SOUTH AFRICA is one of the few countries to have secured the right to a healthy environment alongside the right to health in its constitution, yet it took the crisis of a global pandemic for apartheid-era hostels in Alexander township to be deep cleaned. As our own Department of Health moved to contain the spread of COVID-19, questions were being raised as to why the Minister had waited so long, and why had the Department of Health (DOH) not acted with similar vigour during previous TB and Pneumonia epidemics?
As the nation went into lock-down, many found cause to question the apartheid spatial planning which meant that black South Africans were disproportionately affected by problems related to access to food, lack of water, sanitation and ablution facilities. As one mother put it, ‘Our family share a single tap with four other households, social distancing is problematic for us.’ While most white folk were hunkering down in luxury apartment blocks, the poor were being relegated to townships and informal settlements where little has changed during the democratic period.
The cause is a virus which many scientists believe has come to the fore because of the same underlying factors effecting climate change. One should talk here about the ecology of disease.
“The interconnectedness of our globalised world facilitated the spread of COVID-19. The disruption this continues to cause has made evident societal dependence on global production systems,” says Vijay Kolinjivadi, a post-doctoral fellow at the Institute of Development Policy at the University of Antwerp.
He observes a disjuncture in our response to the double crisis: “Although both COVID-19 and climate change are rooted in the same abusive economic behaviour and both have proven to be deadly for humans, governments have seen them as separate and unconnected phenomena and have therefore responded rather differently to them.”
“While we do not get daily updates on the death toll caused by climate change, as we do with COVID-19, it is much deadlier than the virus.”
Although a lot has been made about animal rights and the beneficial decrease in pollution caused by the pandemic, the result of what researchers such as Kolinjivi see as a ‘positive degrowth’. Now is not the time for complacency on air standards, emissions and climate change.
Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland writing with Daya Reddy, President of the International Science Council, says: “The COVID-19 threat has shown that governments can act swiftly and resolutely in a crisis, and that people are ready to change their behavior for the good of humanity. The world must now urgently adopt the same approach to the existential challenge of climate change.”
In South Africa the ruling party has instead utilised the pandemic as an opportunity to escape commitments made during successive UN Conference of the Parties (COP) rounds. Readers awoke last week to find that Gwede Mantashe, had published new amendments to the Mineral Resources Development Act (MPRDA) on the first day of the Covid-19 emergency lock-down in order to escape accountability, while air pollution standards had been gutted, enabling Eskom and SASOL to double sulphur emissions.
There is palpable fear amongst activists, that in focusing on the pandemic, the nation will lose its impetus on climate change alongside its civil liberties.
“The disruption brought on by Covid-19 could reverse efforts made by governments thus far to reduce carbon emissions to tackle the climate crisis. What is needed is a way to connect the two calamities to capacitate a sustainable revival in the aftermath” writes Luveshni Odayar, a Machel-Mandela Fellow at The Brenthurst Foundation.
It is therefore imperative that we view public health (literally the people’s health) as an environmental issue, in the same way that apartheid was linked to the struggle for environmental justice by myself and others, back in the 1980s, resulting in the emergence of Earthlife Africa and other activist formations.
In fact the two health struggles, that of the public in general (and body in particular), and that of the environment at large, are so closely interlinked and intertwined, that they cannot be seen as distant relatives.
Whether food security, urban and peri-urban spatial planning, climate change or coronovirus, the rights of all citizens to live in harmony with nature, while enjoying quality of life, free from disease and illness is non-negotiable.
The result of this crisis must be an expanded concept of health and health-care-for-all, and thus a public policy which encompasses physical well-being as much as it does the Earth. That it has taken a virus to make us all aware of this deep connection, can only be seen as one of the positive lessons to be drawn from the pandemic.
Our recovery and future is dependent upon making this profound realisation a reality, and thus a yardstick which motivates and drives our country.
IT WAS during the dying days of apartheid, that I wrote a series of articles promoting ‘ecological sustainable development’ and deep ecology. The pieces published by Grassroots and South Press were extraordinary, the least of which is that they were published by a working class imprint shortly after the state of emergency.
