Conservation, a middle-class priviledge

The coastline of South Africa must be one of the most stunning and scenic coastlines in the world.

We have such a varied coast line and it draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each and every year. It is a veritable cash cow bringing millions of rands in tourism, uplifting local communities and providing jobs. The monetary potential is huge, yet we are slowly killing the golden goose. The sad reality is that I have seen endless devastation, exploitation and destruction along the coast. I have walked nearly every inch from Alexander bay to Port St Johns in the Transkei so far.

After many miles and many conversations, the statement in the title is abundantly clear and a hard truth. The poor are so busy desperately eking out a living to put food on the table. They do not have the time to worry about conservation, for them there is no tomorrow. There is only today and in many cases the only resource they have is the sea. They have no choice, they are driven to exploit it. The wealthy don’t give a damn. By and large, they will rape the earth’s resources in order to get rich. Everything has a monetary return, everything is a commodity. Besides, when they wish to visit a small section of paradise, they have a means to buy that commodity.

It is only the middle class who seem to worry about the environment, for they have enough food on the table, enough security in the bank and some spare time on there hands to contemplate the environment. They have the luxury of a stable income and can afford to worry about the planet and the future we will leave our children.

I have seen how the big, wealthy companies are strip mining the beaches for diamonds and minerals. In there greed, they deny access to the beaches for ordinary citizens who own these public spaces. They push out the local communities, destroy the dunes and sea-beds and do nothing tangible to repair the damage they have wrought. I have sat with the abalone poachers who are poaching along the coast, mostly poor people desperately trying to put food on the table. Nearly always making someone else rich. I have seen the locals stripping the rocks of small undersized oysters and crayfish, long after the season has closed. I see the greedy holiday goers buying them, justifying there actions with comments like “you gotta support the locals, they are poor” and “its just a couple, it wont do any harm”.

I have seen the fishermen illegally netting tonnes of harder (mullet). I have seen countless small shy-sharks, lying discarded on the beaches, left to die by fisherman as they are seen as pests that steal the bait from target species. No thought, no understanding, middle class sports fisherman too ignorant to understand the critical role these sharks play in the marine food chain. Too selfish to bother. I have seen seals and dolphins shot dead because they dared to raid the trawler-men’s nets or stole the fish from long line fisherman. I have seen countless sea birds wrapped in fishing line, dead because the line has been discarded on the beach. I have seen the terrible devastation wrought by illegal, unregulated sand mining practises. I have cut open dead tuna, only to find plastic in there stomachs.

I have passed countless towns and cities discharging raw sewage into the ocean, including our flagship tourist city Cape town. Often these discharge points are near prominent swimming beaches. I have crossed countless rivers that are so polluted with waste, effluent and garbage that the water is not fit for consumption. I have crossed numerous rivers that were once mighty bodies of water, now silted from upstream erosion that they can be waded across. I have seen countless trees chopped down along the coast, forests devastated by logging and clearing of land. I have seen grasslands once so tall that you could only see over the top on horse back, now reduced to pitiful manicured grass patches from over grazing and the destructive practise of burning.

All along the coast there has been a distinct lack of wildlife, including our so called nature reserves. The game long since poached out, there habitat destroyed. The constant year on year burning of the grasslands and forests. This resulting in the destruction of the organic mulch leading to the drying out of the soils and the invasion of foreign alien species.

Worst of all I see the hundreds and hundreds of tonnes of plastic washed up on the beaches. Discarded by the vast majority of people on this planet. Fishing line takes up to 600 years to photo degrade. This list of destruction is endless. Who is to blame? We are all to blame, greed is to blame, ignorance is to blame, poverty is to blame.

The worst offenders are our governments of the day. It matters not what country we live in. Sadly there is no longer any distinction between the corporates that drive government policy, and government that practises corporate greed. Our governments are the signal biggest threat to the environment.We pay our taxes and expect them to implement our wishes for our benefit and for the good of the majority of her citizens, and here in rests the lie.

