Climate change ‘possibly our biggest distraction’ - Wits prof

10th March 2011 By: Martin Creamer - Creamer Media Editor

Climate change is possibly the world’s biggest distraction but it is not its biggest and most immediate challenge, says Professor Grant Cawthorn.

Cawthorn, Wits University’s School of Geosciences Platinum Industry Igneous Petrology professor, contends that the lack of fresh water will have a much greater global impact than a “one or two degree” temperature rise.

In a public climate-change lecture delivered to a packed Origins Centre audience in Johannesburg, Cawthorn singled out clean water as “our most imminent challenge”, pollution as "our biggest single over-riding problem” and climate change as "possibly our biggest distraction”.

He recalls that eight of the world’s top economists, including four Nobel laureates, put Kyoto at the bottom of their Copenhagen consensus better-world priority list “because it would cost a great deal and do little good”.

Although he concedes that “we have to do something about climate change in the long term”, he contends that clean water and global-scale pollution are of more immediate concern.

“The trick is to worry about the right things first,” he says.

While the world is being distracted to focus purely on carbon dioxide, he recalls that Mother Nature has dealt with large volumes of carbon dioxide in the past.

“Provided we don’t push the limits too far, nature will come up with ways of dealing with the carbon dioxide,” he contends in a Mining Weekly Online video interview.

“Nature is incredibly benevolent and will actually help to solve our problems, but it may take a longer time than humans want to wait for, so we have to be responsible and react as well,” he adds.

Water footprints and perhaps even plastic footprints should be measured and not only carbon footprints.

He also decries recycling as inadequate.

“We’re encouraged to recycle. I disagree totally. Manufacturers should be forced to make products that can be repaired, reused, refilled and then, only as a last resort, recycled.

“We’re generating a vast quantity of plastic pollution. We live in a throw away society and that is going to destroy the world,” he adds.