The Cape Town Water Crisis Is a Sneak Preview of a World Dying From Climate Change

If you happened to be vacationing in one of Cape Town’s luxury hotels in the last few weeks, it’s likely the experience would have left something to be desired. Bedding and towels remain unwashed for up to a week, toilets are sitting unflushed, and guests are provided hand sanitizer rather than being allowed to wash their hands. It’s not exactly the five-star experience you expect from the luxury resorts of Africa’s third-richest city, but Cape Town is in a serious water crisis no matter how much money you have.

The looming threat is day zero, when the city and its residents will run out of water entirely. It’s only two months away, despite a longstanding reputation for excellence in the South African municipality’s water management system. It’s one more example of how more frequent and severe extremes in climate effects overtax the ability of governments, communities, and individuals to respond.

The hope is that rains will replenish the parched region before that dreaded moment when the wells truly run dry. But for millions of people, the lack of water is already being keenly felt. Even local bird life is desperate for a few life-saving drops.

We seem to have passed a critical balance point, wherein climate change has shifted from nebulous, abstract threat to sharply felt nightmare for an increasing number of ordinary people. 2017 saw several U.S. cities and the entire territory of Puerto Rico wracked by an unprecedented hurricane season that completely overmatched not only their basic infrastructures but also the capacity of national and local relief efforts to respond adequately after the fact. Meanwhile, images of California wildfires resembled a big budget film about the apocalypse.

In the midst of all that it was hard to imagine, at the time, that 2018 could possibly be worse. But with our first major climate-related disaster in progress only a month into the new calendar year, we clearly can’t dismiss that possibility. And climate disasters are only going to become more common. While there may be exceptions, easier years here and there, by and large climate change is defined by worse outcomes over time, so what reprieves we do get can be expected to get ever rarer. Cape Town may be remembered as the first city to run out of (or, we can still hope, nearly run out of) water. It certainly won’t be remembered as the last.

Are you freaking out? More importantly, are even your enviro-skeptic, non-activist, status-quo neighbors, co-workers, friends, and families starting to freak out? Is drastic climate action looking increasingly necessary and urgent to a human majority beyond just the scientists, educators, and activists that have so frequently been dismissed?

I certainly hope so. The only silver lining of all these disasters would be that we as a species finally galvanize ourselves to avoid the biggest disaster of them all: continued inaction. Please sign this Care2 petition and let’s make this the year it all began to change for the better.

Photo credit: Andres de Wet

66 comments

Mike R
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Mike R
Mike R2 months ago

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Mike R2 months ago

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KimJ M2 months ago

Tfs

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KimJ M2 months ago

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KimJ M3 months ago

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KimJ M3 months ago

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Angela J3 months ago

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Ramesh B3 months ago

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Angela AWAY K3 months ago

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