THAT people like Ivo Vegter get given column space on the strength of an untested book purporting to debunk campaigns against fracking, nuclear power, climate change and environmentalism in general, is a sign of the insatiable rise of right-wing politics, of the kind that has lead to the ascendency of President Donald Trump. In Vegter’s latest missive published by Daily Maverick, the columnist makes the bold claim that “Rich environmentalists oppress poor people.”
In order to support his thesis, he refers to campaigns to save the Sumatran Tiger and rainforest habitat in Indonesia, the battle to counter deforestation, and a supposedly “alarmist film” by one Leonardo de Caprio, whom Vegter labels variously, a “climate change hypocrite” and a rich celebrity with a ‘carbon footprint the size of small countries’ who has merely ‘poked his nose into the fight’.
De Caprio’s film Before the Flood about climate change and presented by National Geographic was an official selection at both the Toronto and London Film festivals. In comparison Vegter’s 2012 book “Extreme Environment: How Environmental Exaggeration Harms Emerging Economies” failed to make any notable book lists and hardly ranks in terms of global sales.
Vegter’s writing has been labelled as “staggeringly naïve and shoddy research“, “elastic research“,” a man who passes himself off as an environmental journalist, but consistently backs the right of those with money and power to destroy the environment” and a “cherry-picker of facts“.
After poo-pooing De Caprio’s fact-finding epic, Vegter turns to geothermal energy, making the point that instead of being seen as a good thing by environmentalists, such projects, particularly in Indonesia, have raised the ire of earth-centric activists wanting to save habitat from human intervention. David Attenborough is thus chief on Vegters hit-list, as any deep green ecologist would be — one who places a higher value on ecosystems than human beings in general and who is thus opposed to our supposed God-given right to destroy nature.
Hence what can only be termed a rather limp but convoluted preface, tame in comparison to earlier postings, (the man’s writing has spawned a veritable cottage industry of conspiracy theory), begins Vegter’s perennial opining on the subject:
“Environmentalists often try to appeal to our common-sense instincts to preserve our world from harm. Nobody would dispute that a healthy, productive environment is desirable, and indeed essential for continued human welfare and prosperity.
“However, in their zeal to oppose environmental degradation, environmentalists routinely overstate their case. When infrastructure or other development projects are proposed, their knee-jerk reaction is to object, and never give ground. Instead of seeking to minimise harm, they insist that no environmental price is worth the benefit of development.
“There are strong incentives for environmentalists to become fundamentalist extremists, who brook no human development that might disturb a supposedly pristine environment. To understand why, allow me to propose four possible motivations: environmentalism as a religion, environmentalism as a political tool, environmentalism as sensationalism, and environmentalism as an industry.”
That Vegter willfully misstates the case, is unable to tackle apartheid and related environmental issues in his own backyard, and thus resorts to cherry-picking issues half-way around the world, issues that readers do not have any immediate interest in the outcome of events, save from what they see on their Nature television screens, is par for the course, for a man who lost the debate on Fracking and Fukushima. Vegter painfully misjudged the geology of the Karoo, made spurious claims without any science about Fukushima, supported Big Oil at the expense of Water, and continues to disregard the environmental struggles of millions of South Africans living in the townships.
His characterisation of environmentalists as nothing less than ‘wealthy oppressors’, must be rejected as insulting and offensive to all activists on the ground struggling for a healthy environment and better conditions for all humans living on the Earth. This week, saw a major climate victory for Earthlife Africa, an organisation with a predominantly black membership, and thus an organisation which carries my DNA, and notably, one to which I contributed its founding charter and principles. Part of the story of the rise of ELA and environmental activism during apartheid can be read here.
While there is no dispute regarding the need for criticism — yes, white conservationists were considered fair game during the dark days of apartheid, and I published profusely on the subject, forcing the Wildlife Society to become the Wildlife and Environment Society — and since as I argued, human beings were intimately part of the habitat, thus saving our climate and ending apartheid, was equally important, both for wildlife and all human beings, especially those who lacked clean water and basic sanitation — Vegter goes too far in his own extreme, and one should add, obnoxious alt-right point of view.
The convoluted dispatch from the self-proclaimed “never wrong” pundit (read: Never right), may also be considered a form of back-peddling, for in admitting the need for some form of environmentalism in geothermal energy, and thus in part a recognition of the energy debate central to climate change, and ergo, a part revision of an objectionable thesis, Vegter’s borrowed critique of shallow environmentalism, not all environmentalism per se, is in reality, an attempt to destroy the environmental movement by incorporating some of its own ideology and criticism.