They dovetailed my criticism of race-based conservation efforts by elements within the regime, for example the Rupert Family, and addressed perceptions that the emergent environmental justice movement in the country was, to put it crudely, an all-white affair.
The result was the ‘First National Conference on Environment and Development’, in which academics and activists from all quarters joined hands on a broad eco-justice platform which included both the ANC and PAC, and which resulted in the placing of Earth Rights at the centre of our Constitution, in the form of article 24.
Today’s political pundits Carilee Osborne and Bruce Baigrie , conveniently ignore the history of environmentalism in South Africa, preferring to situate their respective struggles within the contemporary milieu of the Climate Strike — the recent Cape Town March which saw some 2500 people from various organisations and civic structures take to the streets in what they view “as one of the largest environmental protest actions in South Africa’s history.”
This is no mean feet and without wishing to downplay the successes of these epic events during the course of the past year, one should always remember that the environmental justice movement arose as a foundation stone of our Constitution during a period of mass democratic action, the likes of which have yet to be repeated. And thus a struggle which was situated not upon my own writings, nor the writings of any one particular individual, but rather the Freedom Charter, which (within the colour of the time) called upon people black and white, to “save the soil”, whilst sharing the land, and assisting the tillers of the land.
A similar mistake in historical proportion and misreading of history occurs within the various articles penned by one Farieda Khan. She writes in “Environmentalism in South Africa: A Sociopolitical Perspective”, (an otherwise excellent paper written over the turn of the millennium): “The first extra-parliamentary political organization to commit to a formal environmental policy was the Call of Islam, an affiliate of the United Democratic Front (the South African front organization for the then-banned African National Congress).” She goes on to state: “The Call of Islam had a formal environmental policy since its inception in 1984, due in large measure to the efforts of its founder, Moulana Faried Esack.”
If only history were so convenient as to claim environmentalism on behalf of any one religion or individual, whether Islam, or the Church, as many within SAFCEI and SACC would have it, or on behalf of one or more important groups or class formations formulated by those on the left, as those within AIDC would have us believe.
Rather, I think it more accurate and best to take a broader arc of history — one that includes the Freedom Charter and reaches forward to the essential humanism espoused by the deep ecology movement of the 1970s, whose distinguishing and original characteristics are its recognition of the inherent value of all living beings: “Those who work for social changes based on this recognition are motivated by love of nature as well as for humans.” And by extension, as much of my writing and published work from the 1980s suggested, an African environmentalism which realises that Ubuntu is not simply being human because we are all human, but rather, a common humanity contingent upon the necessary existence of our habitat, without which we could not exist as a species.
Instead of situating the environmental movement within so-called ‘working class’ struggles, or working class factions as Osborne and Baigrie attempt in “Towards a working-class environmentalism for South Africa”, and thus the binary of a grand populism vs narrow neoliberalism which simply perpetuates the idea of man’s dominion over nature and thus a struggle which of necessity is juxtaposed alongside the authoritarian grip of party politics, another path must be found.
It is all too easy to issue anti-capitalist prescriptions, leftist directives and cadre-based imperatives calling for the end of free markets whilst, forgetting that it is Eskom’s captive market, Eskom’s socialist ambitions, and Eskom’s coal barons which have pushed South Africa ahead of the UK in terms of GHG emissions, a country with 10-15 million more people. Although only the 33rd largest economy, South Africa is the 14th largest GHG in the world. Our national energy provider, Eskom has yet to adopt GHG emissions targets.
All the result of the boardroom compromises of the statist, authoritarian left, whose policies have seen our country embrace ‘peak, plateau and decline’ alongside a COP-out strategy excluding South Africa from the Paris Agreement, and thus a national environmental policy which is not based upon empirical science and evidence-based research but rather class driven kragdadigheid and Big Coal.
If those on the far left expect us all to reject secular humanist values alongside Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess who introduced the phrase “deep ecology” and thus an environmentalism which emerged as a popular grassroots political movement in the 1960s with the publication of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring, simply because these persons are lily-white, or tainted by the liberal economics of the West, then they are sorely mistaken.
