Apocalypse, now

One couldn’t help but notice the irony involved in the tragic forest fires which ravaged California last month: One of the fires ~ the worst as it turns out ~ was named the Camp Fire. Far from being the benign and warming Boy Scout’s pile of crackling logs around which one sang songs and toasted marshmallows as a kid, this killer roared through a town of 27 000 inhabitants, totally destroying it. Paradise, Ca, USA is no more. The town is gone, nothing more now than heaps of ash and debris.

To give the loss of Paradise a local perspective, that’s about the same as if one removed Bronkhorstspruit off the face of the earth.

The Camp Fire and the loss of Paradise was not the only fire. Just south of Paradise another fire swept through the hills of upmarket Malibu razing the homes of a number of celebrities and causing the evacuation of a quarter of a million people, many of whom took refuge on a long strip of sandy shoreline named Zuma Beach (not named, we are sure, after our erstwhile kleptocratic president).

Closer to home, at the same time that these fires were raging, large swathes of the Tsitsikamma Forest were also ablaze, as were large swathes of forest and scrub around Sydney, Australia.

And talking of taking refuge on Zuma Beach, not many months ago residents and visitors in a Mediterranean holiday paradise near Athens were driven into the sea (and had to be plucked from the waves by rescue boats) by a killer wall of flames that destroyed their town.

What is alarming is that these fires were not once-off affairs. In all four countries they were repeats of what has happened in recent years, and often for the same reasons, and often with similarly deadly results.

Is this the “new normal?” Is this what we get for allowing global warming to affect our climate?

It must be noted that many of these disasters were not started by natural means such as lightning strikes but had man-made origins. The Camp Fire, for example, was believed to have been started by sparks from a shorting power line, while the Greek blaze was reported to have been as a result of arson, as were last year’s Australian fires.

But what is a natural exacerbating factor is that they were all made much more intense and deadly by a “perfect storm” of the forces of nature including prolonged dry conditions, hot weather and howling wind.

Thankfully, Gauteng is relatively unforested, so such destructive wildfires are not possible here, although we still have devastating winter grass fires. Remember the wind-driven runaway fire which swept through Bashewa about ten years ago?

But fires or not, the effects of climate change upon even us in Gauteng are becoming plain to see. For what is clear, if these wildfires are a dramatic display of climate change, is that the Apocalypse is indeed here, now. It’s not a case of in five or ten or 20 years, if we don’t mend our ways, we’ll be facing a calamity. We are IN the calamity. Right now.

Throughout Africa, as predicted, the average temperature is rising.  While this is not as noticeable for residents of relatively temperate Gauteng, spare a thought for residents of hotter regions.

And maybe this is just developing into another dry summer as a result of a heightened El Nino effect, but we are, as a province, a country and a continent, going to run short of water in the future.

Meanwhile, in other news, a transport planner recently calculated that, if more roads aren’t built soon, commuters can expect the trip between Johannesburg and Pretoria to become a six-hour commute by 2027, on the basis of the increasing number of vehicles. That assumes, of course, that by 2037 ~ only two decades hence ~ we will still be driving cars at all. What, by then, will they be fueled with? And why will we be driving at all? Already driverless mini-copters are being designed that will flit one over the rooftops with ease and speed. And by then, heaven knows, teleportation may be an option.

The point is, frankly, that we don’t have the means to slow or prevent the real cause of climate change, which is the growing world population. The planet is, simply, too full of people, who consume too much stuff often made of substances that are finite in quantity, and once that stuff has been used we cause too much waste.

Being so negative is not a natural condition for us at the Gauteng Smallholder, and especially not at this time of festivity and good cheer. But the fact is we as a species, and the earth upon which we live, are in deep, deep trouble. With no feasible means of escape.