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Wednesday 1st April 2009
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If it is human nature to leave things to the last minute, then the world’s response to global warming is a bitter case in point. As the issue begins to get the coverage and attention it deserves, Leonie Joubert wonders whether it is too little, too late.

In March this year, climate scientists from around the world met in Copenhagen, Denmark (the city that will host the next all-important round of climate negotiations this December), to present the latest findings on just how fevered our planet is getting.
Scientists generally revolt against hyperbole – which makes newspaper headlines coming out of this conference chilling.

“Severe global warming will render half of the world's inhabited areas unliveable, expert warns,” The Guardian’s pages sounded out. “World faces ‘irreversible’ climate change,” rang CNN. “Sea levels rising twice as fast as predicted,” bellowed The Independent. “Global warming ‘will be worse than expected’,” screamed another headline. “Amazon could shrink by 85% due to climate change,” from yet another.

All the predictions in the 2007 UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report should be treated as conservative, politicians were told. It’s time to start planning for the worst case scenarios – with only 10 years in which to level off our emissions (fat chance that’ll happen!). But it may be too late to avoid a 2°C rise in temperature, a threshold regarded by many scientists as that beyond which we move into catastrophic and irreversible global warming.

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Mercifully, there is a silver lining here. In all my years of writing about climate change, I’ve never seen as much coverage in the press. During the Copenhagen conference in March, every single headline on The Guardian’s environment page was about climate change. The Australian’s website has “climate” as a separate category linked from its font page, alongside “breaking news”, “the world”, and “sport”. This is unprecedented focus on what people are finally realising is an all-out crisis. And it’s likely to stay this way for the rest of the year, leading up to the Copenhagen negotiations – let’s just hope we don’t all get fatigued by it.

There was one encouraging headline coming out of the March gathering in Copenhagen: “The global economic downturn could cut greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 50%, a scientist said at the Congress on Climate Change.”

I know, it’s near-impossible to feel positive when you’ve lost your house, or your pension’s shrunk by a third almost overnight. But the twin crisis of climatic meltdown and economic collapse are going to force a change in just about everything we do: where we work, how we drive, how we holiday, eat, shower, do business, the clothes we wear.

Just watch. Things are feeling shaky now, but the shift from a fossil fuel-based economy to a green energy one is going to bring about its own kind of economic growth and job prospects. It’s coming. We’re at the start of a revolution. There was the agricultural revolution, the print revolution, the industrial revolution, the digital revolution… so this is what it feels like to live through a watershed moment.

 
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