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If everyone behaved like SA, we'd need 1.7 earths - consumers warned

Aug 05 2019 21:31

South Africa is "dipping into its investment" and "overspending on its budget" in relation to the earth's resources, says University of Stellenbosch Business School Senior Lecturer in Strategy and Sustainability, Dr Jako Volschenk.

Speaking on World Overshoot Day, Volschenk said SA needed an urgent wake-up call against its "overconsumption of resources and overproduction of waste".

He cited the South African National Energy Development Institute which recently said, if all people in the world lived like South Africans did in relation to the Earth’s resources, we would need 1.7 planets.

World Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year. This year, it fell on July 29.

In South Africa, it fell even earlier – on July 8.

"We are using more ecological resources and services than nature can regenerate by overfishing, overharvesting forests and emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than the ecosystem can carry or recover from," Volschenk said.

"It’s like trying to live from the interest of a big investment, but having to dip into your investment because you overspent, which generates even less interest for the next year. Globally, we have been overspending our budget for more than 50 years," he said.

Middle class the biggest culprits

According to Volschenk, the middle class has the greatest impact on the environment.

"As income rises, households consume more meat, can afford more home appliances that consume energy, and typically use private transport instead of public transport," he said.

However, he added, impact drops again in high-income groups -as these can afford environmentally friendly products, which usually come at a premium.

This trend is also visible at country level, where highly developed nations typically consume less resources per capita, he added.

Two key components of addressing this overspending are energy innovation and the efficient use of energy, he said.

However, he expressed concern over the level of carbon emissions in SA. "The South African average of 8.9 tonnes CO2 emissions per capita is among the highest per capita emissions in the developing world. The world average is 6.8 tonnes per person. Due to its reliance on coal, South Africa ranks among the dirtiest energy producers in the world and as a country rank 14th on the global emissions list."

Additionally, he said, according to the World Wildlife Fund when it comes to food waste South Africa fares poorly.

The SA government has committed to reducing food waste, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Volschenk advised consumers to change their behaviour at an individual level.

"We can firstly change our behavior to reduce our impact on the environment in our day-to-day activities.

"Reduce the consumption of meat and fish and switch towards a plant-based diet, and reduce the use of products that contain palm oil such as chocolate and certain soaps. Car pool or travel by bicycle, and recycle every day if you have not already started lessening your plastic usage.

"Take shorter showers to save on both water and heat and don’t boil a full kettle for just one cup of tea," said Volschenk.  

environment  |  south africa  |  middle class
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