SAFCEI Scientist Builds Bridges of Understanding

Why would SAFCEI need a scientific advisor you may ask?  The straight answer is that while the solutions to the environmental and eco-justice challenges facing us are about the ethics, values and socially responsible politics, the science behind many environmental issues is complex, conflicting and, at times, covered up.  Since its founding in 2004, SAFCEI identified the need for a shift to earth friendly energy sources as a priority.  Understanding the complex issues around Climate Change, renewable energy solutions and unbundling the vested interests of the fossil fuel multi-nationals requires solid science. 

IMG_9549sFor the next two years at least, Dr Stefan Cramer, SAFCEI’s new science advisor, will be helping to strengthen understanding of these issues amongst faith communities as well as offering a well- grounded technical response to the fracking debate.  He has a doctorate with specializations in applied geology and geo -ecology and a wealth of experience in mining, hydrogeology and the social and environmental impacts of Climate Change.  A significant part of his career has involved working with aid and development agencies in support of local communities and environmental organisations around the world. He has been involved on Africa for more than 40 years. He is a deeply committed Christian enriching the SAFCEI team with his special combination of geotechnical understanding and passion for Earth Keeping. 

How did he get involved with SAFCEI?  What does he hope to achieve in the Karoo?  What motivates him to make a stand for eco-justice?  Earth Keeper Newsletter met up with Dr Cramer when he was in Cape Town for the SAFCEI AGM on 4 June where he gave a presentation on fracking.  We share some of his experiences and his passion for making a positive difference with you.

Dr Cramer greeted me with a warm smile and a carbon coloured rock in his hand. “What do you think this rock is?” he asked with a twinkle in his eyes.  I had no idea!  It is weathered shale. The dark colouring is carbon, the remains of plant material buried millions of years ago.  “This rock is from a Karoo shale deposit. It was exposed by natural processes and is similar to the deep shale deposits that the oil companies want to frack.   People are anxious about the possibility of fracking the Karoo, he continued, but very few people really understand the structure of the Earth below their feet and their farms.  One of my roles is to help the diverse interest groups in the Karoo to fathom their local geology and hydrology and to explain the fracking process and the probable impacts.  The oil companies did a road show through the Karoo. They hyped up expectations of jobs and of gas as an energy solution, but glossed over the fracking process and its potential long term environmental impacts. 

Dr Cramer and Erika explore the KarooDr Cramer is passionate about helping people understand geological processes in their own landscapes.  He lives in Graaff-Reinet with his wife Erika, an accomplished agricultural engineer with many years of experience in small-scale farming.  He gives illustrated talks to schools, churches, local councils and community organisations including the emerging farmer’s associations through-out the Karoo.  Best of all he likes to walk with locals in the veld. Here he points out distinctive natural features and encourages people to examine the local rocks. He tells them about the structures and forces that formed and underpin the ground where they live and work in the Karoo. In a recent training, one of the participants remarked: “Now the rocks start to talk to me…”  

“I learnt in very traumatic circumstances that knowledge is empowering”, said Dr Cramer “and it sent me down a new career path.”  While working in the Philippines, the islands were struck by a devastating earthquake.  Many of the locals did not understand the cause of earthquakes.  Their fears were magnified as, in the absence of knowledge, they were fed and accepted superstitious explanations that earthquakes were the punishment of a vengeful god.  Dr Cramer drove the length and breadth of the Philippines explaining how tectonic plates shift and cause tremors. Wherever the evidence was close to the surface, he showed people the signs of these deep earth structures.  It was a profoundly rewarding time for me“, Dr Cramer reminisced.  I could use my scientific knowledge to show people the truth and liberate them from fear and manipulation.”

A tall, distinguished man who has earned the hard won authority of years of experience with mining interests and associated politics, Dr Cramer blends in with the suits at industry and financing conferences.  Well I am a bit older and I don’t look like a stereotypical greenie, “ he smiles, the twinkle back in his eyes.  It gives him away.  He loves his work and his interactions with people as he tries to understand their issues and agendas whether they are locals in the Karoo or bankers, geologists and government spokespeople at industry conventions.   

An aspect of his involvement in environmental issues in South Africa that saddens him is the relatively weak link between the strong conservation movement in South Africa and the eco-justice movement.   This is one of the reasons why he chooses to work with SAFCEI.  He is committed to SAFCEI’s values of creation care, equity and social justice which are at the core of a sustainable future.  It is these values which he recognised in Bishop Geoff at the inauguration of SAFCEI ten years ago and which formed the basis of a special friendship and their working relationship.  It is also these values and SAFCEI’s unique multi-faith perspective which he believes can build bridges so that more people and organisations work together to address our environmental challenges.

Have you always been passionate about the environment?   Well, I fell in love with Africa when I was a 17 year old intern working in Sierra Leone for a German road construction company.   Since then I have left and returned to work in Africa a number of times. However the consequences of our fossil fuel addiction actually hit me while I was lying in a hammock between two palm trees on a Pacific Island.  I was reading Gro Brundtland’s report `Our Common Future’ which for the first time discussed environment and development as one single issue. The book alerted me to the consequences of climate change and predicted sea level rise for the island, where my wife and our two children were living at the time, just half a meter above sea level. “I made a decision then and there not to pursue my academic career but to use my scientific training and political skills to work hard towards protecting us from climate change.”

Pope Francis stated emphatically that it is a sin not to challenge climate change.  At the SAFCEI AGM Dr Cramer explained how the faith communities in the Karoo play an important role as opinion makers.  He gave a clear explanation of the unique geology of the Karoo shale basin and the vulnerability of the water resources to contamination by fracking chemicals.  He gives the same message to the faith communities in the Karoo hoping to empower them with an understanding of their geology and the world class opportunities the Karoo has to promote solar and wind power as alternatives.   Shale gas looks like the last fix of a hazardous addiction by a dying industry he tells them.  The size of the vast shale deposits makes it easy to hype interest amongst the promoters of business as usual.  However, nature fracked the Karoo millions of years ago when magma pushed through the shale, fracturing it and burning off most of the natural gas there.  The characteristic dolerite dykes that form many of the Karoo koppies provide visible evidence today of this ancient volcanic activity. These dykes are also vital conduits for ground water between the layers of shale without which farming in the Karoo would not be possible.    

After his presentation, Yolanda from 1 Million Climate Change Jobs stood up and thanked Dr Cramer for what she described as the only presentation of the many she had attended that explained fracking in a way that she finally understood.   The Karoo is a No Go zone for fracking. Now I am able to go out and explain this to my network.   Investigating, researching and then sharing knowledge to build people’s ability to make informed decisions is Dr Cramer’s passion.  Earth Keepers wishes Stefan and his wife Erika a happy and fulfilling journey with SAFCEI and the people of the Karoo.  Wind and solar need to triumph over fracking in the Karoo to send a strong message that we have a path to a sustainable future for people and the planet. 

Interview by Kim Kruyshaar for SAFCEI, June 2014Stefan in the Karoo, Graaff-Reinet - Copy

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