Thus like the Rupert’s who wish to be seen as pioneers of transfrontier parks, without dealing with their contribution to apartheid, Vegter’s sudden sympathy for the poor, in essence greenwashing, cannot masque an otherwise abysmal career as a proponent of resource exploitation. Such nitpicking is unlikely to bother the strong non-racial green movement which has arisen post-COP17, nor will it remove the guarantees of Earth Rights in our constitution, and the campaign for the inclusion of ecological sustainable development, of which I was one of the authors.
Vegter’s latest views, therefore need to be discarded as nothing less than fallacious and false argument, the utterings of a dyed in the wool racist, and the work of an opponent of science. One has merely to review the latest debates around the Anthropocene, and certainly, my view is that we appear to be at the end of this geological era. Far from being “monopolisers of truth” environmentalists, are deploying science – evidence-based research and empirical data in their campaign to avoid the devastating consequences of climate change. Ivo the Terrible, on the other hand, appears to offer nothing more than a theological counter-point, providing a hazardous litany of argument — one of many, self-ordained saints of alt-speak making a quick buck out of roasting the green movement.
WHEN the electric icebox was invented, thousands of ice haulers went out of business. At the turn of the 20th century, nearly every family, grocer, and barkeeper in South Africa had an icebox. But ironically, South Africa’s dependence on ice created the very technology that would lead to the decline of the ice empire — electric freezers and refrigerators.
During the early 1900s, these appliances became more reliable, and by 1940, millions of units had been sold. With freezers allowing people to make ice at home, there was little need to haul massive quantities across the country.
We can’t stop progress and if we do, we risk losing far more than jobs, our Earth and our human habitat is at risk. Because of altered circumstances, Eskom has decided to shut down five coal power stations — Hendrina‚ Kriel‚ Komati‚ Grootvlei and Camden. The termination of coal truckers contracts has lead to a furore, with Cosatu labelling it a “hostile act”.
We can’t turn back the clock. This is not simply about Independent Power Producers (IPPs), as 250 medical professionals and medical organisations stated in the Durban Declaration, climate change is a medical emergency. According to the Lancet, climate change is the greatest global health threat of the 21stcentury.
Each year has seen an increase in global ambient temperatures caused by the release of Greenhouse Gases (GHG) associated with carbon and fossil fuel such as coal, with the resulting melting of permafrost and the polar icecaps, retreat of glaciers, thermal expansion of the ocean and most indicators are off the charts. Africa will suffer most from increasing temperatures. Workers will be most affected by associated loss in productivity.
We can’t afford to live under domes with an altered climate, neither can we afford to miss out on the renewables revolution. Far from being a scourge of privatisation, it is one of our country’s few success stories, continuing to attract investment, continuing to produce jobs and the roll-out of renewable energy is very impressive. It represents a paradigm shift, we dare not ignore.
A way must therefore be found to accommodate the major shift in energy priorities and the sudden dislocation of an entire industry. Truckers can truck goods in other markets, we must assist them, but we cannot step back from the icebox analogy and the melting point — we really no longer need a coal trucking route, nor a coal industry and its cost in terms of human life.
One can only suggest Eskom needs to be more strategic in its approach and truckers need to given the resources to regain control over their lives. Government must assist in skills retraining and investing in adult education that will help families deal with the crisis. It must not be mislead by the unscientific opinions and haranguing of union bosses.
Extract Published in Cape Argus, Letters 9 March 2017
Check out this posting from a blog called Integral Transformation, showcasing 5 environmental organisations making a difference in Cape Town
DURING the struggle I was active on campus. Following the campus unrest at UCT, similar in many respects to the current youth revolt against the system, I enrolled in a course in environmental geoscience whilst also studying politics. It became clear the way forward was to ‘politicise ecology and ecologise politics’, in fact this was the slogan of a small reading circle and green group back then, by the innocuous sounding name of Cape Town Ecology Group (CTEG).
CTEG went on to co-host the very first National Conference on Environment and Development, held at UWC in 1991, in conjunction with Ebrahim Rasool’s World Council on Religion and Peace.
