Our Burning Planet


Introducing The Gathering, Earth Edition: Time is not on our side – we must join forces, now

Introducing The Gathering, Earth Edition: Time is not on our side – we must join forces, now
Photo by Louis Maniquet on Unsplash

We need to work as Team Humanity to have a chance of attempting the near-impossible feat of engineering our very future, this time for the good of every single one of us — a real first for our modern, selfish times.

Many years from now, our political fights will be a thing of a forgotten past. Our vanities. Our greed. Our excessive consumption. Our recklessness with other life we share the world with. Our solid myths that we were no fools for taking over an entire planet in less than a few hundred years while slaughtering everything in our path. Our even more solid myths that we are destined for greatness no matter what, and responsible for none of the darkness.

All of these, with the rest of humanity, will one day belong to times long buried in the great geological dig in the sky. It is on all of us to help make this inevitable moment of ultimate entropy happen in a future that is many thousands of years ahead of us.

But as I write this, it feels as though that moment of reckoning may come much, much earlier. Just yesterday, sobering headlines warned us that the real stuff is going to get even more real: World likely to breach 1.5°C climate threshold by 2027, scientists warn. Just four years from now, we might reach the point we were hoping to stave off until 2050. The tipping points that these developments bring to us will not be pretty. Just watch this really good educational video by PBS. It will chill your blood:

Additionally, it is indeed an expression of our ultimate vanity to think that our efforts to reverse the effects of the climate crisis are about saving planet Earth.

This planet has lived happily through many cataclysmic events so far, including five mass extinctions (for the geeks among us, they are the Ordovician-Silurian, Late Devonian, Permian-Triassic, Triassic-Jurassic and finally, the Cretaceous-Paleogene, aka dinosaurs’ end).

There were also countless smaller events that were devastating to life, like the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PET) that saw the average temperature rise by between five and eight degrees Celsius over a relatively short period of 200,000 years, some 56 million years ago.

There were Snowball Earth events, when the entire surface froze, twice, for about 10 million years each time, between 710 million and 640 million years ago.

There were gigantic floods that ripped the continental surface into shreds, almost as badly as the moving glaciers have.

And do you know what the Biblical Flood, which was captured in almost every ancient myth, probably was? An event in which the water pressure from the Mediterranean Sea broke through the then Bosphorus wall and filled today’s Black Sea basin over a freshwater lake that was there for aeons — this Brobdingnagian event happened less than 7,6oo years ago.

The Earth was bombarded by asteroids (it was even hit by a small planet that almost shattered it and caused the creation of the Moon), and showered with ash from supervolcanoes which obscured the sun for many years. The Earth was also doused with sulphur dioxide at times and heated when carbon was going nuts. It got almost fully iced when the oxygen went wild and eerily quiet for some years after the dinosaurs died off.

Humanity got lucky to have lived through a rare cycle of near-perfect, quiet climate and relatively low volcanic activity — the last supervolcano, Toba in Indonesia, erupted some 76,000 years ago and the next one will almost certainly end our race, should we still exist then.

And yet, planet Earth is perfectly fine with all of these periods of catastrophes and quiet. It does not complain. It just is.

But humanity is not fine with its own possible extinction. We are not fighting to save Earth, though it would be most wonderful to see its life once again flourish in its fullness around us. We are fighting to save us, humans, on planet Earth.

A common misconception about humanity’s demise in the climate crisis is that it will play out akin to a scene from Armageddon. We are not going to receive a six-week advance notification that the planet is about to explode. It will look very much as it already does: flash flooding, wildfires, bleaching coral, failing crops, rising sea levels and with that social unrest that will make the riots of July 2021 look like a skirmish.

We only need to reflect on our most recent history as a nation to understand how humans will react when their homes are washed away or burnt down, when food becomes a luxury and not a right, and when the water simply runs out.

Humans will fight to survive. It is quite literally built into the medial temporal lobe in our brains to do so. Anarchy will be the only constant. Migration to parts of the country not yet resembling ground zero will occur until they too are uninhabitable. Cities around the world will be submerged under water and the quality of life we are now so used to will be but a dream.

To fight that ultimate fight, we need to be smart, resourceful and indefatigable. We also need to be compassionate, strategic and measured while remaining brave and determined. We need to work together, as communities, as countries and economies. We need to work as Team Humanity to have a chance of attempting this near-impossible feat of engineering our very future, this time for the good of every single one of us — a real first for our modern, selfish times.

The solutions do exist.

Daily Maverick’s contribution to this fight is Our Burning Planet, a 10-person strong team that devotes its full attention to these topics:

  • Climate crisis;
  • Global heating;
  • Ecosystem damage and biodiversity loss;
  • Pollution, in all its forms;
  • Food insecurity;
  • Water insecurity;
  • Energy transition and renewables; and
  • Corruption

We’ve been at it for four years now and, for the first time, we are ready for our first big conference:

Earth Edition

Cape Town, CTICC
Friday, 26 May 2023

It will be a remarkable collection of talent — the people who really have something to say and know what they’re talking about.

Speakers include André de Ruyter, Tendai Biti, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, Katrina vanden Heuwel, Kate Handley, Bill Mckibben, Kumi Naidoo… we’ve got experts in agriculture, AI, economics and energy — people who have dedicated their lives to understanding the problem and are ready to share their solutions.

To fight for our own survival, we need to do it together. If we want to help ourselves, it is the very same ourselves who must do the work. We cannot farm this out. We need to learn, understand, and get into action. This is the one fight we can’t outsource. This is about our survival, and it must be our work that goes into this.

Are you ready to fight for our common humanity? We all need to start somewhere. How about next Friday? DM

The full programme is available here.

Tickets are available from Quicket here

If you can’t make it to the CTICC on the day, you can register to watch the virtual event here.

Absa OBP

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