Corruption is rife in government on all levels. Members of the government have shares in the mining industry, a blatant conflict of interest. Members of the police, sanparks, correctional services take the bribes and transport the abalone. Corrupt municipal officials issue the sand mining licences and turn a blind eye to the environmental destruction. Sanparks officials turn a blind eye to poaching or assist in many cases. How can I make this slanderous statement? you ask.

The Abalone poachers, the miners, the diamond smugglers have all said they pay the right people to insure they don’t get stopped. The corruption in many cases goes all the way to the top.

A well known supermarket chain, one of our top three, has recently introduced 100% recyclable plastic bags made from 100% recycled plastic. Commendable to be sure, after all we should be cutting down on our necessity for fossil fuels. Plastic by the way is just a by product of the petrol-chemical industry. They maintain that they are doing there bit, taking responsibility. So lets break that down.

Government charges a levy on plastic bags, around 10 cents a bag when last I paid attention. Does this go back to the environment? No! It just becomes another revenue stream. The supermarket then charges us about 58 cents a bag. Feeling rapped yet? They claim they are pumping the money into community projects and they are, except you and I are carrying the brunt of that cost. There is a significant part of that scheme going back into the environment, namely the ruddy plastic bag! I see there pretty blue plastic bags floating in the sea, left to maim destroy and poison the marine environment for thousands of years to come.

The supermarket will argue that they didn’t throw the bag in the sea. They didn’t, people did, or did they?. You see the consumer probably threw it into the bin, maybe even the recycling bin. The council then threw it into an open land fill, the wind threw it in the stream, the stream threw it in the river and the river threw it in the sea. Why is it that we are happy to go after manufactures of guns and tazers for being complicit in a death, but we are reluctant to blame the supermarket for pollution?. Why would they be complicit?

Consider this, supermarkets are driven to make a profit for there shareholders. They will do whatever it takes to increase profits. Those plastic bags are not there to assist you, they are there because it increases sales. Your goods are easy to carry therefore you purchase more. If they gave you a paper bag the risk of damage to the goods increases and the easy carry convenience is reduced therefore reducing sales. Consider a rainy day, if you carried a paper bag, you run the risk of your bag disintegrating. Therefore you would buy less on a rainy day, this results in a loss of millions of rands of sales over the year.

If the supermarket was serious about its impact on the environment, the only honest solution is a biodegradable bag. Not a mickey mouse, blue, ra ra, recyclable environmentally destructive bag that you pay for. Less then 10% of plastic produced can be recycled and less then 10% of what can be recycled is recycled. Our municipality and government cant even get recycling right. So to the Supermarket in question I say,” be serious, get real. If you pull the other leg it has bells on it”.

When the coast is trashed, the tourists will stop coming and the money they bring will disappear. I recently chatted to some foreign tourists, They were disheartened to see the nature parks devoid of wildlife, the hiking trails badly sign posted and maintained. The endless litter in the countryside. They wont be coming back, they would rather spend there money else where.

If we really want to save the environment, we need to change the political attitude and stance of government, we need to force corporates to change there stand point and we need to educate our children about conservation

4 Responses to “Conservation, a middle-class priviledge

  • Ashley Deutschmann
    11 months ago

    I disagree with your notion that conservation is a ‘middle class privilege’ – you clearly know little about the Xhosa’s and their past…
    Only a few decades ago, the local chief controlled most of the development, including hunting and forestry… In those times, every effort was made to ensure there would always be enough for tomorrow.

    • Hi, thanks for the comment. Duly noted. I understand African cultures very well having grown up in rural areas. I have also had the privilege to attend many of there traditional ceremonies including the Xhosa. In your 3rd line you state ” Only a few decades ago”. That just reinforces my statement, that is in the past. Local chiefs have had there power eroded by legislation. They now have very little power to prevent mining, and the environmental destruction is plain to see. The illegal harvesting and sale of crayfish and muscles to tourists and lodges being one example. Please note, in no way has my article disrespected the local cultures. If anything the blame lies with politics.

  • Great, I really like it! Youre awesome

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