Following the tumultuous year of 1988, and the terrible month of August in which the End Conscription Campaign, along with its duel campaigns against the war on the border, and alternative community service in the township, was banned, there arose, another green group by the name of Earthlife Africa. Initially a club from Wits had met the very same month in Yeoville, following the debacle, with the key person being Peter Lukey. At the invitation of fellow CTEG member Alfrieda Strauss, I attended a hastily convened meeting of several lefties and war resisters in a commune in Observatory, where Peter was in attendance. He had come down to Cape Town hoping to launch the movement nationally, and though aware of the activities of CTEG, wanted to take the campaign to a different level.
It was thus that I found myself traveling in my volksie to Dal Josaphat to attend the inaugural congress of ELA the very next year, and the birth of an environmental justice movement, drawn from conservation groups, botanical societies and the ragtag remnants of the ECC, and whose members were predominantly white bearded males, all well-educated, middle class and armed with degrees, mostly from the natural and social sciences. ELA provided an outlet for banned individuals, and a cover for NUSAS affiliates and persons struggling under the whip of the security branch.
I had just launched the first edition of Kagenna Magazine, which was to become an eco-anarchist zine and was still then a bit of a campus rag, and had embarked on a furious letter writing campaign around the globe, calling for an end to apartheid, imploring publishers for assistance in my publishing project and networking on a variety of pressing issues. The artsy cover of our first issue designed by Nat Tardrew would inspire the ELA logo, I still remember the brief: We want to create the ‘Coca Cola of Environmentalism’, something which will catch the public eye and thrive! Needless to say we ended up with a sixties inspired brand which as I write this, has gone through at least one revision.
During a break in one of the Dal Jasophat sessions, we set about drafting the constitution of the Earthlife movement and formerly adopting the name.
Henk Coetzee and myself sat outdoors under the trees with a rather bemused Peter, pondering where to begin the epic. I opened a copy of the magazine I was plugging, and showed them both a page outlining the principles of the German Green Party. We used the document as a template, and arrived at a few key phrases. One, included the unleashing of human potential, which I thought would prevent the movement from turning into a mere political talkshop or pressure group. I am still proud of my small contribution, but saddened that despite the auspicious origins of the ELA constitution, the movement seems to have become exactly what I had predicted and feared.
It was then simply a bright, abundantly virtuous post-ECC green moment. The first time that the academic theories being discussed at CTEG, on campus and in other circles were actually being implemented. Lukey and I had initially wanted to start a branch of Greenpeace, and having written to both groups, one in the UK and another in Europe, we had both received word back: Don’t join us, start your own movement.
Although I had thus issued forth in the collective birth of Lukey’s child, and a grouping which would soon spread like wild fungi and fynbos, I retreated back home, to my commune squat in the relatively luxury of Tamboerskloof, to continue writing for South Press and Grassroots, and Kagenna.
The Cape Town Ecology Group, not to be outdone, proceeded with its political agenda. I guess having freethinkers such as Karen Rolfes, author Michael Cope and Julia Martin as a conduit for funding meant that CTEG took the initiative in what would soon become a launchpad for the later series of environmental conferences based on justice.
Kagenna on the other hand, was the recipient of bootleg copies of tapes and books, and assorted literature which made their way into the country, despite the special branch, via Sheila Fugard and Samten de Wet. We feasted on Whole Earth Review, Buddhist magazines, Pagan faire, and the occasional New York Times. The postbox overflowing as Jay Scott delivered and played postman. He would also help me to write a letter from London excusing my inability to attend the draft and my seat on the troop train which had already been booked by the apartheid military command.
Kagenna itself was a pastiche, a bricolage of photocopied, appropriated, copyleft samizdat. The first issues were produced at all night publication parties, followed by underground music and theatre art events, exhibitions, live performances where crowds of hippies, students, anarchists, freaks, politicos, rebels, queers, lefties from across the colour line, mixed despite the Group Areas Act and security legislation.
So alongside an eclectic line up of black township jazz and white rock, there would be an environmentally themed art exhibition, people dressing up, raging against the system in the best possible way and thus ‘politicise ecology and ecologise politics’ became “socialise ecology and ecologise society”. The aim here was to mix and blend the youth culture, provoke the political culture and emerging environmental justice movement in order to create sustainability of a broader and wider environmental narrative.
During this frenetic period I found myself writing essays and articles for what turned into a series of environmental supplements for South Press. Not to be outdone by the surge in output, the Weekly Mail, whose Eddie Koch was also writing on environmental justice and Bev Geach issued forth its Green Pages, and despite John Yeld’s often meek contributions to the Argus, a veritable catalogue of eco-organisations, across the spectrum found themselves under the spotlight,as South Africa experienced a green uprising of sorts.
