On Saturday 22nd January the temperature in Cape Town reached 44 degrees Celsius – the highest on record for the Mother City and the highest in the world on that day. This for a city only recently revived from the brink of running out of water. Earlier in January, the temperature reached 50.7 degrees Celsius in a seaside town on the West Coast of Australia – only the fourth time in history that a temperature higher than 50 C was recorded in Australia, quite remarkable for a village by the sea. The number of days over 50 C has doubled in the world since 1980.
In the northern parts of South Africa, the agricultural industry is dealing with the wettest summer in history. In the Karoo, this came after the worst drought in human memory. Certain parts of the country have been declared disaster areas.
These headlines are becoming the norm. Even the most sceptic climate change deniers must struggle to find explanations for these volatile, severe weather patterns. Even worse than climate change, is the threat of biodiversity loss – the disturbance of ecosystems poses a major risk for human survival. Scientists say that we are in the sixth extinction period and, unlike the mass extinction events recorded in geological history, humans are almost entirely responsible for this extinction.
The loss of natural habitat because of the growing human population is a major concern not only for animals but for the survival of humans. The destruction of the natural habitat of animals means that humans now live in closer proximity to animals - one theory explaining the emergence of the COVID -19 pandemic is the transference of the virus from bats to humans which is directly linked to the loss of bats’ natural habitat.
We should know by now that we are deeply dependent on the entire ecosystem and that removing even small links in this system endangers our survival. Humans are threatening their own survival at a rapid pace, and wealthy humans are the biggest culprits. The world’s wealthiest 10% were responsible for half the global emissions in 2015.
Our consumption and lifestyles are responsible for most of the mess – yes, ours, because most readers will fall into this category, if not the top 20% of global wealth. It is time we realise what the legacy is that we will leave our children. And that we fix our mess. Fixing that mess does not involve flying off to Mars!
Surprisingly, small steps can lead to giant leaps for the planet. You don’t necessarily have to stop flying or switch to renewable energy, although that will be a big bonus. You can make Mondays meatless. You can actually eat the food you buy (we waste 40% of global food production every year!). You can change to LED light bulbs. Your business can go paperless or you can allow staff to work remotely. You can plant a tree. You can buy local.
In our household we don’t do nearly enough - my teenagers keep reminding me that we must do better – but we have already changed our behaviour significantly. I carry a small fold-up shopping bag in my handbag. I refuse to buy out-of-season, imported fruit or veggies. Our garden is indigenous (although we still have a lawn!) We recycle. We have cut down on meat consumption. I have switched to mostly natural beauty and household products. Now that we live close to the sea, I am so mindful of what washes down our drain into the ocean. We are trying to take steps in the right direction in a sustainable way. It is no good if you make huge changes that cannot be sustained in the long term.
With mindful consumption, we not only protect the planet, but we also increase our chance to live happier lives; we can concentrate on what is important, and not fill our lives with mindless stuff that robs our energy.
As wealthy people, we must now also change our focus on how we invest. Sustainable investment does not only make sense for our planet’s survival. Investing in companies with the best environmental and social impact policies also makes financial sense – research is clear that they also produce the best returns in the long run. Intuitively it makes sense to invest in businesses with leaders who think in this long-term sustainable and considered way. The focus on quarterly profit numbers is neither the right focus for the environment, society or our investments.
Sustainable investment will be a focus for our clients’ investment portfolios going forward. Again, it’s not about chasing useless targets – it is about implementing sustainable long-term policies to ensure that we not only leave a financial legacy to our children but also, a chance for human survival.
Make no mistake. These matters deserve our urgent attention. Time is running out for the planet. And they deserve mindful attention, not just hollow policies with little impact.
We must make giant leaps, but if we can’t get our minds around it, what small steps can you take now?
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//28 January 2022.