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South Africa living on borrowed ecological resources

Neelam Rahim |

4-minute read
22 June 2024 | 12:32 CAT

Image/ South Africa Today

20 June, a date that should ring alarm bells for South Africa, as it marks our Earth Overshoot Day – the day when our consumption of ecological resources surpasses the planet’s capacity to replenish them for that year.

Prof Jako Volschenk, a renowned Associate Professor in Strategy and Sustainability at Stellenbosch Business School, draws our attention to the critical disparity between our demand and nature’s capacity.

He says, “Earth Overshoot Day is a wake-up call for South Africans that everything we consume from today onwards, is taken from the future.”

Prof Volschenk identifies South Africa’s growing appetite for meat as one of the major contributors to this deficit but acknowledges that alternatives could be more expensive.

“According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, livestock farming is responsible for nearly 12% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Transitioning to a plant-based diet can reduce dietary greenhouse gas emissions by up to 73% [1] with studies showing significant water shavings – 15,000 litres per kilogram of beef compared to 1,250 litres for wheat,” he said.

He advocates for accessible, sustainable options to drive a cultural shift towards more eco-friendly diets, highlighting the potential benefits: ‘In developing countries like South Africa, adopting plant-based diets such as vegan or vegetarian could be more affordable compared to Western-style diets, and they offer a healthier and more sustainable alternative. According to a recent study [2] published, while plant-based diets can be up to a quarter cheaper than typical Western diets, they are approximately a third more expensive than the diets predominantly consumed by lower-income populations in regions like sub-Saharan Africa.’

Prof Volschenk underlines the power of balanced and positive policies that promote sustainable choices without alienating individuals: “Negative policies like meat-shaming and flight-shaming, while aiming to raise awareness, can backfire by inducing guilt and resistance. Instead, let’s focus on promoting voluntary adoption of veganism through education and incentives for greener lifestyles. This approach is not only more effective but also more inclusive, making everyone feel like they can contribute to the solution.”

He suggests subtle interventions, called nudging, to encourage sustainable behaviours, which is one avenue that should be explored.

“Nudges can gently steer individuals towards greener choices, such as promoting vegetarian options on restaurant menus. These interventions use insights from behavioural economics to gently steer people towards more desirable outcomes, relying on indirect suggestions and positive reinforcements. For instance, when restaurants move risotto from the vegetarian to the main meal category on a menu, the orders for risotto increase by 50%.”

Listen to the full interview on The Daily Round Up with Moulana Junaid Kharsany here.


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