Every conservation group was turned inside out. The wildlife society became the wildlife and environment society. Environment was no longer simply about saving trees, but included humans. My critique of irritating white conservationists and the save the rhinos and penguins brigade, and thus also by implication, Earthlife Africa, was having mixed results. On the one hand, it brought a new political frisson into play, the earlier phases of environmentalism, in other words conservationism, and the simple invocation within the Freedom Charter itself, to “save the soil”, acted as bedrock for new offshoots under the rubric of the Greens. At the same time, the resulting politics, provided cover for radical political activism.
It certainly made the anti-apartheid movement seem less threatening and more agreeable, as common ground was found from left to right. The farmers and boers, could now talk to the comrades about agrarian reform, without having an anti-Marxist cadenza. The commies could pave the way to ecosocialism, not with bulldozers and barricades, but by saving water, growing organic food and recycling campaigns.
A recurring theme of all of my writing from this period, linking apartheid and the environment, was the introduction of the concept of ‘ecological sustainable development’, which followed from the Brundtland Commission. I had ordered a book called ‘Our Common Future’ from a catalogue put out by David Philip Publishers. I proceeded to publish a review. This was soon followed by essays and articles and an entire supplement geared towards the concept. Calling the late Barney Desai of the PAC for comment I received word that policy would soon be forthcoming, likewise Trevor Manual of the ANC issued forth as South carried the general theme alongside the release of political prisoners and unbanning of organisations.
Later I would become critical of the manner in which all of this environmentalism equated with business as usual and a reiteration of race and class privilege. Yet, looking back at this period, it is without any doubt a broad campaign for environmental justice which clearly resulted in the inclusion of Earth rights in our Constitution. The phrase “ecologically sustainable development” and also the post-Brundtland concept of an “environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations” both appear in article 24, which is an impressive clause dedicated to the Earth.
The foundation document is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.
Flawed Medicines and Related Substances Act
The Great Green Wall initiative is a pan-African proposal to “green” the continent from west to east in order to battle desertification. It aims at tackling poverty and the degradation of soils in the Sahel-Saharan region, focusing on a strip of land of 15 km (9 mi) wide and 7,100 km (4,400 mi) long from Dakar to Djibouti.
Populations in Sahelian Africa are among the poorest and most vulnerable to climatic variability and land degradation. They depend heavily on healthy ecosystems for rainfed agriculture, fisheries, and livestock management to sustain their livelihoods. These constitute the primary sectors of employment in the region and generate at least 40 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in most of the countries. Additionally, the ecosystem provides much needed livelihood products, such as fuelwood and bushmeat. Unfortunately, increasing population pressures on food, fodder, and fuelwood in a vulnerable environment have deteriorating impacts on natural resources, notably vegetation cover. Climate variability along with frequent droughts and poorly managed land and water resources have caused rivers and lakes to dry up and contribute to increased soil erosion.
The vision of a great green wall to combat ecological degradation was conceived in 2005 by the former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, and the idea was strongly supported by President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal. The vision evolved into an integrated ecosystem management approach in January 2007, when the African Union adopted declaration 137 VIII, approving the “Decision on the Implementation of the Green Wall for the Sahara Initiative”. In June 2010, Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan signed a convention in Ndjamena, Chad, to create the Great Green Wall (GGW) Agency and nominate a secretary to further develop the initiative.
The participating countries hope that by linking national-level efforts across borders, they will tackle policy, investment, and institutional barriers that exacerbate the effects of climate change and variability, leading to desertification and deterioration of the environment and natural resources and the risk of conflicts between communities. International Colloquiums are held to discuss possible barriers as well as share available knowledge on the vegetal species, systems of development, and GGW monitoring updates1.
The GEF emulates the spirit of collaboration by allowing participating GGW countries to prioritize which projects they want to implement, in conjunction with GEF agencies and their partners. They may “develop one or several projects in the context of this program and assign some or all of their financial allocations to the Great Green Wall”.
Progress is apparent especially in the Zinder region of Niger, where tree density has significantly improved since the mid-1980s. GEF CEO Monique Barbut attributes the success to working with farmers to find technical solutions, particularly long-term land and financial solutions, in order to save the trees. This form of natural regeneration benefits local communities and the global environment alike by increasing crop yield, improving soil fertility, reducing land erosion, improving fodder availability, diversifying income, cutting wood collection time for women, strengthening resilience to climate change, increasing biodiversity, and much more.