You probably come across the figure 350ppm often these days. Have you wondered what it means? This is the most important number on the planet and deserves your attention.
350ppm is the number that scientists say is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide—measured in “Parts Per Million” in our atmosphere. 350ppm —it’s the number humanity needs to get back to as soon as possible to avoid runaway climate change. We’re already past 350ppm. When I was born in 1961, we were at 316ppm. In 2010, when I first participated in a climate protest action (and painted a huge 350 banner) we were at 386ppm. Today in 2019 we are at 408ppm. So clearly, all our optimism in 2010 – and all the efforts of millions of people all across the globe – have had little effect on curbing carbon emissions.
At the Global Climate Strike on 20 September 2019, a few friends who had been protesting, taking action, changing habits and raising awareness alongside me for many years took part. We lamented the fact that not much had improved, but also recalled the all fun we had had at past events, while trying to make a difference. I thought I should record some of our journey towards extinction, despite our best efforts.
Age of Stupid
Age of Stupid was launched in March 2000. The green-carpet, solar-powered event captured my imagination, particularly by producing just 1% of the emissions of a normal premiere. This film probably marked the beginning of my participation in climate activism. I was very inspired by Franny Armstrong – and still am. I bought a few copies and shared them widely. We were at 388ppm back then.
For all of human history, our atmosphere contained 275ppm of carbon dioxide. That’s a useful amount—without some CO2 to trap heat in our atmosphere, our planet would be too cold for life. About 300 years ago, humans began to burn coal and oil to produce energy and goods. The amount of carbon in the atmosphere began to rise. By doing everyday activities like cooking and driving our cars we’re taking millions of years worth of carbon, stored beneath the earth as fossil fuels, and releasing it into the air. We were starting to see signs of serious trouble: melting ice caps and rapidly spreading drought.
Obama installed Solar Panels on his roof, Japanese Sumo wrestlers rode bicycles to practice and in Vietnam children planted 1,010 trees as millions of people across the globe got together to work on Climate Solutions on Sunday 10 October 2010. All determined to get CO2 levels back down to 350 parts per million (where we need to be, to prevent runaway climate change).
In Mpophomeni, 30 volunteers gathered to create a bug-friendly food and medicine garden at the home of Lindiwe Mkhize (an ardent protector of rhinos and other precious Africa biodiversity) in Impala Road by digging, dancing, fixing, fencing, painting, planting and feasting.
Amidst the music and magic, a message encouraging everyone to work together to cut our carbon emissions by 10% this year was shared. The idea being that if we continued to cut carbon emmissions by 10% a year, by 2020, we would be at zero.
The Enviro-Club kids collected and sorted litter for recycling and turned big tomato tins into herb planters, the girls painted a big red heart on the front door.
Mr Gwamande, Mr Mtambo and Mr Lipheyana erected goat and chicken proof fences. Felix (from Nigeria) and Éidín planted medicinal herbs, Steve and Gram (from Zimbabwe) helped Ntombenhle make a vegetable garden, Mzwandile, Sihle and Philani planted indigenous trees, Nkanyiso, Happy and Nana created a wildlife friendly garden.
Lindiwe kept everyone topped up with fresh, cold water while Laila brewed herbal teas in the sunstoves and played a game about healthy living.
Lwazi was very excited to find a newly laid egg in the hedge and popped it into the sunstove to cook. We all learnt about food miles and living locally and how to turn a tin can into something to be treasured.
In support of Moving Planet, the Global Day of Action to Move Beyond Fossil Fuels, Charlene Russell lead the Mpophomeni Enviro-Club in a global warming toyi-toyi down Mandela Drive, then marched to Main Street Common from Merrivale. Their hand-painted banners caused quite a stir, asking motorists “Are you a Fossil Fool?” and declaring “Local Action –Global Solutions.
They were soon joined by a group of cool eco-girls who asked “Have you sold your grandchildren for a 4×4?” and shouted “There is no Planet B!”
Eidin Griffin and her friend Lizzie walked into town with their banner!
Laila Smith-Blose and Jessica Dreamtime served solar brewed teas and Pia Sanchez arrived on her tricycle with low-carbon lemon juice to refresh the demonstrators.
