We, the youth, need to address the biggest obstacle to our future: climate change

By Zandisile Howe – a final year student at UNESWA doing a BA in Humanities (majoring in Geography and Environmental Science and Planning as well as African Languages & Literature). She is also a member of Hlumisa and a finalist in this year’s Miss Eswatini competition.

Our planet is sick and we can see this through the dramatic climatic changes we are experiencing all over the world. Now, more than ever, our planet needs us to step up and take actions towards fixing our wrongs that started climate change. It is critical for us to address the climate emergency and it is of utmost importance that the youth take a stand to help reduce this climate crisis, since they are the ones who will be left on earth to deal with its impacts in the near future. With that being said, I can gladly say the youth of Eswatini are slowly but surely taking up their space in this struggle against climate change.

We all know that climate change comes in many forms. One of these are what we refer to as ‘rain bombs’. This is rain that should be spread over a period of months, yet ends up falling in a few days or even a few hours. This is due to the fact that the earth’s temperature is rising and water heats up faster than land, this has caused a huge increase of precipitation and thus these rain bombs. An example of such an event is highlighted by the Kwazulu-Natal floods of April 2022, when Durban received 351mm of rainfall in one day, resulting in floods that killed at least 300 people. In other parts of the world, an Island on the Pacific, called Kiribati, is one of the first countries that have needed to buy land in other countries to house climate refugees.

Climate change has the potential to worsen over 58% of human infectious diseases. For example, hepatitis can be spread by flooding, the life of malaria carrying mosquitoes can be increased by rising temperatures, and the hanta virus can be brought to communities by rodents searching for food during droughts. All of these consequences will get worse if measures are not taken to curb bad habits that started and fuel climate change, and guess what, the people that will have to deal with the consequences are the current youth.

Furthermore, research shows us that developing countries like Eswatini will be greatly affected by the impacts of climate change and will be one of the least able to adapt and cope with the expected shock climate change will have on the environment and the economy. With the economic collapse more social conflict will arise. Thus any further delays in taking action against climate change will have negative effects not only on our physical but also our mental and financial well-being.

The Green Round Table

Recently I had attended the first ever Green Round Table that was hosted by Hlumisa, ECCo and the European Union at the Bushfire School’s Festival. The event had 40 zestful environmental and climate activists, students, teachers and practitioners of Eswatini. The Theme for this event was Exploring Creative Climate Action and Green Solutions in Eswatini and indeed we had plenty to discuss, drawing inspiration from our various experiences and backgrounds. I personally became aware of various aspects of climate change, such as the impacts climate change has on women and children, the role art plays in raising awareness and the various sustainable agricultural methods Swazi farmers have been practicing over the years and should be getting more recognition for (especially now on the route to sustainable development that we want to take).

The Green Round Table convened young climate activists and students from around Eswatini (Image by D. Armstrong)

One of the speakers there was Khulekani Msweli who talked about how sometimes as the youth we like pointing fingers at other people to say that they should help take us out of certain situations, forgetting that it is also our responsibility to stand up and fight for ourselves. The battle with climate change will greatly affect us. He stated that our grandmothers and grandfathers will be long gone by the time we experience the severe effects of climate change. He reminded us to go back the community level and engage with our elders because that is where the wisdom is. He highlighted that our grandparents have been known to practice sustainable agriculture long before the world declared that we should stop using fertilizers and use natural compost around our farms. Before we go out to the world and fight the big fight, let us first ask ourselves that in our communities, what are we, as young people, doing to help make a positive change? What green footprint are we leaving in our communities to help make a difference?

Discussions on the green table further revealed that as young people, we need to participate in more educational courses that increase climate change awareness, so we can come up with behaviour change campaigns. One way to start this is by engaging with our local universities, schools or workplaces to see if there are any policies present that fall in line with positive environmental change. We can simply ask the question; how many recycle bins are there on the premises, what are we doing as an institution to reduce our carbon foot print, is there encouragement from the schools to the students to participate in research of new sustainable energy sources?

Climate change education

Other youths expressed that we should have more educational teaching systems about climate change that will have active learning for children. It is well known that any good or bad habit you teach a child in their development stages is likely to stay with them for the rest of their life. The youth should come together and draft practical ideas for sustainable development. They also highlighted that as young people, we should also hold cities, towns or companies responsible for incorporating climate change in their work. There should be youth bodies in parliament that will look at climate change issues and the needs of the young people.

The actions of young people can also help governments understand how damaging to the environment their actions can be. For example, South Africa recently made a contract to buy more coal to power electricity. In response to this, a group of young climate activists took the government to court for this anti sustainable development decision. Their argument is that the current government will not be alive to face the repercussions of coal burning in the future. It will be the youth that will have to face the consequences. According to the World Health Organization, the air pollution that is caused by burning fossil fuels like coal leads to the death of up to 3.2 million people every year. Moreover, the quality of air is also linked to our climate and ecosystems. This is why the reduction of the burning of fossil fuels would both mitigate climate change and reduce the number of people dying from diseases caused by air pollution.

This then shows that there is a lot we can do as young people to address climate change. We cannot just sit back and watch our planet burn. Who knows, some of these actions may even lead to self-employment opportunities, which would reduce the high unemployment rate amongst the youth.

Hlumisa Eswatini – a climate youth network meeting in July 2022 (Image D Armstrong)