The following is a summary of Bishop Geoff Davies’ thoughts at the Southern African Catholic Bishop’s Conference Justice and Peace Department AGM.
It was hoped that Trevor Manuel, heading up the National Planning Commission (NPC) would share the discussion with Bishop Geoff Davies of SAFCEI. It was then realized that an NPC meeting would prevent that so Gwede Mantashe, ANC General Secretary, agreed to engage in debating this important topic. However an ANC Youth League meeting prevented his attendance, so Trevor Manuel asked two people from the NPC to attend. They were Dr. Vincent Maphai, a Commissioner, and senior researcher Josephilda Nhlapho-Hlope.
Dr. Maphai shared some extremely wise thoughts to the 150 to 200 people present at the Southern African Catholic Bishop’s Conference Justice and Peace Department AGM. He explained that in the Sixties they had been motivated by the quest for social justice. However, following the era of Thatcher and Reagan, the motivation had been dominated my economic interests.
He believed that poverty reduction without environmental degradation was not only possible but was an imperative. We have to have public ethics driven by moral imperatives which treat the planet responsibly.
Ms Josephilda Nhlapho-Hlope, a senior research specialist from the NPC, then presented a power point overview of the NPC report. Her presentation showed the excellence of the research and recommendations of the NPC report.
Bishop Geoff thanked both for their good presentations and commented that if we could implement the recommendations of the NPC, we would go a long way to solving our social and environmental challenges.
Can we reduce poverty and create jobs without environmental degradation – Yes.
Will we do this? I seriously doubt it, but maybe this is why it is so important that faith communities are involved as we put ethics and values back into the centre of our decision making. The Cape Times headline following President Zuma’s state of the nation address It’s the Economics showed that we were still trying to find solutions through economics rather than morality
What is our greatest priority? I would hope that it is the wellbeing of our children so that they will inherit a world where they can live in peace and security. That means that we must do all that we can for their good. Our present policies are a recipe for disaster. We in South Africa – and indeed the world – continue in a completely wrong direction.
For us to live sustainably requires a transformation, a revolution in our thinking and practice. A revolution that moves from putting economics at the centre to a recognition that we humans are not only totally dependent on the wellbeing of the planet, but are inextricably part of it – and that economics is NOT at the centre of our being. Worship God, not money we are clearly told!
As you know, there are three pillars to sustainable development – Environment, Society and Economics. We should realise that all is held within the wellbeing of the planet, but the reality is that economics dominates, whether in South Africa or the World Bank or Washington and now, it seems, Beijing.
The fundamental is that if we look after nature/environment, it will look after us. This requires that we seek to establish the scriptural principles of Justice and Equity. We must be guided by moral principles and principles of justice and equity must be applied to the planet as well as people.
In the Book of Exodus, in the desert when God fed the Israelites with manna, that is bread, from heaven, God provided for their needs not their greed.
Our present economic system pays scant regard to the wellbeing of the planet and encourages and fosters greed. I have to tell of my immense disappointment with the example my government, the ANC Government, is giving. We have now become the most unequal country in the world. I understood the ANC to be a party of the people concerned about their wellbeing. I see cabinet ministers who should be setting an example driving around in vehicles that cost three quarters of a million Rand and staying in luxury hotels that I would never dream of entering. And youth leaders wearing watches valued at a quarter of a million Rand.
The inequity in our country has now become obscene. I don’t know how somebody can drive a vehicle that can cost R4 million while there are people without clean drinking water or sanitation. The ANC must start living the talk. Will you for the sake of the future? The Equality Trust has proven that societies with greater equality are far happier, with far less conflict and violence. We have some of the highest inequality levels and surprise, we have horrific levels of crime and violence. Will the ANC promote a culture of sustainability, and move away from promoting consumerism and greed, which, by the way, undermines our incredible gift to the world of Ubuntu.
But you and I know that the core of the problem is our economic system, which considers profit and the bottom line only. We have got to put people and planet before profit. Money is only a resource, a tool to accomplish what we need to do, and that is to ensure that people are fed, housed, educated, employed, and live in a peaceful harmonious society. For that to happen, we have to have a natural environment that is pleasant and provides clean water and air and soil, for all of creation. The acquisition of money does not do that. In our relentless pursuit of money we destroy all else.
The ANC – and all of us – recognise that the greatest challenge and priority is to overcome poverty and unemployment and inequality.
Our main thesis is that if you do what is right for the planet then we will overcome these challenges of poverty and unemployment. How come?
Following COP17 it should be clear that if we want to look after people and the planet our energy policy is a key issue.
The planet requires an urgent and dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emmissions. Climate change is real. Ever since the industrial revolution we have been increasing carbon emmissions, so much so that we now have a level of CO2 not seen in the atmosphere for the last 650 thousand years. Fossil fuel is a wonderful source of energy – push a car 10 kilometres to realise how much energy is in one litre of petrol. But not only is fossil fuel destroying the atmospheric balance, it has also done millions of people out of jobs. A machine can do a job that might require dozens or even hundreds of people to do the same work.