Liz Taylor showed everyone how much carbon a single vehicle produces compared with someone using a taxi or a horse, Penny Rees sold solar powered lanterns and Hazel Lake promised to teach everyone to make one of her wonderful ‘Hot Bags’ to save energy. What a splendid community celebration of Current Sunlight!
Lindiwe Mkhize declared: “I am so proud to be a part of these people who care about our planet. I didn’t realise others were also worried about Climate Change.” Gabriel Adderley added “We all had the most fabulous time. It was exciting, empowering and really fun!”
I was very excited to participate in the Unite Against Climate Change March calling for Climate Justice! South Africa had got in a bit of a spin hosting the COP 17 negotiations in Durban – most people seem to be treating it as some sort of celebration, rather that the deadly serious conference it is. Anyway, I wasn’t missing a chance to dust off my limited toyi-toyi moves and shout “Awethu” a few times. Besides, our atmosphere now contained 392ppm, so clearly things were not improving.
I painted my banners (which I still use), packed some snacks and gathered with friends in Durban.
Usually, we just see London or Seattle on TV demonstrating to save the planet, but now it was us! Bright banners carried many messages – “stop incineration” said the waste pickers , Charlene asked ‘how big is yours?’ (eco-footprint that is), the vegan society reminded everyone that meat-eating wasn’t helping our cause and Claire’s poster suggested “less talking, more walking” would help. Two Durban girls had an enormous banner demanding “Close down the smelters!” and behind me a tall man held up a poster saying “What happened to Compassion?” There were people from all over the world. It was very exciting.
Young members of the Mpophomeni Enviro-Club (all of whom are still my friends today) marched with us. When Sisanda met a guy from Japan she declared “Japan – Cool!”, Nomfundo sidled up to chat to an American man in rap gear and enormous sunglasses, Lwazi was startled when a white guy with dreadlocks began chatting to him in isiZulu! I got a bit excited when I spotted Kumi Naidoo of GreenPeace nearby. Asanda and Philani asked Rico from Groundwork for his take on Climate Change. “The planet will be ok,” he said, “but the people won’t”. There were friendly conversations all over. Below, young Mzwandile Mokoena gets the protest grooving.
It is estimated that total CO2 emissions for core COP17 activities were 77 000 tons (61 000CO2e from the long haul flights) . I worked out that I would need to eat a vegan diet for just over a week to make up for the 13 kgs CO2e I created driving to Durban (with two others in the car).
People’s Climate March
Many people still appeared to believe that Climate Change was something happening somewhere else. The hundreds of people who gathered at Howick Falls in November 2014 raised their voices in solidarity with people across the planet to say that the time for talking is way past. We have seen the impacts on our local weather, on food prices, and watched in horror as tragedies unfold across the globe.
Protests began early in Mpohomeni with a march along Mandela Drive.
With carbon dioxide now at 389ppm, the scale and diversity of the People’s Climate March, showed that there was a massive movement around the world demanding immediate action to address the climate crisis.
At the UN Climate Summit in New York City on 23 September, Ban Ki-moon said “Time is not on our side. We cannot delay any more, change needs to happen now. We are the first humans to ever breathe air at 400parts per million CO2.” The Paris Accord – the international climate treaty signed in 2015 was the result. We knew that no single meeting or summit would ‘solve climate change’ . We were so hopeful, but so disappointed. Now, even those unambitious goals are being sidelined.
Climate change affects the air we breathe, our capacity to provide safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter. It is horrifying to think about the sort of challenges little people will face. Like Darwin Putzier, below, who joined his first protest aged just 3 months. His mum, Charlene Russell, has always had the cleverest protest posters.
Candy Zuma hit the nail on the head with her banner. Environmental impoverishment links directly to human suffering.
With almost 3000 activities around the world, the sheer scale and diversity of the People’s Climate March, showed politicians that there is a massive, energized movement demanding immediate action to address the climate crisis. This is true people powered movement – people from all backgrounds acting locally, mobilising their communities, shaping the future of our planet. Tafadzwa Bero of Shea O’Connor Combined commented “Imagine what this world will look like in the next 20 years? All the small changes could mean a huge impact towards reducing Climate Change.”
