Tuesday, 2 February 2016

The Climate Crisis, Drought and the Food Sovereignty Pathway

The year 2015 was the hottest year on record, since records have been kept. Extreme weather has also been experienced in different parts of the world. The Arctic ice sheet is melting rapidly releasing methane (the deadliest greenhouse gas), parts of the Antarctic are also going through a similar process, ocean acidification due to carbon concentrations are undermining our oceans capacity to serve as carbon sinks, deforestation of rain forests are also impacting on another precious carbon sink , while oil is being over-supplied into the global market.

The increase in planetary temperatures since the industrial revolution stands at close to 1 degree Celsius. Our planet is heating up and five UN-International Panel on Climate Change scientific reports confirm this. It is now beyond a doubt that human induced climate change is a causal factor. Both scientists and policy makers are also referring to the onset of the age of the Anthropocene, in which the human impact on the planet and the web of life is on a geological scale. We are shaping planetary conditions that sustain life. However, the idea of the Anthropocene is problematic for 3 reasons: (i) it does not appreciate that 500 years of capitalism, beginning with mercantile capitalism, has been engaged in conquering nature and ultimately eco-cidal destruction. It is not just a 150 years of industrial capitalism; (ii) it is not all humans that are responsible for the destruction of the Anthropocene. Capital is the real geological force shaping and determining the conditions that sustain life. Capital  and its logic of endless accumulation is not just exploiting humans and nature, more broadly, but killing all  life forms (iii) there is a failure to recognize collective agency, class and popular struggle as the way to end capital’s destruction of all life. Instead the Anthropocene has a tendency to venerate the age of humans, almost as though history  is driven by an evolutionary process. We have arrived as an apex species.

 James Hansen, the leading climate scientist in the world and working for NASA, raised the dangers of human induced climate change in 1988. Today, Hansen is convinced that all extreme weather cannot be separated from the causal impact of climate change. The UN process initiated in the early 1990s through Conference of the Parties has failed to provide genuine, systemic solutions to the climate crisis for over 20 years. While the  UN Conference of the Parties (COP21) held in Paris, in December 2016,  has committed the world’s governments to a renewable energy transition this is not binding, ambitious and lacking in will. When all pledges made by countries is measured the world’s governments come very short. We will achieve a 3-4 degree increase in planetary temperatures with present commitments. Moreover, these commitments can easily be reversed. Also the industrial countries have been let of the hook and they have extremely minimal commitments to contribute finance to poor and vulnerable countries, like African countries and island states. Also the horizons of systemic change are limited. There is no commitment to stop oil production and more market solutions are coming to the fore. This is eco-cidal.

The UN process has failed the worlds people. Leadership has to come from below to bring down carbon emissions and champion a deep just transition to sustain life. The time for quick fixes, techno schemes and business as usual solutions are over.  Corporate induced climate change can be stopped by collective human action. This will mean  we  build Red-Green Alliances to keep all the remaining oil in the ground, make a rapid transition to renewable energy systems and restructure production, consumption, trade, transport systems and how we live in communities, towns and cities. Central to this is developing a food sovereignty pathway within the food system to ensure we limit the impact of food production on the climate and we are able to adapt to extreme shifts in planetary and weather conditions.

Peoples action in communities, towns and cities is going to determine the human response to climate change and whether we can survive. In South Africa the drought, partially the result of El Nino (the heating of the oceans mainly in the Pacific but having global impacts on weather patterns), the climate shift and poor water management, is a window into South Africa’s future. In October of 2015 South Africa experienced some of the highest recorded temperatures in the world at over 48 degrees. And then in December the heat wave created unbearable conditions for many people, with many people also dying from heat exposure, while some parts of the country experienced extreme rainfall. South Africa is a site of climate change. The impacts of the drought include: the failure of staple crops like GMO maize, the death of livestock, water stress for small scale and subsistence food production. Food prices are expected to increase by an additional 40-60% in coming months. Hunger has increased in this context.

The South African Food Sovereignty Campaign will be championing a food sovereignty pathway in the food system in order to ensure we are able to provide a peoples response to the climate crisis. This will include the following actions:

·      Providing a telephone hotline (011 4471013) and platform for small scale farmers and subsistence households to  speak out on the drought: share their experiences, challenges and solutions for the drought;
·      Training small scale farmers, communities and movements in more sustainable farming and water management through agro-ecology;
·      Developing the capacities of households, movements and communities to save indigenous seed varieties that are more easily adaptable to changing climate conditions;
·      Developing a Food Sovereignty law, from below and then presenting this at a Peoples Parliament to all parties and civil society organisations.
·      Raising awareness of the drought, climate change, hunger and food sovereignty through campaigning for #foodpricesmustfall , social media platforms and the second annual Food Sovereignty Festival on World Food Day in 2016.

We can survive climate change if we act now. It is time for system change from below! Forward to Food Sovereignty!


Author: Vishwas Satgar is a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the South African Food Sovereignty Campaign, Chairperson of the COPAC Board and a WITS academic.