Instead, I believe, that it is far better to formulate an African-centred response, and rather a Pan-African struggle which is broad-based and inclusive of our collective humanity and common habitat. Such a broad-based struggle out of necessity includes an African-Centered Ecophilosophy and Political Ecology.The draft Climate Justice Charter is one such vehicle and deserves our full support.
The struggle for survival during the collapse of the Holocene, includes those already involved in conservation and preservation efforts and those who now join because of concerns about the detrimental impact of modern industrial technology. When one talks about climate justice we thus need to include the voices of those who have not been given an opportunity to speak, and remember that without mass mobilisation, nothing would have changed during apartheid.
IT WAS June of 1991, the apartheid government had just unbanned political parties such as the ANC and PAC, exiles were returning to the country, and negotiations towards a new democratic dispensation were in full sway. The First National Conference on Environment & Development, organised by myself and my colleagues from the Cape Town Ecology Group (CTEG) and World Council on Religion and Peace (WCRP) was being held at the University of the Western Cape (UWC).
It was here that the campaign to include sustainable development in our country’s new constitution came to a head, with a mandate to ‘ecologise politics and politicise ecology’.
Solly Skosana of the PAC was of the view that ‘land apartheid had not disappeared and that a constituent assembly was the only mechanism in which environmental concerns over land distribution would be able to be addressed.’
There was consensus among delegates that unequal land distribution was a major cause of environmental problems in South Africa and that the land itself needed protection under the law.
Speaking on behalf of the ANC, Cheryl Carolus criticised the lack of political involvement by environmentalists in the past and made the point that her decision to get involved in politics had ‘arisen out of a desire to empower herself and to regain control over her environment.’
The issue of workers’ involvement in environmental issues was taken up by Nosey Peterse of the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) who told delegates: “You can talk about environmental degradation but while you talk workers are losing their jobs because of environmental degradation.”
It was here too that I stood on a podium alongside Mike Kantey of Earthlife Africa, Ebrahim Rasool of WCRP and Julia Martin of CTEG, with delegates from across the political spectrum, to rally against apartheid while calling for a future in which the needs of future generations would not be compromised by the demands of our own generation.
As the conference drew to a close, we had no inkling of the dire consequences our nation would be facing today, with water shortages, air pollution and threatened ecosystems, nor did we realise back then, what it would take. Our actions back then simply introducing article 24 of our Constitution, enshrining Earth Rights, to impact and affect climate change and the lives of those yet to be born.
It was thus a twisted and tortuous politics which saw successive appointments of environmental ministers, from then Minister of Environment General Magnus Malan, to Dawid de Villiers, Pallo Jordan, Valli Moosa, Marthinus van Schalkwyk and Edna Molewa, each taking the credit for the groundbreaking inclusion of ‘ecological sustainable development’ in our nation’s constitution, and yet collectively responsible for the allied policies of the ruling party. Despite becoming the first country to include the environment in its bill of rights, the party proceeded to pave the way for mega coal projects, increasing of GHG emissions and lowering of air pollution standards.
You can read about the campaign to put Earth Rights into South Africa’s constitution here.
At the same time that the Mbeki administration was hosting the 2002 WSSD (the acclaimed “Earth Summit’ which produced very little of real substance) the ANC was promoting a crackpot policy sans physics which became known as ‘peak, plateau and decline‘. A neat phrase cooked up by the DEAT to describe a strange new political compromise between our constitutional imperatives, ‘the needs of the future’, and the diktat of the fossil fuel industry, in particular the opportunities (read curse) presented by our own country possessing abundant supplies of coal.
Thus when Min Gwede Mantashe opened a new colliery, while myopically claiming: “our vast coal deposits cannot be sterilised simply because we have not exploited technological innovations to use them,” he was articulating this self-same policy. It describes the apparent trade-offs to be made — ramping up our GHG in the short to medium term, so that we are on par with the West economically speaking, before reaching an abstract ‘plateau’, whereupon we will by some act of the imagination, decline our GHG profile (perhaps via slight of hand and creative accounting) — the introduction of a Carbon Tax, is yet unproven.
