Category: Environment

Earthlife Africa, a long history of coalition-making

download (2)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.

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Edna Molewa’s SASOL greenwashing faux pas

IT IS NOT often that one gets to see blatant greenwashing non-science on SABC, ‘the use of marketing to portray an organization’s products, activities or policies as environmentally friendly when they are not’. The latest antics of the Dept of Environment’s Edna Molewa is possibly a low-point in the campaign to shift South Africa from coal to renewables.

In a televised broadcast from Sasol in Secunda, Molewa appears to claim an Oxygen (O2) plant ‘the world’s largest” is the solution to GHG. Gesticulating wildly without any supporting evidence, the minister claims that the O2 plant “helps us to fulfill our nationally determined contributions we committed ourselves to in Paris”

The departmental gibberish about reduction in tonnes of GHG and energy efficiency,  sounds exactly like a Zuma-era Eleventyseven, a purported 20% more energy efficient system is suddenly an 80% reduction in GHG? Is she quoting our national GHG targets? The medium-term goal of INCREASING CO2 equivalent emissions to somewhere between 398 – 614 MtCO2e until 2025 and 2030, which, according to the department “will represent South Africa’s peak GHG emissions phase” and only then to “reduce emissions thereafter up to 2050.”

No, she may as well be just making up her figures and fluffing stats as she goes along, while the public is oblivious to the problem that South Africa has committed itself to ramping up GHG until 2030 and only thereafter reducing emissions. The country negotiated a COP-out deal at Paris, and has been given until 2030 by other nations to come up with better targets, by which time, the human species will be extinct.

You can thank the ANC and Dame Edna Molewa for thinking through the nuts and bolts of a dangerous negotiation strategy called ‘Peak, Plateau and Decline‘, which is really a massive failure of governance and will haunt future generations and our own, for a long time to come. Given our low GHG profile over the turn of the century, we chose a dirty coal future instead of renewables and environmental justice.

The rush by the department to provide a positive spin on Sasol gas and Big Coal, is most certainly a reaction to a very public End Fossil Fuels campaign. Eish, look, there’s O2, must be good for the environment, bang.

To put this in some perspective, GHG (or CO2 equivalent) includes Carbon Dioxide, Nitrous Oxide, Methane, and Fluorocarbons. According to a statement released by SASOL the plant is merely an ‘air separation plant’, separating out Oxygen and Nitrogen. IT WILL NOT REMOVE CARBON as such from the atmosphere, but rather create less O and N in the atmosphere, while redoubling the coal and natural gas operation. If anything any carbon chains (and we have yet to see any information on the actual process) in SASOL’s primary operation will simply be going into more fossil fuel energy systems, and right back into the atmosphere, and must not be seen as a solution to the problem.

Bongani Nqwababa SASOL CEO can also be seen launching into a big speech about ‘government targets on beneficiation of minerals’ set during the past Zuma administration, 14 million tonnes of COAL to produce 30% of fuel in SA and this without mentioning GHG. Falsely claims process is more efficient, since according to him, ‘O2 reduces need for Coal’, and no we not going to be driving around in oxygen-powered vehicles any time soon, it would be far better if Nqwababa was announcing that SASOL was shifting away from liquid fuels to renewable energy while promoting EV technologies. South Africa is falling far behind Western nations in their rush to adopt eco-friendly transport systems.

Molewa later attempted to clarify her idiotic statements in Businessday, claiming that SASOL would be saving 200 000 tonnes of CO2 because of energy efficiency. The group produced some 69,3 Mt of CO2 equivalent in 2016 and contributes some 14.5% to our nation’s total. How exactly the savings target would be derived from an expansion in production of fossil fuel components remains to be seen. In other words, Sasol just increased our GHG emissions but did it in a more efficient manner. Until such time as Sasol releases a road-map for ending fossil fuels, its attempt to greenwash itself as an “oxygen company” must be viewed with some skepticism.

Local media outlets appear to have bought into the Big Rand greenwashing figures surrounding the Sasol investment, and are touting a relativistic and unproven ‘breathing fresh air into the economy story‘ as a solution to climate change, even if it means first polluting the environment with dirty coal. The audit mechanism surrounding fossil fuels will be coming up for debate in the National Assembly later this year, as a carbon tax is being introduced from next year. It remains to be seen whether or not any carbon offsets will be factored into the new tax regime, in effect making adoption of renewables more economical via a rebate on solar and EV.

