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Wits University Press

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Leading Scientists Address 55 Frequently Asked Questions in Climate Change: Briefings from Southern Africa

Climate ChangeWits Press is proud to present Climate Change: Briefings from Southern Africa by Mary Scholes, Mike Lucas and Robert Scholes:

Climate change affects us all, but it can be a confusing business. Three leading South African scientists who have worked on the issue for over two decades help you to make sense of this topic.

Climate Change: Briefings from Southern Africa takes the form of 55 “frequently asked questions”, each with a brief, clear scientifically up-to-date reply. The authors’ introduction provides an overview of current national and international policies aimed at regulating climate change. The four main sections take you through the science of how the climate system works, the projected impacts in Southern Africa during the 21st century, what this means for South African society, and what can be done to avoid harm.

  • How do greenhouse gases regulate the Earth’s temperature?
  • How hot will it get?
  • Will South Africa run out of water?
  • Isn’t climate change just part of a long-term natural cycle?
  • Do cow-farts really cause global warming?
  • Is sea-level rise something to worry about?
  • Will marine fisheries collapse?
  • Can solar and wind power meet our energy needs?
  • How can I reduce my carbon footprint?
  • Is there any chance of runaway global warming?

These and many other questions are answered in this full-colour, illustrated book.

The profuse illustrations and local examples help to explain complex issues in simple terms. The book is aimed at interested but non-scientist readers, including business people, decision-makers and students, and is very timely in relating to impending international treaties and national efforts to avoid the worst consequences of a changing climate.

The year 2015 is regarded as a watershed for global climate change action if a global average temperature rise of more than two degrees above the pre-industrial level is to be avoided. This book provides compelling evidence that the impact on agriculture, fisheries, water resources, human health, plants and animals as well as sea levels will be dangerous. However, the book ends on a positive note by offering advice on how the world can avoid such bleak outcomes, while allowing a good life for all.


Foreword by Minister Naledi Pandor

Overall introduction to the book

How do governments assess climate change?

SECTION 1: Earth System Science – the processes that underlie climate change


Why is Earth habitable?
How do greenhouse gases regulate Earth’s temperature?
Is water vapour the most important greenhouse gas?
Why are clouds the wild card in climate change?
Isn’t climate change just part of a long-term natural cycle?
Are climate variations just due to volcanoes or other Earth processes?
How do El Niño and La Niña events affect South African weather?
How hot might it get in South Africa this century?
How might the rainfall in Southern Africa change in the 21st century?
Are extreme weather events related to climate change?
How do land-use changes and deforestation add to global warming?
What is South Africa’s contribution to global warming?
What happens to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions?
Can ecosystems keep sucking up carbon dioxide (CO2) from fossil fuel burning?
Could ocean currents slow down or change direction?
Is there any chance of runaway global warming?

SECTION 2: Consequences of a changing climate for the Southern African environment


How resilient are ecosystems to climate change?
How will South Africa’s plants respond to climate change?
Could rising carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations boost plant growth?
Is bush encroachment caused by global change?
Will South Africa’s land animals cope with climate change?
Are South Africa’s birds taking flight?
Will South Africa run out of water?
How will climate change affect freshwater ecosystems?
How much, and how fast, will sea level rise?
What is ocean acidification?
How will ocean acidification affect marine organisms?
How is climate change affecting South Africa’s coastal seas?
How is our marine life responding to climate change?
Will coral reefs survive climate change?
How are Antarctica and the Southern Ocean responding to climate change?
Climate change at South Africa’s Prince Edward Islands

SECTION 3: Consequences of a changing climate for society


Is the South African economy vulnerable to climate change?
How will climate change affect agriculture?
Will there be enough food to eat?
Do cow-farts really cause global warming?
How will forestry in South Africa respond to climate change?
How will climate change affect South Africa’s marine fisheries and aquaculture?
What are the human costs of climate change?
How do climate and air pollution interact to affect human health?
Will climate change cause malaria to spread in South Africa?
Should South Africans worry about rising sea levels?

SECTION 4: What can we do to avoid and adapt to climate change?


Is it cheaper to tolerate climate change or prevent it?
Is carbon trading desirable or useful?
Is it possible to take carbon dioxide (CO2) back out of the atmosphere?
Could fertilizing the ocean fix climate change?
Could we reduce incoming solar radiation?
Are there viable alternatives to coal for South Africa?
Can nuclear power provide the clean energy we need?
Can we turn garbage into energy?
Do biofuels offer a solution?
Could spekboom save our bacon?
Can we help plants and animals to adapt to climate change?
Can we build climate-friendly houses and cities?
How can I reduce my carbon footprint?

About the Authors

Robert (Bob) Scholes is a Professor of Systems Ecology at the University of the Witwatersrand. He has worked on the issue of climate change since 1990, and was a Lead Author on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s influential assessments in 2000, 2007 and 2014. His specialty is the interaction between terrestrial ecosystems in Africa and the global climate, and he is widely regarded as a world expert in this field.

Mary Scholes is a Professor in the School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences at Wits University, Johannesburg and is the SARChI (South African Research Chairs Initiative) chair with a focus on global change and systems analysis. Her climate change research focuses on agriculture and food security as well as impacts of acidic deposition resulting from the burning of fossil fuels.

Mike Lucas is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Cape Town. He is the South African and African member of the International Scientific Committee of Oceanic Research (SCOR), a special committee of the International Council for Science (ICSU). His own research focuses on how climate change affects the marine environment, particularly the Atlantic and Southern Oceans, and how this in turn can affect global climate.

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