D-day for South Africa’s environment

South Africa’s Earth Overshoot Day this year falls on 1 June 2022, only days after public participation has been closed on the new Climate Change Bill tabled by Parliament (27 May).

Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when the country’s population demand for ecological resources and services in a given year, exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year.

Dr Jako Volschenk, Senior Lecturer in Strategy and Sustainability at Stellenbosch Business School says it’s an urgent wake-up call for South Africans.

“Southern Africa is already highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change as seen in the extreme rainfall that caused the deadly floods and landslides in KwaZulu-Natal. It is critical that the new Climate Change Bill tabled before Parliament, rallies a diverse range of voices to ensure that the bill is robust, governing our response to climate change, protecting life, and holding those accountable of wasting our natural resources.”

“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.”

Overconsumption of meat

He says our growing appetite for meat has an alarming impact on the environment.

Although the population worldwide has doubled in the past 50 years, the amount of meat we eat has tripled1. An estimated 50 billion chickens2 are slaughtered globally for food every year – a figure that excludes male chicks and unproductive hens killed in egg production.

“The world’s population is 7.9 billion which means in one year we eat six times the population of people, in chicken!”

A study in 20213 found that meat accounts for nearly 60% of all greenhouse gases from food production. The damage to the environment is further exasperated in that especially cattle farming, requires far more land than other forms of agriculture, driving deforestation.

Soy production has more than doubled

“We might not consume soy directly but rather indirectly through the animals we eat, or the consumption of milk and eggs. Soy production has more than doubled over the last two decades. Almost 80% of the world’s soybean crop4 is fed to livestock, especially for beef, chicken, eggs, and dairy production (milk, cheeses, butter, yogurt, etc). Soy oil is also used for cooking and can also be found in margarine, chocolate, ice cream, baked goods, and in cosmetics and soaps.”

However, Dr Volschenk says this demand has come at a cost for the environment.

“Land is being converted from forests and grasslands to produce soy, endangering valuable habitats and species. Soy production generates greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change and has a high demand for resources, especially energy and water.”

“Only 6% of soy produced is used for foods for human consumption that are produced from whole soybeans yet soy contains a high concentration of essential amino acids and is the main source of protein in our global food supply. With hunger increasing would it not make more sense to instead of cultivating soy for animal feed with its dire impact on climate change, grow soy for human consumption?”

What can the average South African do?
  • Have meat-free days (at least once a week but more if you can).
  • Reduce the ratio of meat. Winter is an ideal time for vegetable-based soups and stews. 
  • Car-pool with your colleagues, or work from home if your company allows it.
  • Make use of grocery delivery services – not only does it save you time, but the emissions from motorcycles are much less than the average car. It has also been shown to be more cost-effective.
  • Over the weekends try to cycle or walk to your local shop.
  • Set a timer on your geyser, switch appliances and lights off when not in use replace light bulbs with LEDs.
  • Cut back on waste – avoid food waste, donate items you don’t use anymore, and repair and reuse what you can.
  • Buy only goods that you really need, not want. Consider the financial benefit of not replacing your car, and rather spend your money on an enjoyable family break.
  1. Meat and Dairy Production - Our World in Data
  2. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/02/chart-of-the-day-this-is-how-many-animals-we-eat-each-year/
  3. Meat accounts for nearly 60% of all greenhouse gases from food production, study finds | Meat industry | The Guardian
  4. Soy | WWF (panda.org)

Useful resources:
Stellenbosch Business School
The internationally accredited Stellenbosch Business School offers MBA, Master’s, MPhil and PhD programmes as well as executive education programmes – all focused on the development of business leadership.
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