Every year, the time frame for the plateau and reduction of local GHG targets has been shifted, while the much vaunted Carbon Tax is slow on the uptake and still being implemented. The Climate Change Bill introduced in 2018, focuses on mitigation and adaptation as opposed to implementing a drastic about turn in energy policies. Bare in mind the Carbon tax is an economic charge which Greenpeace has said, will not be ‘effective enough and far from adequate’.
Every policy decision thus far made by the ruling party, has been on the basis of the bad maths of these mantras introduced without much scientific consensus, and there is no precedent.
After negotiating a COP-out deal at Paris, which has allowed our country to continue with business as usual — South Africa’s pledge under the Paris Climate Agreement is ranked as “highly insufficient” — we are left with a Promethean struggle involving several massive coal mega-projects versus the reality of today. At 510.2377 mtCO2e pa our GHG profile is currently on par with the UK, a country with a population of 66 million people, as we begin to exceed the West in air pollution. Our country has been criticised internationally for “ delaying the development of policies to cut emissions.”
It is thus with some sadness and poignancy that I read a letter addressed to our president and signed by some 50 local environmental organisations, demanding ‘an emergency sitting of Parliament to deliberate on the recently issued UN report on 1.5°C increase in planetary temperature and its implications for South African climate change policy.’
This while 300 kids marched from Parliament to the City Hall in Cape Town last Friday, to hand over a memorandum demanding government take “immediate action on the climate crises”. Following a mass demonstration on 15 March where thousands of school learners protested, calling on government to act against climate change. In various parts of the Free State, Mpumalanga and Limpopo, where “youth collectives are meeting to learn about climate justice and organise, “writes Alex Lenferna
“Outside of the Union Buildings, young people rallied and delivered a petition to the president calling for climate justice now.”
Instead of declaring a climate crisis, President Ramaphosa, has chosen to skedaddle and bamboozle with stats and an unhelpful allusion to the climate problem during SONA. The government clearly lacks any real programme to deal with the crisis. This is not the first time that the ruling party has attempted to colour itself with the revelry of the green movement.
Stating that the President’s ‘recognition of the climate crisis is the first step to fundamental change“, as a 17-year-old environmental activist Ruby Simpson does, is expecting a serial climate change denialist, to suddenly get science and find Gaia, because the reality is our nation’s policy of ‘peak, plateau and decline‘ is founded upon a tragic denial of the existential threats facing our planet and its people.
Regrettably, one can only express skepticism of presidential lip-service, uttered with pro-coal cynicism — successive ANC Presidents and their cabinets have shown themselves to ‘talk green, but walk with coal’. One has only to witness the abject failure of the President to address the detailed requirements of a ‘just transition’, and thus his startling refusal to acknowledge the implicit question of ‘whose justice?’
Without an immediate adoption of a climate emergency, articulated by the 2011 Durban Declaration, there can be no justice. And without a complete u-turn in our energy policies, there will be no future for our country.
SOME TEN months ago, I published The End of the Anthropocene, my response to the H20 Day Zero crisis in Cape Town. Needless to say, it got people talking about climate change in a new way.
The resulting global debate around extinction has been simply phenomenal.
Not only did the IPCC released an alarming report in October, warning of the dangers of 2-3 degree climate change, in effect demanding drastic action, followed by a report by 13 federal agencies presenting ‘the starkest warnings to date of the consequences of climate change for the United States itself’ but the naturalist Sir David Attenborough was moved last week to issue a statement that climate change is ‘humanity’s greatest threat in thousands of years’.
A number of science reports issued this week confirm the shift towards temperatures last seen during the Eocene, which was some 18 degrees hotter on average than today.
Future global warming may eventually be twice as warm as projected by climate models and sea levels may rise six metres or more even if the world meets the 2°C target, according to an international team of researchers from 17 countries.