So what we need is a low carbon, labour intensive paradigm that improves the health of the planet and creates jobs. But few seem to promote this.
I am not proposing we go back to the pick and shovel age but that we use intermediate, labour intensive technology. Why? Because 95 % of our children don’t get a matric and are unskilled and not all are going to become entrepreneurs.
But why does this not happen? I put it to you that it is not in the interests of overseas capital which – understandably – prefers to invest in machines (which are not as troublesome as trade unionists) so we have the high tech, high energy, high capital paradigm, reliant on overseas investment instead of Africa doing things Africa’s way.
Last year it was reported that overseas investment in South Africa had increased, but employment was down. It was also reported that agricultural mechanization over the last ten years had brought about a quarter of a million job losses.
Our greatest asset and resource is our people. At the moment this is totally under-valued with over 50% unemployment in South Africa alone. We are reaching peak oil. There is going to be a crisis in the way agri-business uses massive quantities of fossil fuel and water.
Interestingly, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba no longer received subsidised oil from Russia. The health rate in Cuba has risen dramatically. Diabetes and heart disease have dropped by 50% and longevity has passed that of the USA. – Since people could no long rely on machines and automobiles!
Africa with a labour intensive, organic farming model will bring greater health not only to the planet but to the people and in the process will create millions of jobs and bring about greater equality.
Where is the money – it is the energy sector. So fossil fuel enables those in power and with money to control these monopolies. We say put power in the hands of people – through renewable energy – and distribute the wealth. It can be done. But the government is going in the wrong direction with nuclear energy, a centralised grid and even considering the option of fracking for natural gas.
Fracking is not an option. Apart from threatening water resources, a study by Cornell University released at COP 17 shows that 48% of the USA’s greenhouse gas emmissions are from methane from fracking.
We have got to stop burning fossil fuels – for the sake of the planet and our children. And we must have decentralised electricity generation through renewable energy if we are going to get energy to those four million rural households.
Don’t tell me that only coal and nuclear can provide base load for electricity. That is a myth perpetuated by ESKOM! Obviously, we would not phase out all our coal fired power stations but instead of spending R350 billion on two new coal stations, Medupi and Kusile, we spend that on concentrated solar power that would be up and running within a year or two, whereas a new coal power station takes 5 or even 8 years.
And as for nuclear, on ESKOM’s own admission, that would not be up and running in under 15 years and every study of nuclear shows that the costs of construction continue to escalate, the costs of uranium continues to increase and will grow scarcer, the problem of toxic waste for the next few hundred thousand years has still not been solved, it is by nature a centralised system so won’t benefit the rural poor and if we spend a few trillion Rand, we will leave precious few resources for the education and development of people. And this money has to come from the government. In no country has private equity funded nuclear power. Why? Because it is simply too risky, whereas private equity is queuing up to invest in solar and wind energy. In 2010, renewables received $151billion of global private investment and surpassed nuclear powers total global installed capacity.
Not only is nuclear energy high risk for people and planet, it is a high risk financially and is therefore an absurd option for a country that has some of the best solar and wind resources in the world.
So, to live in a healthy planet requires that we live in harmony with it and the best way of doing that is to follow the God given principles which are revealed in most religions of justice, equity, compassion, love. The question I put to you is whether we will follow the universal laws of God or the vested self-interests of power politics and BEE coal shares. Either we seek greater equity and peace or we follow a path of inequality and increasing conflict and environmental destruction.
Sustainable development is possible. Are we willing to sublimate our own self-interests to make it possible?
We believe that the emphasis of large scale centralised infrastructure development, in the hands of wealthy corporations is going diametrically in the wrong direction.
What is needed is growth in the development of people. Skill our people. Enable them to use their considerable gifts and ingenuity. Provide them with the resources. Liberate them, the people, economically. Don’t just further enrich the rich. Share the resources of the planet. Look up on the web the Equality Trust. Our roots as a species are in cooperative action. It is these pro-social strategies rather than models of pure competition that explain survival and success.
Now I am not actually just getting at the ANC, but governments around the world. There is a proposal before the UN that a law of ecocide be classed as an international law alongside genocide, crimes against humanity, crimes of aggression and war crimes as a fifth crime against peace. Governments and corporations can then be held responsible for allowing so called development projects that destroy wetlands or destroy the atmosphere, such as Eskom does in our country.
We hope our government will be on the side of overcoming poverty and unemployment without environmental degradation.
10th February 2012
Bishop Geoff Davies, Executive Director
Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute
Office Phone: +27 21 701 8145
Cell Phone: +27 83 754 5275
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