We live on a beautiful and a delightful planet, which is so awesome and so perfect that we wonder at its creation. This has to be the greatest gift given to humanity by the force that created our world. We can call this force ‘God’ or some other force. We can only marvel at the purity and its absolute greatness. It was this ‘force’ that also created the magnificent Universe in which we live. We are a miniscule part of this vastness. Every religion pays tribute to this great gift.
Yet, so far into our search into space and billions of dollars later, we have not found anything remotely matching the fabulous Earth we live upon. I will not be so arrogant as to presume that there is no intelligent life among the billions of planets and galaxies that make up the Universe, which is so vast that it boggles the human imagination. At our moment in time, we are light years away from discovering any hospitable planet that can support life forms as complex as those on Earth, let alone the means to travel through such vast inter-planetary or inter galactic spaces! All we have is our Earth. Nothing else for the immediate future!
Generations from now, perhaps, we may find life forms comparable to those on our Earth, or we may not! Seen from space, our Earth is that magnificent blue-green-brown planet that hangs so delicately in the vast black velvet of space. Our beauty hangs in isolation. Truth be told: Right now we are on our own in the never ending vastness of deep space.
Why the ‘Force’ chose Earth for development is not for me to speculate. I am just grateful that my home is on planet Earth, in the present known Universe, which is violently hostile to the development of life, as we know it. Maybe ‘the Force’ intended that the Earth be first to be populated and that in some future time, other planets would be ready to accommodate us, as we overflowed Earth? Is it possible that we were ‘chosen’ to populate the Universe? I cannot answer that; like you, I can only speculate.
My great concern is why we should even think of colonizing another planet, when we have shown scant respect for the great gift of ‘Earth’ that we already have? Without any doubt, we can only continue where we left off viz. our great selfishness in driving our present world to near extinction in the name of making a vulgar profit. It is in this context that I wish to find an explanation of our attitude to gross and utterly mad exploitation of Mother Earth.
While I was still in exile in 1988, some 22 years ago, the ANC journal ‘Sechaba’ published my piece “Environmental Destruction in South Africa” in which I warned about the dangers of the pursuit of profit over all else and for the need for progressive forces to fight against the rape of our common heritage viz. our environment. The trade unions and the formations of progressive forces rallied to the call. Sadly, today a great many of our progressive forces have succumbed to the demon money god. In doing so, they have embraced the very forces of greed over the common good. Read this as a betrayal.
I have provided this introduction so as to contextualize how we railed against the forces of Apartheid for its neglect ‘of our people’. Yet after the defeat of Apartheid, we are still faced with the spin doctors of the new order, who want us to believe that we need to hush-hush and accept the non-existent benefits of our silence and complacency. Please read another betrayal here.
So, now we have reached the stage of using a very warped logic for the continued pillage of the Earth and its resources. When we closely examine the beneficiaries of the new order, and those who are seeking our support, we find amongst them many of our ‘comrades’. Read here yet another betrayal!
On a national scale let us critically examine the role of Eskom. It is true that Eskom warned government as late as 1999 of the impending energy crisis and again in 2003. The Minister in the Energy sector chose to blithely ignore the observations and recommendations. She was not demoted for her short-sightedness; instead she was promoted into the deputy presidency! That should have already warned us about what was to come; instead we chose to believe in those who had no belief in themselves! Here, add yet another betrayal.
South Africa grew explosively since 1994: new malls, new housing estates, new factories and tens of thousands of new homes. Even an imbecile would have guessed that with growth comes the demand for more energy. The bright sparks gave themselves huge bonuses and perks and then began shutting down electricity to major urban areas. There was just not enough energy to support our growth. Some years down the line Eskom has raised an astronomical loan to build one of the largest coal fired power stations in Africa at Medupe and to fund its blinkered energy programme that places a massive reliance on a fossil fuel: coal. Did anyone one of the bright sparks factor into the equation that using coal is horribly polluting and that thousands of our people will pay with their health/deaths? Did they not understand that we need to REDUCE our carbon emissions and not move in the opposite direction? Has it not been made clear that carbon build up contributes to global warming, to the melting of the huge glaciers and ice sheets? Is it just a question of making a quick profit and bolting, with the severely negative impact on the Earth of no consequence? Our coal fired power stations and our smoke spewing industries make our country the 13th worst polluter in the world and certainly the very worst in Africa. Do we have any moral right to do this to our own people and then to export acid rain across our borders into Mozambique and Zimbabwe? Acid rain over the Lowveld is killing some of our most productive and fertile land. Global warming and all its terrible consequences is no fantasy.
It very real and it is HAPPENING NOW! Permanent coastal flooding is a real possibility for Durban, Cape Town and all the towns along our very long coast line. Be assured we will reap the whirlwind in just a few decades. Many alive today will still be around then and will curse us for our greed and more for our sheer stupidity. We know what has to be done to prevent this from happening but there is no will to do what is right for humanity and for the Earth.
If the Polar ice caps melt, it will raise the oceans by as much as 70 metres! Much of central Durban and all of the foreshore area of Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, East London, Mossel Bay, Margate, Port Shepstone, Balito, Richards Bay will be submerged! Think about it: when the sea rises it will flow deep into our rivers, raising its level to 70m above where it is now! It will devastate all riverside communities. There will be no Robben Island, no St Lucia and all the low islands around the world will have disappeared as a monument to the greed of mankind.
Seen from another perspective, South Africa has the enormous potential to turn all of this around and become one of the leading countries in terms of Sustainable Development. We could show the world that there is another way to living: not in competition with nature but harnessing its fantastic potential sustainably for the common good of all our people. Add to this, that going down this path has the further potential of creating jobs for tens of thousands. This could make the country a leading force for global change away from coal and oil to renewable energy .
- Recent research has shown that South Africa can get an astounding 70% of its energy needs from the wind. It’s free and non-polluting and the wind is always there.
- What of catching and using the massive number of hours of sunshine that bathe our country? The Northern Cape has some of the most concentrated sunshine in the world! Let us cover our barren deserts with solar panels and make them productive.
- Why don’t we use the vast potential of biogas to provide energy in all our rural areas?
- We have yet to harness the electricity generating potential of ocean currents and of the waves of the sea.
- Re-cycling has the very real possibility of reducing landfill wastes. We can re-cycle just about anything. The bio degradable waste can then be buried and the resulting methane gas be tapped as a source of energy.
- All our 21 universities have the potential to generate the ideas and produce the proto types to slot into a new way of looking at our needs that can be met without destroying our great planet.
It is time to stop the rape and pillage of the Earth. It is time to use clean technologies to protect the environment and to coax it into giving up its bounties in a sensible and sustainable way. South Africa has the technology, the human expertise and money. It just needs the political will to make the change. Let us learn to respect the intricate ‘web of life’. We need to again become a part of nature.
Let us frame the question in another way: Do we really have a choice? I think not!
P R Dullay is based at the Durban University of Technology. He is a political, social and an environmental activist. He writes in his private capacity