People of faith oppose Shell: "Environmental rights are human rights. When you violate nature, you violate the people!"

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On International Human Rights Day (10 December 2021), the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI), on behalf of its faith members, sent an Open Letter to government to make known their disapproval of Shell’s seismic surveys on the Wild Coast, as well as government’s ongoing pursuit of an economy driven by fossil fuels.

“COP26 has just finished and here South Africa – the 12th-biggest emitter of carbon, globally – allows Shell to conduct potentially-harmful seismic testing, in search of more GHG-emitting oil and gas. How can this be when the company was just recently ordered to “slash its greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030 compared with 2019 levels”? As a global force, Shell already has a disturbing track record of environmental and societal damage, and we refuse to allow the company to repeat its numerous atrocities here,” says Cele Esau, a Christian faith leader from the Cape Town Unitarian community.

The letter – sent to the Departments of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) and Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment (DFFE) – demonstrates that many people have become more aware of and interested in what government and industry are doing to the environment, in the name of economic development. People want to know how these decisions will impact climate change and, in turn, what impact this will have on their wellbeing and livelihoods.

“In this climate emergency, oil and gas will be a game-changer of the worst kind,” says activist Lydia Petersen, “threatening the livelihoods of many indigenous and marginalised peoples. It is incredibly frustrating that our government insists on wasting precious time with outdated fossil fuels, when it should be spending far more of its efforts on uplifting our people, through the just transition to cleaner, more sustainable sources of energy. This year’s Human Rights’ theme is ‘Equality - Reducing inequalities, advancing human rights.’ We do not believe that our government, particularly these two departments, is living up to this requirement. Where is the Department of Environment and Fisheries in all of this? Do they not care that their area of responsibility is being placed at such unnecessary risk?”

They say, “It feels very calculated that Shell’s potentially harmful seismic surveys are going ahead at a time when everyone is trying to wind down from a particularly challenging year, and as we face the fourth wave of Covid-19. Why has this new threat been hidden from us, and never publicly aired, until now? It makes us wonder if the climate commitments at COP26 really happened. The Hague has found that this mega-polluter and human rights violator should pay for its crimes. But what value can be attached to human life, and to all of life? Our voices cannot remain silent. We will not stand by and see Creation be defiled by greed,”.

SAFCEI’s Executive Director Francesca de Gasparis says that the multi-faith ecojustice organisation is driven by its respect for all living things. She says, “Especially in the face of the intensifying climate emergency, the pursuit of economic development should not come at the cost of the people nor the environment. And it cannot be that some people’s rights are seen as more important than others. Communities on the Wild Coast and other coastal areas have every right to be concerned about what is happening in the ocean off their coastlines. This is a resource that belongs to us all and if governments are making decisions that may lead to its devastation, then we have the moral imperative to speak out.

In addition to the current seismic situation with Shell, there are other application on both sides of South Africa’s coastlines that have been earmarked for exploration. Shortly, an application by CGG Services for a reconnaissance permit – for the area located off the southeast coast of South Africa, ranging Gqeberha to a point approximately 120 km southeast of Plettenberg Bay (the Algoa, Gamtoos and Outeniqua Basins) – which will also include further seismic surveys.

"As people of faith, representative of various beliefs, we all have care for the Earth is one of our most fundamental tenets. When we are faced with our government choosing a model for energy which hurts the people and/or the environment, as well as being unaffordable, we are compelled to speak up." We cannot be complicit in ecocide!