Scientists described the quickening rate of carbon dioxide emissions in stark terms, comparing it to a “speeding freight train” and laying part of the blame on an unexpected surge in the appetite for oil around the world.
The BBC reported Attenborough’s statements at the opening ceremony of United Nations-sponsored climate talks
Climate Change, he said ‘could lead to the collapse of civilisations and the extinction of “much of the natural world”.
Thus we can only congratulate the rise of an allied environmental movement Extinction Rebellion, which also intends making waves around the world.
The movement advocates direct action and civil disobedience in defence of human habitat.
“We are facing an unprecedented global emergency. The government has failed to protect us. To survive, it’s going to take everything we’ve got” say Extinction Rebellion.
Meanwhile, our own inept and scandal plagued department of environmental affairs, released a half-hearted statement reiterating the national position on climate change and calling for a ‘just transition to renewables’ amidst ‘aggressive awareness campaigns.’ GHG emissions however grew at an accelerating pace this year.
I’m afraid this type of DEAT public relations hot air in the face of intransigence by our energy minister isn’t going to cut it, and rather a change of government is required.
Extinction rebellion demands:
- The Government must tell the truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency, reverse inconsistent policies and work alongside the media to communicate with citizens.
- The Government must enact legally binding policy measures to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and to reduce consumption levels.
- A national Citizen’s Assembly to oversee the changes, as part of creating a democracy fit for purpose.
IN A RAMBLING and shoddy piece of quackery published by Daily Maverick, discredited anti-humanist curmudgeon Ivor Vegter claims, inter alia “a lot of opposition to nuclear power is motivated by fears over the safety of nuclear reactors. Chernobyl and Fukushima scared the pants off people. But they’re wrong. Nuclear is by far the safest form of energy on the planet, bar none.”
It is clear from the manner in which the purported facts are presented, that Vegter doesn’t understand science, let alone scientific evidence. Is opposed to humanism and the manner in which scientific consensus is driven by published research, peer review and moderation.
So far as Vegter is concerned, not a single person has died as a result of direct exposure to radiation in the Fukushima and Chernobyl disasters. Vegter thus proceeds to impute the findings of the Japanese government, who likewise impute the findings of the World Health Organisation attributing an increase in infant mortality as a result of radiation exposure.
Did anyone die because of Fukushima?
Thyroid screening of under 18-year-olds, conducted in the aftermath following the Fukushima disaster “detected a large number of thyroid cysts and solid nodules”, ‘including a number of thyroid cancers that would not have been detected without such intensive screening.’
A UNSCEAR report quoted by Vegter, and used apparently as strong evidence of ‘no deterministic effects from radiation exposure’ is a merely a ‘white paper’ to ‘update and consolidate’ some of the earlier findings and conclusions of an assessment of the ‘radiological consequences of the Fukushima Daiichi accident’ and fails to note the deaths of workers.
Instead of affirming the earlier prognosis of no deterministic effects, it rather provides a political platform for a ‘Recapitulation of the earlier 2013 report’, in effect carrying news of ‘a controversial document stating a radiation-induced increase in thyroid cancer incidence’ amongst the public where the authors reported ‘a 50-fold (95% CI: 25, 90) excess in Fukushima Prefecture.’
UNSCEAR however discount the controversial finding, as ‘too susceptible to bias’, thereby upholding the validity of the earlier committee findings and paving the way for new data and experimentation. Far from being definitive, the UN committee sponsor merely restates the areas and vectors of investigation requiring more research, alongside abnormalities (or lack thereof) in the gonadal tissues of frogs, collected from sites with elevated levels of radionuclide concentrations and ‘morphological defects in Fir trees’.
IF THE latest IPCC intergovernmental report on climate change, didn’t draw your attention to the dire impacts of global warming at 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels then a new study of the Earth’s oceans, showing the planet is much more sensitive to fossil-fuel emissions than past studies have shown, really ought to get your attention.
