Copenhagen

Very few of the meetings around the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change have produced any tangible results - but next week's conference in Copenhagen is shaping up to be a bruiser.

Undoubtedly the protesters will be there in force, throwing stones from their glass houses, pretending it is someone else's fault. Which it is, because we all need to bear the burden.

Virtual water

I like this one. Let us travel a few thousand kilometres north, to Windhoek, Namibia, and imagine ourselves at a braai on a summers evening. Pleasant thoughts. There is a beef steak sizzling on the grill, a sun setting, some locally-made lager on ice in the fridge and one in the hand.

Where did that steak come from ? How much water did it take to produce ?

This is the essence of virtual, or embedded, water. Calculations have been made that say my 1kg steak has 15,500 litres of water in it - the water the cow drank, and the water the grass needed that the cow grazed during its lifetime. By contrast, the 1kg mealies (corn) on the same braai used maybe 1,300 litres of water - a tenfold decrease.

Vegetarians consume a lot less of the world's resources.

Namibia is a dry country. What water there is goes principally to agriculture and uranium mining (a major consumer). The Uranium industry is building two de-salination plants, but those in turn are heavily dependent on South African electricity.

So importing a cow for my braai 'imports' 7 million litres of water. Not bad.

Worldmapper

Another of my favourites. Worldmapper is a site that draws a map of the world, area-distorted by any number of metrics, from Underweight Children to Life Expectancy to Books Borrowed. Check this one on Water Use for example. And have a good rummage around the other maps while you are at it.

Eat the dog ?

The New Scientist had an interesting opinion piece discussing a new book, called Time to Eat the Dog?, where they say that a medium-sized dog has about twice the global footprint of driving a Toyota Land Cruiser, and has a larger eco-print than the average citizen of Vietnam. A cat will stare down Volkswagen Golf.

Children

One of my favourite places in South Africa is Zululand, and the king's country around Eshowe. I have known a Zulu, Walter Cele there - for ten years. He has four wives and twenty children. Some of them live in the idyllic spot where he lives, but most have moved on to occupy the sprawling shanty-towns surrounding the big cities in South Africa, like Soweto, south-west of Johannesburg. Walter's comment is that his old wives get tiresome, and the new, younger one is less trouble. I am sure that is the case, and she wants children too.

I went to a wedding of Nkosi Mzimela, a prominent Zulu chief who lives on the border of the Ongoye Forest. He is Chairperson of the National House of Traditional Leaders. He was marrying his sixth wife that day. His other five wives all graced the top table. We were invited also to the wedding feast (paid for by Pick & Pay, a prominent supermarket chain, in return for his endorsement). We were seated at a table with six other zulu girls - very demure and well-dressed. It turned out these were his 'girlfriends' - they each had two children already, and two had lobola paid already.

Why should the ordinary Zulu man listen to messages like 'be faithful' and 'one partner' in the face of role models like Nkosi Mzimela ? Single-handedly the chief negates millions of Rands of AIDS advertising and messages.

Lets face it - the human race is primarily responsible for climate change.

I leave you with another worldmapper picture - Illiterate Young Women. It is rarely their fault, but population growth will not be checked without addressing this one.