Published in Business Day, 19 November 2012
THE other day, I spotted a small flurry of activity just outside my front door. A gecko had died and its body was covered in black ants. Within days, the ants reduced it to a shell of crumbling skin.
The world is full of beings and processes that support us in ways we take for granted, just as some take for granted their domestic workers. Yet this symphony of all life on Earth, “biodiversity”, is profoundly threatened. The word is almost designed to sound inconsequential. Yet biodiversity is the sum and wonder of all species on Earth — perhaps all species in the universe.
Last month, the Convention on Biological Diversity met in India. The world barely noticed, which is amazing compared with the attention given to climate change, because the biodiversity crisis is more advanced than the climate crisis.
Consider all we take for granted: every dead creature is returned to the greater ecology by other creatures; plants and plankton make every breath of oxygen. Continue reading
Published 10 October 2012 in Groundup. This article relates climate change to South Africa’s conventional and failed mode of development, which is over-reliant on extractive industries, heedlessly dependent on fossil fuel, and generates wealth for the few and poverty for many.
There’s an astonishing blind spot that afflicts most of South Africa’s elites and intelligentsia, and indeed, our civilisation. It’s particularly tragic that South Africa, which suffered nearly 10 years of HIV denialism, should now also be afflicted by climate change denial.
If you’ve never been scared witless by climate change, then you clearly just don’t understand it or know enough about it – because the effects of what we are doing to this planet with our unending emissions from coal, gas, oil and deforestation are absolutely terrifying.
When I refer to climate change denial, I’m not referring to the contrarians, attention seekers and paid propagandists for the oil industry who claim that climate change is not happening or that humanity is not responsible. Rather, I refer to the kind of denialism that formally acknowledges that climate change is happening – but then refuses to engage in a genuinely honest assessment of what that actually means. Continue reading
Replacing a sea front that used to be concrete, restored dunes now protect the shore at Durban's North Beach.
How do we heal the planet, Mother Earth? Not with technology, but with people.
Dealing with the issue of climate change demands acknowledging that humanity is racing headlong towards destroying the world as we know it. Which can make keeping one’s psychological moorings intact quite difficult (something under-estimated, I suspect, by most employers in the environmental sector). I often seek mental anchorage in the growing movement for ecological restoration, which the eco-technocrats sometimes call ecosystems-based adaptation, and permaculture – “you can solve all the world’s problems in a garden”, says one of its leading lights. Well, the milieu demands we all become gardeners.
Ecological restoration is the art Continue reading
Democracy leaders: Norwegians gathered in Oslo in July 2011, following a horrific mass shooting, calling for more democracy to meet terror. Pic: Escribanas
Over the last year, I have become increasingly convinced that a key solution to dealing with our global lack of action on climate change lies in building democracies. That’s not easy, nor is it a very heartening conclusion when democracies are sliding backwards everywhere, as the Economist Intelligence Unit concluded in 2010 in a report entitled ‘Democracy index 2010: Democracy in retreat’. I certainly think democracy is currently retreating in the United States and South Africa.
At dinner this evening, I found myself engaged in a somewhat passionate conversation with a friend and colleague who works in corporate sustainability, and who was arguing, if I do him justice, that we cannot rely on democracies to steer us in the right direction on climate change, and that we need ‘philosopher kings’, enlightened people of great power and influence to steer us through the climate crisis.
Is he right?
If my argument is good, then the world’s most democratic countries should also be its most sustainable countries.
Let’s take a look. The table below ranks the top ten democracies according to Continue reading
While I was staying in Wilderness over the holidays, a friend took me to meet William Pedro of Smutsville township, Sedgefield, who has for the last 15 years been running a successful indigenous tree nursery tucked away in the forest at the foot of a coastal dune.
Sedgefield is a largely white community with a great many retired people, notorious for petty complaints to the local authorities. Smutsville, the impoverished township that supplies Sedgefield’s labour and soaks up its poverty, is hidden away out of sight in the coastal dunes, and Pedro’s nursery is hidden away in thickets at the foot of one of these dunes. You’d not know it’s there, looking from the cluttered streets of the townships, where the presence of two white men in my friend’s bakkie (small pickup) provokes sarcastic and, um, colourful comments from some locals as we drive by.
Speaking in Afrikaans, Pedro tells us about the droughts he has seen in this region, particularly around 1960, when rivers that usually flow strongly dried up completely.
“The earth has its own cycles; when it must, it reduces the human population with sickness or disaster. I have learned these things over 50 years of observation.”
“When the Department of Land Affairs pulled out from this venture, I had to make this nursery work myself.”
Now he supplies trees to numerous other local retail nurseries – which probably sell them for four times what he charges. He is highly critical of the dependence of many in his community on government and white people for money and work.
On a sweltering day, his nursery was a small, cool paradise beneath the trees, where he is now in the midst of planting a million new seedlings that hopefully will end up around the much-deforested southern Cape to slow climate change and species loss.
I am, until the end of February, working part-time as a communications officer for the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute, which works to raise awareness of environmental issues amongst the various faith communities. (My connection with SAFCEI evolved out of my long-time Buddhist practice and my media work.)
SAFCEI, along with various partners across the subcontinent, has been working hard to raise awareness of the UN climate change conference beginning next week in Durban, COP 17. Our biggest event will be a huge mass rally of the faith communities (and others), on Sunday 27 November in Durban’s Kings Park Stadium, aiming to remind the COP of the ethics of dealing with climate change. This last Sunday, I was interviewed for half an hour on CapeTalk/702 by Kate Turkington about the rally, the COP and climate change.
For the last year, I’ve also been running a blog that’s a major clearing house for information relating to general civil society activities at COP 17, now pulling close to 1,000 hits a day.
African faith leaders gathered to discuss climate change at UNEP in Nairobi. Not yet panicking.
[I was part of the team that drafted this statement.]
A message from African faith leaders to the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), from 29 November – 9 December 2011 in Durban, South Africa.
You must treat the earth well. It was not given to you by your parents. It is loaned to you by your children. – Kikuyu proverb
Africa is a continent of the faithful. We gathered as African faith leaders at UNEP in Nairobi, Kenya on 7th and 8th June 2011, to discuss climate change and how it will be addressed at COP17.
Scientific reports indicate that climate change may well be the greatest threat that humanity has ever faced, with, on current targets, Continue reading
SA negotiators at COP 16 in Mexico
Published in The Sunday Times, 20 March 2011
Climate breakdown is destroying the lives of millions, but SA has merely adopted a morally bankrupt position, writes David Le Page
Parliament has been holding hearings on South Africa’s climate change green paper. We must hope truth will emerge, for the truth is a hard thing to come by when it concerns the global addiction to fossil fuels.
The danger posed by further carbon emissions is now so great, and the evidence for that danger now so overwhelming, that any proposal to expand fossil-fuel production – not least the natural gas exploitation plans of Shell, Sasol and others in the Karoo – should now be regarded as a crime against humanity.
When government licenses continued fossil-fuel production – in the absence of an absolute commitment to a low or zero-carbon economy – it, too, is committing a crime against humanity. And when the media fail to communicate this crisis, they are complicit in crimes against humanity.
South Africa hosts companies that claim to be concerned about climate change – yet their international colleagues fund climate change deniers in the US Congress. Such behaviour, by ArcelorMittal, BP, Bayer and others, is dangerous and disgraceful. Continue reading