Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Lessons From Durban: Bottom's Up!

Dark clouds gather over the fifth day of meetings in Durban South Africa, where the world's leaders met to discuss Climate Change.
In the aftermath of the COP17 event in Durban where the Creating A Climate For Change Project was launched, a few things became clear to me.  One was that I had been working very hard without a break for three months, and needed to take some time off.  The other much more important thing was that these large conferences between nations are not delivering the change we need to see in order to lower our dependence on fossil fuels.  Nations are struggling, either with a need to develop or with a need to keep their economies afloat.  When times are tight long-term attempts to reduce fossil fuel dependency are going to be a very tough sell, unless there is a clear short-term financial and electoral benefit.

So some will look at Durban as a huge success, particularly high-end polluters like China and the United States.  They will toast "business as usual" as their economies struggle onward, wholly dependent upon fossil fuel use, without the necessary spending on sustainable alternatives. Essentially the conference skirted all of the major issues and settled for an understanding that we do need an agreement, but that we should decide all of that later, at least four years from now, preferably longer. This is bad news for scientists and farmers who understand that we are really putting ourselves in a very bad future position by not regulating greenhouse gas emissions now.

It became crystal clear to me on this project through Southern Africa that there is an urgency to stop the runaway greenhouse effect, a very real need that is having dire consequences for people across this region and the rest of the world.  I have argued on this blog and in my writing for both Global Post and Link TV that one of the reasons we are in a downward economic spiral is because we are using our planet's resources unsustainably.  Higher food prices, especially basic commodities like corn and wheat, mean less cash in the financial sector and less money everywhere to fuel further growth. Check out these well-made graphs tracking food prices worldwide.  World corn and wheat prices have again shot up by 50% in the last half of 2011, and are higher now than in 2008, and this will again have a knock effect in virtually every part of our global economy. 

In the project I spoke to Dr. Anthony Turton, an economist and water resource manager who looks  at water and food security through the lense of National Security.  This former secret service operative  helped bring the ANC and and National Party together for a dialogue in the 1980s, and eventually helped unveil the new constitution in South Africa in 1994.  He is not an environmentalist, but a realist who at one time received funding from the national and international security establishment to look at environmental problems as national security issues.  He says "Our global economy is a subsidiary of our global ecosystem".  When the ecosystem declines the economy will too, and it is my opinion -and many others that this is exactly what is happening right now.

Barring some game changing energy technology or a cataclysmic event in our personal, political or environmental horizon, it seems we are stuck with government inaction at the highest levels for the next twenty years at least.  However, as I learned at COP17 and in my work, many people are already working across the world at changing the status quo from the bottom up. Small energy projects in places like Mozambique, China's emergence as a huge developer of green energy technologies, grassroots recycling movements, buying an electric car, these are all part of the way we can start to live sustainably with our planet today.  It is obvious that we the people are the only ones who can make change happen now, and the sooner we get started the better.

The Rooftop of the Re-Purpose Center in Durban.  Cabbages and other foods complement local plants and a chessboard in this roof-top garden right in the center of the city.

At the Repurpose Center in Durban a group of concerned citizens and architects got together with the city of Durban to help revitalize the city center, provide more jobs, and create rooftop gardens that preserve endemic South African plants while providing nutrition for underprivileged communities.  This center is an example of exactly how grassroots movements can become mainstream and make a huge difference in their communities.  With enough projects like this, humanity can learn to become better stewards of our environment, and create the changes that will make us all more healthy, happy and help us look after our global ecosystem -and in turn our economy. 

Happy Holidays.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Exhibition Online

Ancient Baobabs Tower above an island deep in the Jakotsha Trust Conservation Area in the Okavango Delta.  This Baobab below is dying as the ecosystem that supported it for at least a thousand years changes.

Elephants like this family herd  on the Maramba River in Zambia are already ranging across borders.  These elephants trundled down to the river from the Zimbabwe side, drank their fill and moved on into Zambia as the sun set.

The Omaruru River in flood in Namibia.  This year Namibia experienced more than twice its normal rainfall in many areas of the country.  This image was taken from a road that almost never floods. More variability in climate can be expected as Southern Africa warms.