South Africa’s compliance with GHG reduction targets is currently rated as “highly insufficient”

​SOUTH AFRICA’S compliance with GHG reduction targets is currently rated as “highly insufficient” by http://climateactiontracker.org/. Our national targets are ‘equivalent to a 20–82% increase on 1990 levels’, in other words, while the rest of the world is decreasing emissions, we have seen fit to increase GHG due to ​an​ emphasis on ideological rather than scientific concerns. Our GHG ranking as 18th largest emitter, is not surprising, coming one position behind the UK, but an embarrassment considering the relative size of our population.

Although our global contribution of 510.2377 tonnes CO2e or 1.13% of total emissions is far behind the world’s top emitter China, at 11735.0071 CO2e and 25.93% respectively of the total, this figure must be compared with the 24 least polluting nations, whose meek contributions are all less than 2.0022 CO2e per country and thus less than 0.00% each of the total. (see Climate Data Explorer and http://climateanalytics.org/)

Our nation’s excessive GHG contributions commit the World’s major cities to inundation by the ocean. South Africa needs to accept both liability and responsibility for the collapse of the Polar Vortex, the unstable configuration of the Antarctic Ice​shelf​, the melting of glaciers and permafrost, and thus the hockey stick curve showing ​an ​alarming rise in global temperatures. We are currently on track for a 1.7 meter rise in sea level by 2030, and saying this in no way describes the problems associated with complications arising from climate change.

The blame for climate change will ultimately be placed upon our nation’s leaders who have collectively committed the country to a hot global 3.4 degree C by 2100 if all countries stick to the Paris Agreement and the promise of no more than 1.5 degree temperature change beyond pre-industrial levels by 2030.  In 2016, planet Earth’s temperature averaged 1.26 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial averages, which is dangerously close to the 1.5-degree-Celsius limit set by international policymakers. There is no guarantee when it comes to temperatures.

A​ll​ this without any firm science to back up the proposition, that we can ​survive in such an altered climate. A global two degree rise could translate into a local six degree change. Climate change represents an existential threat. In this respect it is the ruling ANC with its ​Anti-Poor ​carbon policy reality of ‘peak, peak and peak’, (peak forever) which is most responsible for the current drought and thus Day Zero.

In the future, low-lying micronations will hold us all responsible for their ​country’s loss of territory. As will the citizens of coastal cities inundated by rising sea-levels. Both Cape Town and Durban will experience massive loss​es​ in land mass over the ensuing decade. ​We are already on a path towards a worst case scenario mapped out by academics during 2008. ​Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa and ESKOM CEOs should ​shoulder​ most of​ the blame.

Under Molewa, national climate outreach programmes were cancelled, while government to civil society programmes aimed at Post-COP17 climate change sessions​, and more recent UN climate sessions​ were not included in their budgets.​ We have withdrawn for all intents and purposes from our role as deal-makers during the Durban round, preferring Davos over the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement.

The DEAT ​thus ​appears to have decreased its spending on climate change outreach and education​, a legacy of ​the previous administration of Jacob Zuma, while favouring coal over renewables​. The latest interdict by NUMSA against IPP renewables​ does not bode well, any wonder since the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) drafted to protect our environment​ and atmosphere, alongside the right to water,​ has been gutted by successive ANC ministers.

The proposed introduction of a “carbon tax” under Cyril Ramaphosa merely shifts GHG responsibility from the public to the private sector. Introducing a new form of tax revenue which fails to incorporate the carbon offsets which could generate jobs and create economic opportunity via a just transition to renewables. There are thus no incentives to offset and promote the introduction of electric vehicles, energy efficient public transport and renewables in South Africa in the foreseeable future, as the country slips to the bottom of the global rankings for energy efficiency

South Africa is responsible for 53.3170% of total GHG emissions in SADC, an economic block including Angola, Botswana, DRC, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. We dominate our neighbours and as the dirtiest emitter, must take responsibility and liability for regional climate problems.

BRICS countries are in turn responsible for 40.59% of global carbon emissions alone, we have some of the worst GHG profiles on the planet and may as well be called the Dirty Five. In this respect South Africa is not alone.

 

 

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The End of the Anthropocene

The End of the Anthropocene, a retort to Stewart Brand.

THAT popular science has a difficult relationship with mainstream research is evidenced by the introduction of a term popularised by atmospheric chemist and Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen nearly two decades ago, at the turn of the new millennium.

