||South Africa has some strange Apartheid hangovers........
Most people aware of matters environmental will have come across the terms "Green" issues and "Brown" issues, tending to mean that the "Green" issues are conservation related (Kruger National Park, wetlands, rivers, oceans, etc.) and "Brown" issues, tending to mean issues of waste, pollution, chemicals, etc.
People may also have noticed that this divide is generally, though by no means exclusively, along racial lines, with "Whites" supporting the "Green" issues, and Blacks involved in "Brown" issues. It would be useful to explore the thinking of these two "types" of people...
The "Green" issues people, correctly called conservationists, and mistakenly called environmentalists (the terms are not interchangeable!) have a passion for animals and plants and trees and marine life. Laudable to the extreme. The need to protect fast dwindling natural heritage is unquestionable, and is valuable for the quality of life of all. They are quick to jump to the defense of endangered or threatened species, and often speak of the population pressure on the planet as being a key problem that needs resolving. Some sectors of this group have also used progressive Environmental Impact Assessment for narrow purposes, for example, to block the development of low cost housing. Their real concerns in these cases are not environmental, and revolve around perceptions that the value of their homes will drop, but are often no more than racism in disguise. This group tends towards biocentrism. There is also a disconnect within this group, as the vast majority seem not to be concerned about treatment of cattle, pigs, sheep, chicken and fish, which far outweigh any measure of harm to animals in protected areas. Issues of consumption, mainly over consumption, do not seem to register on this group – perhaps as they are often representative of over-consumers, i.e. the rich?
The people more concerned with the so-called "Brown" issues, probably more correctly called environmentalists, who take on the polluters, be they smokestack industries, people involved in the dumping of waste, mines, and other sources of environmental and social injustices in our country. They tend to have a more holistic view of the world, and the inter-connectedness of everything. The fence line communities, community groups around waste and food security, the "deep" Greens and the "Red" greens fall into this category. There seems to be little support for conservation issues as a rule, while one would suggest that proportionally more in this group then there are environmentalists in the previous group. There is also a perception in this group that conservationists are more concerned about plants and animals, and care not for human suffering, which holds more than an ounce of truth, especially given our racial past. This group seem to be moving towards a form of anthropocentrism
The problem? Government is weakening good, progressive environmental and social justice policies, legislation and regulations, because they are being used for narrow elitist interests, as outlined above. This has also translated into the "environment" being confused with Nature preservation, and being lumped with reactionary forces in our society. This has led to a misunderstanding of the differences between conservation and environmentalism. The media do not differentiate, mainly because they themselves are unaware of these divides. The negative impact on community health, job opportunities, education, entrepeneurship, food security, etc. are all being diminished, as the pollution baby is being thrown out with the environmental bathwater in the watering down of our laws, by both camps.
Biocentrism diminishes humanity, community and the rights of people, and the growing anthropocentrism risks destroying the very basis of life, work, health and home.
"Overpopulation is the largest problem with the environment" – the facts: Over consumption, by the rich, of products manufactured in an unsustainable manner, is the single largest threat to the environment. The North (USA, UK, EU and Japan) who are 25% of the population, use over 80% of the world's resources, and generate over 80% of the pollution. These figures are pretty much in line with rich people in South Africa. One of the myths about hunger is that we are short of food – the truth is simple: even food stressed countries are exporting food, with the real issue being one of not being able to afford available food, and in a limited number of cases, where access to food is an issue. There is no shortage.
"We cannot afford strict environmental legislation" (multiple variations)
Variation one says "especially as we will lose jobs" – the facts: less than one-tenth of one percent of all layoffs and job losses in the USA are PARTIALLY due to environmental legislation compliance. Germany has found that they can go for stricter laws, off an already strict base, and not lose competitiveness. More jobs are created by insisting on clean industries, and the safer and cleaner alternatives to polluting products and processes create many more jobs than would ever be lost, be it around waste (material recovery), energy generation, or sustainable food production. This will also strengthen community industries, with many potential positive impacts, but of course, that does not suit the multinationals who wish us to consume "their" products, not ours.