A Zebra ranges across the Torra Conservancy in Namibia at sunset.  The conservancy is one of the best run in the country, and allows local communities to benefit from tourists, helping finance the protection of of this ecosystem, as well as lions, elephants, giraffe, rhino, and even this one lone Zebra.

Another path winds into the distance at the Tora Conservancy in Namibia.  This year the grass grew over the rocky soil, and turned this desert landscape into a garden.  If Humanity to is to survive the coming changes, then we will have to embark on another path, one that sees us as custodians of our environment.

A true-to-color thunderstorm rolls into the Damaraland area of Namibia, lit by the setting sun.  As southern Africa’s climate warms, violent thunderstorms, searing droughts and more variable weather is predicted.

A typical high-veld thunderstorm rolls across the grasslands of the Cradle of Humankind, near Johannesburg South Africa.  New discoveries here highlight the evolution of our species here in Africa.  Today, Africans are part of a global solution that will hopefully see our species continue to thrive in the face of climate change.

The power of nature reigns after a downpour over the springtime landscape at Golden Gate National Park on the border between Lesotho and South Africa.

The Namib Desert Above Gobabeb Trai

Oom Pieter Bees, 76 from the Topnaar Community in Namibia’s Namib Desert.  “The Climate here has changed, when I was younger we used to have many more wet years”.

Piet Kruger, a Baviaanskloof Farmer who has sold his sheep and is replanting his farm with Spekboom bushes. In his gravelly voice looking out over his farm before a big storm system rolls in, he  says: “If I can farm buffalo, or elephants, or just the wild bushveld I will be happy, but I don’t think we will ever farm again here like we used to.  We have to change”.

Many people work planting spekboom in the western part of the Baviaanskloof.  At Zevenfontien (Seven Fountains) Community Farm in the western Bavianskloof Mountains community elder Jacob Deinaar Van Mathews talks to Hans vin Voegue in Jacob’s house on the farm.  Hundreds of people live on the farm and some of them find work restoring the landscape by planting spekboom.

Topnaar Communities in the Namib Desert are getting assistance from the Gobabeb Training and Research Center in how to evaluate their livestock, so they can make more informed decisions.  Only through education can small communities adapt to climate change.

In the north of Zambia near the town of Mpika the ladies of the Mupumbishi Women’s Club help each other sort out their seed grain for their next bean crop.  Beans and other legumes like peanuts are one of the main elements of Conservation Farming.  There are more than 300,000 Conservation farmers in the country.

Near Mchinji in Malawi small farmers are working in conservation farming methods as a way to adapt to Climate Change.  Eight year old Brian Phiri holds up a bowl full of peanuts.  Conservation farming has changed his life, since now his family has enough money to send him to school.

Max Thokabotshabelo, a community guide from the Okavango Delta in Botswana, poles his Makoro canoe through the papyrus as night falls.  In the distance a hippo grunts, and the swish of the grass past the Makoro blends with the rising sound of night insects.  “Nature is the best for relieving stress” says Max.

Johanna Swartz runs a team of Spekboom planters in the Baviaanskloof on contract for the Gamtoos Irrigation Board, with help from the NGO Living Lands.
“There is a great change in my life, because all the things I needed and can’t buy before, I can buy them now. I don’t struggle with money any more.  Now there are opportunities I would grab, too, things that I love”.

This is an online version of the exhibition  Creating A Climate For Change, which is currently touring South Africa. It was made possible through a grant from the Open Society of Southern Africa and the Open Society Foundation For South Africa.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Creating A Climate For Change -The Movie

The Half hour movie Creating A Climate For Change is undergoing a second edit, it will be re-released at the beginning of 2011. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

702 Talk Radio Profiles The Journalist

The show went great last night.  Pictures and a full report will be up in the next few days.  We had native American people from the mountains of Ecuador, top officials from the United Nations, local and international media like the Associated Press, and lots of African delegates and people from the NGO sector.  More than a hundred people crowded into the Corner Cafe and enjoyed food cooked by Judd and the crew.  The film was a success, and a good time was had by all.

Here is a LINK to one of our biggest radio shows in South Africa, produced by Jenny Cryws Williams.  Jenny invited me on her show for about a half an hour.  Here is the podcast for the show.

More on the exhibition and film launch as well as COP17, and a sneak view of some amazing technology.  For now I am off to Oceans Day here at the Durban Climate Change Conference.