Setting: Afternoon of Christmas Eve, on the taxi back to site from Duke City. I have stumbled into conversation with a few men in the back. After exchanging pleasantries, a gist of the following exchange took place.
Man: It is too hot!
Me: Yebo, Kuyashisa (the sun is hot…what I say to commiserate with people when the temperature is uncomfortable in terms of heat).
Man: Yebo Kuyashisa. Did you hear about the stars exploding?
Me: No (wondering where the sudden supernova reference is directing the conversation). What about the izikanyezi (stars)?
Man: It is usually not this hot, but (gestures towards one of Amajuba’s steel/coal plants) the factories put chemicals in the sky. The chemicals make the stars grow and then they blow up. The pieces of the stars hit the earth and heat the ground up. That is why we are in a drought.
Me: (Speechless for a few seconds) Interesting. No, I have not heard of the exploding stars.
As someone who believes that global warming is a reality that must be addressed, I like this perspective better than the abstract version of the phenomena (no offense to the Engineer and Bill Nye). It is not exactly accurate but more creative, if only the conference officials tapped into South Africa’s storytelling genius before Paris. I think bits of stars falling from the sky (or fireballs of gas) is visual enough to help those who are in denial understand.
In the end, people realize it is a problem (and they got 60% of the story right) and KwaZulu-Natal is hotter than usual. I struggle to explain the ozone layer’s dynamics in English, so I did not push the conversation forward. Instead the men asked me why some women do not respond when a man approaches them. That conversation took the rest of the 45 minute ride.