Variation two implies that "negative air, water, food, energy, soil, worker and social impacts are part and parcel of providing jobs, feeding and housing people, providing services, etc. and must simply be accepted." This is nothing more than the North / South power divide issue playing out locally. It is only the Northern / Western "science" of business and production that insists that pollution is inevitable – the fact that pollution is simply a perverse subsidy is always ignored. This only suits the rich, who benefit from lax regulation. South Africa pays out more in profits annually than the entire annual wage bill of our country. Diverting some of those profits to pollution avoidance and control will not be a problem. If strict environmental laws allow profits to be made in the North, why is it not possible here? The fact is that extraordinary profits are being made, at the cost of a social and environmental subsidy (US company profits in Japan 4% - and in Africa 28%). This includes the health of our people, who not only suffer the consequences, but also subsidise this further with medical costs, public health costs, poor nutrition, poor ability to learn through brain damage, compromised immune systems (through many sources – burning waste, chemicals, nuclear radiation, dangerous food, etc), unaffordable food and energy, and many more avenues of subsidy, such as war, international bodies with powers to override South African legislation such as the WTO, the petro-chemical industries (if petrol was to reflect all external costs and subsidies, it would probably cost ten times more!) and so on.
Variation three says that "if we have strict environmental laws, then "development" will be retarded". The problem lies with what people see as development – some narrow thinking people see development as construction – all construction is good – this is based on the misunderstanding of genuine sustainable development. Issues of embodied energy, unintended consequences, external costs, perverse subsidies, etc. are all conveniently ignored, with blind faith in the Northern / Western development model. Indeed, a strong case can be made that genuine sustainable development is more efficient in resource use, while supporting local business rather than TNC's. If development means the improved health and well-being of our people, then strict environmental laws are the only way to ensure this – if development means industrial production for the profit of the few, then weak environmental legislation is the way to go. Sometimes, government forgets that pollution is seen as signs of a backward nation.
Variation four says that "economic growth will be stifled". Not only is that not true, for if you speak to large multi-national companies, the majority say that what they want is a clearly defined and predictable regulatory environment, but the growth we have had to date in our democracy has been job shedding. Few of the enlightened companies that have invested here are voluntarily employing the best practice of any of their parent companies in the North. Further, sustainable products, processes and services generate more employment at all skill levels, very important in a country where traditional development has been aimed at scientific and other highly skilled people trained in the Western / Northern tradition, and not aimed at the skills we already posses, notably in manufacturing, food, culture, etc.
The measuring of economic growth is perverse, in that people being sick or dying, or vehicle accidents, and other negative impacts, are considered to be contributing to economic growth, and therefore positive! This is through the meaningless measure of GDP. Traditional theories such as "wealth trickle down", automatic economies of scale, capital intensive is more productive, etc. have been well and truly debunked elsewhere, but still hold currency in South Africa. Off a base of 100 in 1950, labour productivity has climbed to nearly 350, but the productivity of capital has dropped to about 80, yet business and industry continually complain about our labour laws, and call for weakening around issues of basic wage, overtime payments, etc.
All environmental issues are Green – to say otherwise is to be racist. Environmental protection is good for us all.
If the conservationists would learn that their interests are equally threatened by industrial pollution (no fence can keep out acid rain, or nuclear radiation, or groundwater pollution). Indeed, game parks in our country generate large amounts of toxins through the burning of waste on site, as well as by all the heavy petrol and diesel burning vehicles, that not only give animals and visitors cancer, but also affect their ability to reproduce, threatening the very basis of conservation and natural tourism.
If people could see that ALL life, on which our lives ultimately depend, requires to be protected from those with a "short term profit at all costs" mentality, and that genuine, honest and ethical sustainable development benefits the majority of people in our country, socially and economically, including especially the poor and disadvantaged, our women and children, our elderly, our hungry and homeless... then maybe we can move forward.
Otherwise, we may as well give up now.