Frack Free South Africa
In 2015 the treat of fracking (the exploration for unconventional gas, to be precise) overtook us as the issue of most concern. FFSA was, and still is, powered by volunteers who have drawn a line in the sand and are determined to take back the power from the politicians and greedy corporations who have short-term gains as their objectives and do not care about the havoc left behind when they pocket their money and move on.
I think as a result of all the previous activism, networking and screening green movies, the first meeting held by potential frackers, Rhino Oil & Gas, at Lions River Club in Dargle was completely overwhelmed as 400 people arrived to voice their concerns.
There were not enough chairs and hundreds of people could not even get near the windows, let alone into the room. I was very hopeful that climate activism was emerging and real change would come. One of the many school children present suggested that they hold their meeting in a large school hall “It is our future, we are the next generation and this affects us most.”
For the past four years, we have continually protested about exploration for unconventional gas. We have raised awareness, run information campaigns, protested with farmers and housewives, water diviners and rastafarians, raised money for legal fees, held workshops – all across KZN and neighbouring provinces.
Many of the faces were the same once the real hard work started. See Lindiwe Mkhize (see previous paragraph 10:10:10) standing her ground at a Rhino Oil & Gas meeting.
On Friday 20 September 2019 – the day of the Climate Strike, we heard that Rhino had withdrawn their application to look for gas in this area. Celebration? Sadly, they are simply turning their attention to the area around Upper Tugela, Harrismith, Bethlehem, Warden where coal bed methane occurs, so we will need to continue the fight there. It may not be in our backyard, but we are all in this together – no matter where we live.
Global Climate & Frack Free March
While senior citizens are worried about Climate Change and the possibility of fracking, it is young people who will bear the brunt of the bad decisions taken and fossil fuels burnt over the past 100 years. Student, Dominique Clinckemaillie (16), joined the Howick Global Climate and Frack Free March in 2015 and took gorgeous photos from the back of a police van – like this one below of Yvonne Munk. “People power does work,” said Yvonne waving a bright banner which said Think Outside the Barrel.
The hundred Howick people who marched with 785 000 other people around the globe repeated the message to leave fossil fuels in the ground and invest in renewables instead.
Across Africa, thousands of people called on their governments to take real action by holding the global north accountable for starting climate change, and by ditching coal and investing in clean solar and wind energy in their countries.
Many banners focussed on clean energy. “It is possible to have a meaningful impact by simply focussing on your own energy consumption at home. Small changes add up to big things.” said Karen Zunckel, “We have to do this, or we are stealing our children’s future.”
It was good to link the very current topic of Fracking with the Global Climate March – the worldwide message is to leave the fossil fuels in the ground and invest in renewables instead. Many of those who marched already personally demonstrate alternates to business-as-usual energy production, realising that one cannot say no to fracking without providing viable alternatives, and that livelihoods will be destroyed by fossil fuel exploration.
Dominique “I am standing forward – defiantly representing the voice of the youth. People think that we take everything for granted. That is not true. We are strong, unafraid and aware.” There is no age barrier to being informed, active and fighting for our rights not only as South Africans but also as human beings. Dominique and Yvonne are both activists, concerned not only for their own well-being but for all life on our planet.
Oh look, there is Darwin again!
We were just ordinary people standing up in our communities, to organise, to build power, to confront the power of fossil fuels, and to shift power to a just, safe, peaceful world. We still are.
Inspired by unassuming Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, and a worldwide, informal movement of youth who skip school on Fridays, the Global Climate Strike was organised for 2019.
120 people gathered at the Falls Shopping Centre in Howick on Friday 20 September. The temperature was an astonishing 36 degrees. illustrating perfectly the impact that climate change has had on our weather. Spring, in recent memory, has been a cool, misty month. Not anymore as we baked in the hot, dry sun.
