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The other day my 8-year old asked me what I was working on and (more importantly for her) why. I explained that I had the chance to help spread the word on some local solutions to climate change and that it was incredibly important that we make changes to reduce the dirty air we keep producing.
We chatted for some time before she ran through the house, making sure all the plugs were off and then peppered me with questions like, “If electricity is a problem, why don’t we just use batteries?” A bit later I heard her berating her (in this case, innocent) five-year old sister for leaving a light on.
The reality is that leaving lights on is a relatively small part of our carbon emissions.
However negligible, lights left on may be in the broader context of a nation’s emissions, I believe we must make the necessary changes on the home front even as we advocate for and support broad scale changes at a national level. There is integrity in taking collective responsibility, even down to the individual level, for a global issue.
Over the past three years, WWF has worked with government and industry to explore practical ways that we can grow the economy while cutting our carbon emissions. The country has committed to the latter through the Paris Agreement and now we need to actually figure out how to do it.
Opportunity in new technologies
The project, funded by the International Climate Initiative of the Federal Ministry for the Environment of Germany, has been eye-opening. Along with experts and business people, we’ve put together business cases that practically illustrate how we can rethink our approach to various sectors in order to reduce emissions while saving or making money and, in most cases, creating jobs.
One of the industries we looked at was cement, which contributes a staggering 5% to global carbon emissions. We’ve found that in South Africa we’re well placed to substantially reduce the emissions released in the production of cement by creating hybrid cements – changing its recipe in a way that makes use of industrial waste products (sparing the landfill sites) without reducing the strength of the final product. This solution ticks so many boxes and the major reason it’s not implemented more widely across the industry is simply that current policy and regulations are based on traditional cement. By changing these, the industry could be transformed.
We looked at the use of solar thermal technologies in the food and beverage sector. Renewable energy sources aren’t subject to escalating electricity prices and pay themselves off relatively swiftly.
The case for business
We’ve explored the potential of introducing electric tractors to farms. These vehicles could replace up to 8 000 small orchard tractors on horticultural farms and undertake a diverse array of low-energy applications with plenty of benefits, like lower running costs and job creation potential.
We reconceived the issue of food waste in South Africa and the fact that a third of the food we produce rots in landfill sites, spewing out methane gas while children starve. I wrote more about this here.
While my daughter’s idea to run our lights off batteries may not solve climate change, out of the box thinking, backed by serious, reliable scientific research will help us make significant inroads in our quest to take responsibility as a nation for our part in the issue. We’re counting on it.
Explore more WWF research