttle buses are actually mini-vans and this morning I decided to sit in the front seat with the driver, I have always had a good rapport with bus drivers in that way. The driver asked me if it was ok if he turned the already fairly loud music up a little louder. “Yeah buddy, let’s tear it up!” I said to him, without consulting anyone in the back seat, including the guy who was trying to have a conversation on his cell phone. The shuttle bus began rocking out to what a Google search would later reveal to me was Neil Diamond, someone I didn’t expect to be a favorite in South Africa.
Having bonded over our love of loud radio, the driver and I sparked a bit of a conversation about COP 17 and what he thought of all these people visiting his city. I asked him if he knew much about what was happening at the conference and he said that he did. He said that the world was in a lot of trouble, that farmers are having greater trouble with their crops, that rainfalls and storms were harsher and caused more damage, that the planets’ struggles are causing much suffering and that the people coming here over the next two weeks are going to try and find a solution. His sentiments echoed what I heard all last week at an NGO conference organized by Environmental Defence’s friends at Groundwork: South Africa.
For 4 days, this conference consisted of presenters from Nigeria, Mozambique, Uganda, Madagascar, South Africa, the Congo, and others speaking about the harsh realities climate change is bringing to their homes. They spoke of climate change in a way that we don’t normally think about it in Canada: as a matter of life and death. Walks to get water that are longer and less certain; droughts or flooding cause crops to fail; the planet’s reduced ability to provide people with the necessary conditions for survival, that is what climate change means in much of Africa.
As COP 17 opened in South Africa this week, South African President Jacob Zuma illustrated the dire consequences runaway climate change presents in the continent and abroad.
"For most people in the developing world and Africa, climate change is a matter of life and death. We are always reminded by the leaders of small island states that climate change threatens their very existence. Recently, the island nation of Kiribati became the first country to declare that global warming is rendering its territory uninhabitable. They have asked for help to evacuate the population," he said.
In Mozambique, 80% of the country depends on agriculture from semi-arid land that is prone to draught. Even small changes in rainfall patterns can cause significant problems for a population that consists mainly of small farms and subsistence agriculture. Mozambique is listed as one of the ten poorest countries in the world and one of the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
East Africa is currently dealing with one of its worst ever droughts, with a quarter of a million people at risk of death in Somalia, and a further 12 million in need of humanitarian assistance.
I once heard someone say that environmentalists are singularly focused, and that they seemingly don’t care about other issues that we face. This idea points to a misunderstanding of what the environment is. Environmental issues aren’t separate from other issues. They are a component of every issue we face. You cannot combat poverty, disease, or suffering without a stable climate and a healthy environment for which people to live. The delegates at COP 17 aren’t here only to work towards lowering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. They are here to find a solution to the biggest threat we have ever faced, and to minimize the effects in order to reduce the human suffering caused by it around the world.
In a way the delegates here at COP 17 are very lucky. Every person at some point will reflect on the life they have led and will hope to be able to attach a meaning or purpose to their time here. Delegates here have the chance to make real progress in combating the biggest threat we have ever faced, and reduce and prevent human suffering as a result, what more of a purpose could anyone hope to have? Let's hope they don’t waste this opportunity.
On my way back on the shuttle I’d hoped I would get the same driver as before so I could share with him all the ideas I had for this blog. When the door opened it was not the same guy, but perhaps I could have an equally rewarding conversation with this driver as well.
“Do you have any Neil Diamond we can listen to on the ride back to the hotel?” I asked… There was an awkward pause before I realized I wasn’t going to get a response, I guess I don’t have a good rapport with all bus drivers.