It was refreshing to see new faces among the crowd – especially school children. Many of the faces were old (in terms of climate activism). Including Darwin Putzier – who was just a few months old on his first protest march back in 2014 (that is him in the pouch at the People’s Climate March). Now he was big enough to walk two kilometres to the protest site and hold a banner of his own. His mum Charlene Russell commented “After all these years of action to reduce our carbon footprint and many protests, I have nothing left to say. The temperature brought home the point that we need to #wakeup.”
Another old/young face was 20 year old Mzwa Mokoena, who joined 10:10:10, Moving Planet, COP17 and the People’s Climate March. “The Climate Strike was so different this year because we tackled the gas station, sending awareness to Howick citizens that we need to use energy from the sun to reduce coal usage. It was exciting to see so many people uniting to ensure that people get message. We must change the way people think about Earth because it is the only planet with so much life, THERE IS NO PLANET B. Marching and protesting has always been exciting, though I did regret wearing black in this terrible heat today!”
For Khara-Jade Warren it the first time she had joined a strike for anything. “Having watched and heard the news for some time now about the increasingly urgent situation we’re in, I could no longer just write about it or post about it on social media or talk about it to friends and family. I am compelled to start showing up in any way I can.
You have been fighting this fight for many years. Many, like me, are only recently waking up to the reality of this climate crisis. It is not enough to call it climate change; it is a crisis. The facts are irrefutable. Yet, even once we stop living in denial as so many of us still are, we shrug our shoulders, shake our heads, burn our fuel, fly around the world and pay corporations for products that are destroying our very home. Because it’s easier for us to “just not think about it.” It’s easier to carry on the way we always have, hoping someone else will do something, keeping it at arm’s length: an environmental problem. But this is personal.
We have just forgotten. We’ve forgotten who our Mother is. We’ve forgotten that Nature gives us—our children, our grandchildren, our communities, everyone and everything we love or care about—life. If we truly wake up to this reality, we simply cannot carry on as if it’s “business as usual.” It’s a devastating truth, but it’s not too late to act.
I showed up on Friday because I want to be able to tell my children one day that I did something. That I did not sit back and watch their future burn. I will continue to show up in any way I can. I will continue to reduce my meat consumption—to only buy from local, eco-responsible, ethical producers. I will continue to reduce my use of fossil fuels: carpool, bike or walk when possible, support green energy solutions. I will continue to reduce my use of plastic. I will continue to speak and write about it, even when it makes people uncomfortable. I will continue to stand on the pavement in 37 degree heat, even if it makes me uncomfortable. Because we all need to get uncomfortable. We need to get out of our safe, warm cocoon of denial.
I believe we can change. We just need to reach the tipping point. We need enough people to wake up and demand action—not just for the sake of our beautiful, dying natural world, but for our children, and our children’s children.”
Eco-Warrior Lindiwe Mkhize was there with her placard ‘Unite in Protecting our Natural Resources’. Earth is losing species an astonishing rate – more than 1000 times the natural speed of evolution. Degraded nature undermines human well-being and our ability to supply food, clean water, and energy. It’s not just an environmental issue, it’s also a social and development issue and in combination with climate change – a terrifying prospect.
Lindiwe (who still has a red heart on her door, albeit a faded one) has the last word, “l have not given up hope yet. I think the biggest problem is that, although people are aware of climate change, they think that it is someone else’s problem. They don’t want to make any changes in their lives. But small things like taking your own shopping bags do make a difference. If everyone contributes, they will add up to a big change. Actions speak louder than words. We need to keep on educating others, keep on protesting and sharing information. Once someone is aware, they might go and help someone else to understand. Change is always slow, but it will come.”
Over 4 million people took part in 161 countries. That’s a lot of people. It was the largest climate day of action in history. We were part of it.
We can’t only eat less meat, ride our bikes, buy local, seasonal food and reuse shopping bags (although we do need to do these things)- we need to stop supporting fossil fuel and mining industries. Really stop – by moving our investments to ethical, renewable energy companies, or regenerative farming. We have to keep up pressure on our government to stop the insane plans to expand coal and gas – completely stop. We need to support initiatives that restore degraded eco-systems and re-wild as much of the planet at we possibly can so that Nature can help store all the extra carbon. We need to stop shopping. Simply stop shopping.
At 408ppm. To change everything, it takes everyone. That includes you.