In recent years, the Anthropocene, a period defined by significant human impact on the Earth’s geology and ecosystems, has begun to dislodge the long-held view that we are in an epoch known at the Holocene.

I will argue that not only are we in the early Anthropocene, but that human impact upon planet Earth, and hence our own habitat and species, requires that we define what it means to be human in rather different terms. And also, that far from being at the beginning of the early Anthropocene, we are instead approaching the end of this epoch. Human habitat, defined as it is by climate, polar ice, glaciation and weather systems (systems that have remained relatively stable for millennia), is entering a period of rapid change. All leading one to question what it is to be human. Changes that could lead to the sixth major mass extinction event, and along with it, not a de-extinction of mammoths, but rather the complete removal of anthropos by the technium as a defining moment of evolution.

A spate of articles on the subject of the Anthropocene followed its introduction, beginning in 2014  Borenstein, Seth (14 October 2014). “With their mark on Earth, humans may name era, too”.  Edwards, Lucy E. (30 November 2015). “What is the Anthropocene?”Eos96.  Castree, Noel (2015). Associated PressWaters CN et al. (2016). “The Anthropocene is functionally and stratigraphically distinct from the Holocene”Science351 (6269) and “The Anthropocene: a primer for geographers” (PDF). Geography. 100 part 2: 66.

According to the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS), the professional organization in charge of defining Earth’s time scale, we are still officially in the Holocene epoch, an epoch which began 11,700 years ago after the last major ice age.

“But that label is outdated” writes Joseph Stromberg in the Smithsonian ” They argue for “Anthropocene”—from anthropo, for “man,” and cene, for “new”—because human-kind has caused mass extinctions of plant and animal species, polluted the oceans and altered the atmosphere, among other lasting impacts.”

Coupled with the emergence of this new epoch, used to define human intervention on our planet, has been the concomitant rise of new terms within popular culture to describe human evolution itself. Thus the rise of the cyborg, transhumanism and post-humanism, ‘concepts originating in the fields of science fiction, futurology, contemporary art, and philosophy’ that literally ‘means a person or entity that exists in a state beyond being human’.

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Day Zero Plans had to happen years ago, Cape Times, 2nd Feb 2018

​Dear Ed,

Day Zero Plans had to happen years ago, Cape Times, 2nd Feb 2018

I refer to the above article published by your newspaper last Friday in which your correspondent Lisa Isaacs refers to a 1990 report by the apartheid-era Water Commission. It appears the report warned, as did a similar Commission again in 2012 that water supplies would ‘dry up in 17 years’.

The article goes on to mention the late Barry Streek and what appears to be the first record of the issue in your paper during the early 90s. Unfortunately, the writer appears to be uninformed and disingenuous in suggesting that Streek and thus the racialised Water Commission, were the first to write anything at all about the coming water crisis.

I therefore wish to assure your readers that the anti-apartheid movement took a keen interest in water rights, with Earthlife Africa, itself then a newly formed environmental justice organisation, issuing a similar warning. Earthlife Africa “called on the city council to implement a holistic, integrated water management plan for the South West Cape.” The article was published under my own byline in January 1991, during the dying days of apartheid and thus in the runup towards the very first National Conference on Environment and Development and subsequent democratic election, where our constituent assembly proceeded to include the right to sufficient water as a fundamental human right.

The crisis in which we find ourselves today has its root in successive failures by the government and City management to come to grips with climate change. The events which are now occurring were indeed, predicted to occur over the second decade of the new millennium, as was reported not simply by Streek, but also by myself writing in the struggle press and thus subsequent issues of South EcoAction.

Mitigation solutions placed on the table by environmentalists and activists back then, were inter alia, recycling water, desalination and towing icebergs. Instead of playing down such interventions, people should have listened and paid more attention to what the science and evidence provided by ecologists were saying.

Far from being a liberal affair, the history of water usage and the development of water rights in South Africa pre-dates both colonialism and the apartheid state. It it thus pure revisionism on Isaacs’ part to quote the apartheid Water Commission’s own. One should rather turn to DD Tewari of the School of Economics and Finance, of the University of KwaZulu-Natal who in his analysis of water rights thus states: “Prior to colonisation of South Africa, African customary law governed water rights in the pre-colonial society.” Water allocation here was based, not upon ideals of the sovereign individual, rather once contested, ‘it was for the community to decide upon the fair allocation of water.’

