Clem Sunter

Spacecraft Cape Town needs your cooperation

2017-03-15 10:05

One of the best metaphors I have come across in studying the environment is that Earth is like a gigantic spacecraft weaving its way through the vastness of the universe.

The reason it appeals to me is that it gets across the fact that just as in a normal spacecraft resources like air, food and water are limited for the astronauts inside, the same is true for the seven billion inhabitants of the Earth.

The immense desolation of the cosmos means that there is nowhere to run if anything essential for life ceases to be available. Thus, the passengers on the spacecraft have to make do with what they have got. Even on a planet as large as ours, and even with the outstanding intelligence of humankind, there are restrictions on our behavior which should not be breached.

Given the current water crisis in Cape Town, I think we should apply the analogy here. We have to realize that the four million passengers on the city's spacecraft have to live within the means of the water that is available to them inside or in the vicinity of the spacecraft. It is now estimated that we have less than 100 days of water left if you assume that the last 10 per cent of the dams supplying Cape Town cannot be used.

It is commendable that the city's mayor, who is the equivalent to the commander of the spacecraft, has declared an emergency and set targets for reduced consumption. On the other hand, the response so far has not measured up to the significance of the emergency.

The feeling is still out there among the general community that the winter rain will arrive in time or plans to bring in water from other sources locally or from elsewhere will be implemented. In other words, don't worry, be happy because it is all a conspiracy made up by doomsayers who are paid to keep people anxious.

Yes it may rain, and we may even get extreme rainfall just like California did in recent months to break the drought. The spacecraft will then cruise on. However, the risk is rising that there could be a catastrophe and risk management is all about trying to reduce the chances of a catastrophe by implementing actions that prevent it or mitigate its consequences.

Hence all people on board must listen to the commander and make their contribution. Cape Town may not be as remote a city as Perth in Western Australia, whose closest city is Jakarta in Indonesia; but it is a long way from the other cities in South Africa and more importantly from other major sources of water that already exist.

Moreover, one of the factors contributing to the surge in tourism in the region is the unique ecosystem in and around Cape Town. It too requires water as do all the local industries including agriculture that are reliant on water for their products.

In the long run, we can possibly use some of the abundant sea water in the surrounding ocean to satisfy our needs by constructing desalination plants. The drawback is that they are expensive and they do consume quite a lot of power. In 2017, this option is anyway not available for the spacecraft because construction of such a plant takes some time. Practical ways to meet the immediate emergency have to be reduction in demand, smarter recycling, accessing new aquifers and more boreholes.

Ultimately, we are all on this spacecraft together and we will have to share the load through the coming months. This is not the Titanic where first class passengers were rescued ahead of the rest. This is the good Spacecraft Cape Town where all the passengers in all the suburbs that make up the craft share a common destiny and should be treated in the same way. The lifeboats or rather the spacesuits are there for everybody in emergency.

May the voyage be successful and make us all feel the better for it because we have achieved a deeper understanding of being on the same side in the same team. Avoid fights at all costs!

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    cape town  |  water shortage
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