By Roger Diamond.

Let me be clear — I am not a climate change denialist. But given the chance, that we all have, of selecting something meaningful to do with our lives, to leave a positive legacy or at least to reduce the negative impacts of our consumptive lifestyle, pick something tangible and manageable.

Climate change is more than just a buzzword — it’s become a sub-cult. A juggernaut that sweeps aside any sense and makes a mockery of any other environmental problem, hazard or threat. People just don’t take you seriously if you don’t bow to its superiority. The only way to make any headway on another environmental issue is to link it to climate change, otherwise you are kicked off the bandwagon, left to be dragged through the dirt and forgotten by all those serious trumpeters blowing their own carbon dioxide into the ever hotter atmosphere.

I am not recommending that we all forget about climate change, but rather that we see it for what it is — one of many environmental problems faced by humanity and this earth we share, and one of the more nebulous problems. Nebulous, politically sensitive, economically threatening, yet with money-making opportunities for carbon traders and industries. Vested interests, hidden agendas, predictive science, modelling and a whole bagful of uncertainties make tackling climate change like thrutching at soap bubbles in a howling south-easter! Sure, we can all take little actions that will surely make a difference, but you’re not going to see any difference, ever. Why? Why are we being told to pursue something so ungratifying as reducing the increase in the quantity of an odourless, invisible trace gas in the atmosphere?

OK, maybe I’m being a bit harsh. Some of the things you can do to address climate change are a little bit conspicuous, such as collecting your recycling, reducing your purchases of packaging, putting a solar geyser on your roof or using public transport. But the EFFECT of these on climate change is never going to show, if it is indeed going to have any effect at all. Why not pick something where you can see the positive effect?

So, what are all these other environmental problems? The list is so long, from disposal of nuclear waste to densification of urban settlements, let me pick just two that have great relevance in South Africa — soil erosion and invasive alien species.

South Africa is a dry country with limited plant cover and has remarkably steep slopes — a good recipe for soil erosion. Poor agricultural practices, such as overgrazing, cropping on steep slopes (without contour ploughing) and leaving no natural vegetation buffers next to watercourses, to name but a few, are all leading to immense erosion of the critical living envelope of the biosphere — the soil. Tackling soil erosion has immediate benefits. How to do it is generally obvious, yet it’s not happening. Farmers may soon be getting caught up in soil-carbon calculations and entering the global carbon trading market, whilst the fundamental resource of their livelihood is washing out to sea! Basic common sense surely dictates that we should be doing the simple, obvious thing of preserving our soil first.

Alien invasive species in South Africa are rampant. If you don’t believe this, read Leonie Joubert’s excellent book, Invaded. From European black mussels decimating indigenous mussel populations and smothering other littoral rocky coast dwellers, to black wattles throttling waterways in the Cape, alien invasives are consuming or displacing resources, from water to food to soil. Managing these horrors is an immense task, but tangible and manageable. You can do something and see the difference.

And finally, tackling these two problems, both very natural environment oriented, will put the environment in a healthier state and better able to withstand the predicted ravages of the juggernaut. So, coming full circle, all environmental problems are related, but my message is to catch the rat and put it to rest, rather than chase the dragon. After all, if you kill all the rats, it leaves the dragon nothing to feed upon, except your imagination.

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