Because of South Africa’s relative isolation, you are probably either reading urgent press releases reiterating the IPCC position on the likely effects of climate change or equally colourful reports purporting to debunk these pieces as alarmist. The cadence of environmental debate here is such that the nay-sayers are still being given equal opportunity to spread their jaundiced lies and scholastic gobbledygook, in the process smearing genuine climate science as hopelessly flawed.
Statements by Patrick Dowling of Wildlife and Environment Society of SA (WESSA), an organisation which was forced during the closing stages of apartheid, to include habitat as part of the broader picture of wildlife and thus environment alongside humans, after criticism of white privilege and shallow ecology published by South Press under my own byline back in the early 90s, thus appear alongside the work of professional hucksters and anti-climate charlatans.
Neo-Con columnist Ivo Vegter for instance, has made a career on purporting to debunk climate change, and his work regularly appears in The Daily Maverick
Stop for a moment to reflect on the content of the latest report carried by the venerable Independent, a UK based news outlet: The world’s oceans have absorbed far more heat than previously estimated, “suggesting global warming and climate change could accelerate faster than predicted,” according to new research.
“The results suggest over the past 27 years, the world’s oceans have retained 60 percent more heat each year than research teams had previously thought.”
All of which supports my own contention, as one of the founders of the environmental justice movement in South Africa (and author of a chapter on climate change in a book trashed by the apartheid regime), that far from being at the start of the Anthropocene, we are for all intents and purposes at its End.
The End of the Anthropocene is a geological period immediately preceding the point at which humanity itself becomes extinct. Our civilisation is not simply in peril from runaway climate change as the IPCC would have it, we may be endangered by a malignant cycle and impending catastrophe associated with previous mass extinction events, with a thermal max some 20 degrees hotter than now.
Alarmism has become acceptible, according to David Wallace-Wells writing in the Intelligencer
“We are on track” he says for four degrees of warming, “more than twice as much as most scientists believe is possible to endure without inflicting climate suffering on hundreds of millions or threatening at least parts of the social and political infrastructure we call, grandly, “civilization.” The only thing that changed, this week, is that the scientists, finally, have hit the panic button.”
Catastrophic climate change, has an upside. It is not all doom and gloom and the slow-moving disaster (by some accounts already locked in) may also be the catalyst that creates the first Post-Humans, that is if one defines humans beings, not simply as ‘human because of other humans‘, but rather human because of our collective habitat. In other words, human because of the necessary conditions for the existence of mammals and great apes on planet earth. In the future, entire Cities may be covered by domes, while we colonise Mars and our deep oceans, ironically, experiencing failing atmospheres on both planets.
Instead of grappling with the impetus, massive scientific consensus on global warming, and the credible problems and complications presented by new data which show that all our current climate models may be way off, and the situation worse than even the IPCC is willing to let on, online periodicals such as the Daily Maverick continue to peddle the climate debate within the narrow confines of a binary opposition. In effect, excluding any opinion beyond the centre, and to the left of the spectrum, and instead, entertaining us with neo-conservative claptrap.
That the 2018 IPCC report signals a turning point in the consensus view of climate change is clear from the language of the document. “Warming from anthropogenic emissions from the pre-industrial period to the present will persist for centuries to millennia and will continue to cause further long-term changes in the climate system.”
Drawing this position out and reiterating IPCC findings, is not the purpose of this piece. Suffice to add, that what is missing from the media narrative, is the counter-narrative supplied, not by those idiotic skeptics who believe themselves to be especially privileged by race, class and social status and thus ordained by neoliberal theology to defend the worst ravages of capitalism, but rather the absent history of the environmental justice movement in general, and equally the present litany of hatred against climate scientists in particular.
Take Naomi Oreskes, a science historian, earth scientist, and author, who first became a target of the anti-climate science movement in 2004 when she published documentation of the scientific consensus on climate change.
Fourteen years ago Science magazine published a peer-reviewed article by Oreskes on the state of scientific knowledge about anthropogenic climate change. “After analyzing 928 scientific abstracts with the keywords “global climate change,” she found no disagreement in the scientific community that human activities were resulting in global warming. All of the papers reviewed agreed with the judgment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the National Academy of Sciences, and other leading professional scientific societies and organizations on this point.”