The arrival of the Dutch and thus Roman-Dutch law at the Cape in 1652, saw the application of Roman water law, “a primitive system … used to regulate the legal relationships within the farming community along the Tiber River in the Roman Empire about 2 000 years ago.” Roman law as any law student can tell you, recognises 3 classes of water rights: private, common, and public. Significantly the establishment of Dutch control of water resources in the Table Bay Valley came in two phases, Tewari says, first ‘the granting of entitlements from streams in which colonists took control of the streams’, and the next phase in which they declared absolute ownership or ‘eminent domain’ over the water and the land’, as their ‘expansion of sphere of influence’ broadened.

The British period saw the “engineering of change” in all areas including water rights regulation. Whereas during the earlier Dutch rule, water was a very scarce resource relative to land mass and hence Dutch colonists made laws to regulate water use in the interests of the Company. Tewari says “by the time the British came into power, land had become relatively scarcer than water as a result of increasing immigration from Europe and the increasing populations of Trek-Boers and native Africans. All developments in water rights during the British regime thus reflected the predominance of land or agriculture (land-intensive industry) in the economy. Consequently, irrigation development played a major role in the moulding of early water policy, infrastructure, economic and social development in South Africa.”

The tragic situation in which ‘institutions created by the then governments intervened in the development of water resources in favour of the White agricultural community’ played itself out, even through successive periods of drought. While Tewari sees the movement of what became known as ‘riparian rights’ away from the company and state control, towards individual white farmers who could sue those possessed of entitlements upstream, he noted the return to earlier state hegemony and control during the apartheid period.

In 1950, for instance the landmark Commission of Inquiry into Water Matters known as the Hall Commission, was formed to look into drought conditions affecting parts of the country and thus also the general lack of water amongst the population. As a result, the Water Act of 1956 replaced the Irrigation Act of 1912. In brief, the new Act moved away from the riparian rights principle, “which worked well as long as water was used primarily for agricultural purposes” and back again towards the earlier enunciation of eminent domain status ‘of the state through government control areas’. Tewari says: “The distinction between the public and private water from the previous Act was retained and refined further. The idea of public water and its classification into normal flow (which would be divided between the riparian owners) and surplus flow (where, in flood times, riparian owners could take as much surplus as they were able to use beneficially), which was introduced in 1912, was further improved.”

Your correspondent fails to make the point so elegantly put by Tewari: “The colonial water rights policy excluded the Africans who could not compete in the land markets freely and also did not have the resources to do so where such access was possible.” While it is unnecessary to repeat the swathe of legislation and many rules depriving black South Africans of water rights, one feels duty bound to add that it was the environmental justice and anti-apartheid movement and its allies, which sought to correct the imbalance of history. The result is article 24 which celebrates the rights of our Earth viz. vi. the needs of future generations, and article 27 which presents a challenge to both the City and the state in the right to sufficient water for every citizen.

That we are living in a period of water crisis today is due in part, to our nation’s forgetting its genesis in a rights-based culture. Only by remembering our collective history can we hope to survive and surmount the future challenges presented by climate change.

Sincerely yours

David Robert Lewis

[Letter unpublished due to the religious nutjobs bigots & apartheid denialists at the Cape Times]

RSA Water Management Timeline

1990 Water Research Commission warns of a 2007 shortage, when all current water resources fully committed (article published by Barry Streek, Cape Times, April 1990)

1991 Earthlife Africa warns of new millennium water crisis, (article published by David Robert Lewis, South Press, January 1991)

1993 Terry Bell of Argus Group writes on impending water shortages.

1994 Post-Democracy Water Dept. under Kader Asmal adopts a comprehensive water conservation and demand strategy.2002 National Water Resource Commission predicts three crisis areas, including Berg and Vaal River, and water deficit of 508 million cubic metres per year in the Cape.

2012 Water Research Commission repeats its concerns in a report to Parliament. CSIR begins Water Sustainability Flagship.

2017 CSIR publishes report in March “Protecting South Africa’s Strategic Water Resources“, confirms potential for water crisis if climate change continues on its current trajectory. Earlier reports project “Environmental Refugees”.

City of Cape Town announces that it is facing a humanitarian crisis surrounding an ongoing drought and that Day Zero will occur in April of 2018

2018 Cape Town becomes poster-child for Climate Change and a cautionary tale told at Davos. Al Gore speaks out.

Water and Sanitation spokesperson denies there is a “Day Zero”, claims current water supply strategy is sufficient, “our planning is that we do not even have a Day Zero. Our planning is that we do not have a system failure.”