Then Oreskes began receiving hate mail just days after her Science essay came out. The escalation of the hatred of our habitat forced her to “reach out to climate scientist Ben Santer, who connected her with a group of scientists who had also been similarly attacked. The group helped Oreskes understand that the harassment wasn’t personal; it was about the role she plays in the conversation on climate science.”
“We weren’t being attacked because we’d done something wrong,” says Oreskes. “We were being attacked because we’d done something right. Because we’d explained something significant, we’d laid facts on the table, those facts had implications, and some people were threatened by those implications.”
Oreskes’ book Merchants of Doubt “How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming” (an excellent read) went on to expose a network of ideologues that attacked scientific data on several issues: the ozone hole, acid rain, tobacco use, and climate change.
“The common thread among these issues is that the scientific implications of each imply the need for some kind of government regulation as a solution, challenging the ideology of laissez-faire capitalism. A common tactic used by those resisting policy solutions and attacking the scientific data is to sow doubt and confusion about the science among the general public — a strategy still being used today with climate change.”
Vegter’s latest unsubstantiated piece on climate change littered with straw man arguments on crop yields and biofuels, dated critique of alarmism and misplaced quotes by well-meaning UN officials taken out of the context of the IPCC and scenario planning and given the sheen of evidence and aura of credibility via publication in the Daily Maverick, must be seen in the same vein as similar denials by the tobacco industry.
“Dire predictions about the consequences of climate change” Vegter says “are a staple of the sensationalist media, but a lot of past predictions have failed to come even remotely true. Yet climate change activists want to dismantle the world’s capitalist economy by whipping up fear.”
EARTHLIFE Africa (ELA), the environmental organisation started by ‘four bearded white men’ during the 1980s, in the aftermath of the banning of the End Conscription Campaign, transformed itself into a national movement headed by women, in the process winning awards.
One black woman in particular, ELA national director Makoma Lekalakala has been named co-winner of the prestigious Goldman Award alongside Liz McDaid of SAFCEI, a Southern African multi-faith institute addressing environmental injustice.
The pair received global accolades for building a powerful coalition to stop the South African government’s massive secret nuclear deal with Russia. This is the first time that a director of Earthlife Africa has received the award.
ELA, alongside SAFCEI, has a long and illustrious history of grassroots activism and coalition-building on environmental justice issues.
From the early days of the environmental alliance with workers affected by mercury poisoning (Thor Chemicals) and asbestos, (both well-known international cases), to several coalitions which evolved around various nuclear deals — the now mothballed R10bn PBMR programme and subsequent programmes — Earthlife Africa has always sought to mobilise issues affecting the earth, human health and human habitat.
The connection between ‘earth rights and human rights’ was a crucial dimension of the broad campaign to include ‘ecological sustainable development’ in South Africa’s constitution. A key element of our democracy.
Defending article 24 via a broad-based environmental justice movement has been a key to the success of the organisation and its latest coalition with SAFCEI.
It would therefore be in remiss if we failed to recognise earlier precursors, the Nuclear Energy Cost the Earth Campaign (NECTEC), which teamed up with the community of Kommegas and Richtersveld, as well as workers in Atlantis opposed to Koeberg and Nuclear One. ELA Cape Town under Maya Aberman made extensive submissions to Parliament.
While the later emergence of the anti-nuclear umbrella organisation known as CANE, which aside from the communities of Eastern Cape (Thyspunt) and Overberg (Bantamsklip), in many respects, dissipated anti-nuclear activism on the ground, failing to draw experience from previous epochs of anti-nuclear activism.
NECTEC as a non-racial campaign can be seen as a precursor to later coalitions which evolved around national health insurance. In this instance, ELA teamed up with People’s Health Movement, and Section 27 to promote universal health coverage.
The latest round of coalition-making under the auspices of Makoma and McDaid, has certainly brought home success and international attention.
We wish ELA and SAFCEI well in the future.