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Patrick Bond  (2011) Change a bulb, plant a tree… not enough: For deconscientised Durban, a month until climate wake‑up call. The Mercury Eye on Civil Society column  : -.

You can sympathise with our city’s community, environmental, labour and
faith leaders who in preparing for the world climate summit here in one
month’s time, must wake their sleepy flocks to the greatest threat
humanity has ever faced.

Their challenge is to fill the “We Have Faith!” prayer meeting next to
Mabhida Stadium on November 27, to attend public teach‑ins and exhibits
at the Durban University of Technology’s “People’s Space” alternative
summit from November 25 to December 9, and to get thousands of us to
join the December 3 non‑violent protest. That march will weave past the
US Consulate, City Hall, and the International Convention Centre all the
way to the beach for the “Going Away Party” – a farewell to one of South
Africa’s most democratic spaces, because the seawater is rising by a
meter or more this century.

The last poll I have seen comparing climate awareness amongst major
countries puts South Africans next to last, slightly ahead of the
Chinese, when posed the question “Is climate change a serious problem?”
Only 45 percent answered yes, whereas at least 70 percent say yes in
Brazil, Germany and Japan, according to GlobalScan pollsters a few years

Creative consciousness‑raising antidotes are coming: a mock Noah’s Ark
near North Beach, the ‘Blue Line’ that in parts of central Durban will
ink out the rising high‑water mark – far higher than the elite Vetch’s
Beach development near uShaka, incidentally – or the Climate Train from
Cape Town via Joburg. And a series of caravans from East and Southern
Africa will make stops along the way so PanAfrican Climate Justice
Alliance members can recruit our neighbours to the cause.

But people are also realizing the systematic duplicity of governments
from Pretoria to eThekwini City Hall. For example, last week’s national
Climate White Paper consultation process was far too short. Although
some in civil society observed an improvement over the Green Paper
because there’s no mention of nuclear energy, a draft R1 trillion nuke
tender is circulating, starting in Jeffrey’s Bay where even apolitical
surfers awoke to the threat and protested vibrantly in July. Who do the
White Paper authors think they are fooling, leaving out nukes?

Pretoria is also sly when it comes to emissions targets, as Cape Town
researcher Eugene Cairncross pointed out: “The White Paper unfortunately
does not include a reasonably up‑to‑date emissions inventory for South
Africa.” It's a crucial omission because “Eskom remains absolutely
committed to building new coal fired power stations, at a cost of about
R500 billion for Medupi and Kusile.” And Sasol has the world’s single
worst CO2 emissions site, at Secunda.

Cairncross also complains the White Paper’s benchmark CO2‑equivalent
emissions range is so wide that it allows “an increase of emissions from
the current 500 to 540 million tons per year to 614 million tons per
year in 2035. That is, the Benchmark accepts a further 20 percent
increase in GHG emissions over the next 25 years, during a period when
the global climate change crisis demands a decrease in emissions!”

Brainwashing us won’t work, when Pretoria offers this monotone
ministerial pronouncement: “Working Together: Saving Tomorrow Today” –
better translated into the reality, “Warming Together: Stealing Tomorrow

The minister in question, Maite Nkoana‑Mashabane, will chair the climate
summit. She is best known for refusing a first‑class Norway‑Bulgaria
plane journey last month because airport authorities insisted that, like
all others (aside from royalty and heads of state), she put her handbag
through the x‑ray machine. She instead landed SA taxpayers with a R235
000 bill to hire an executive jet.

A month later, the Dalai Lama visa‑delay fiasco called into question
Nkoana‑Mashabane’s capacity to act independently when she presides over
the climate summit. Will she be an agent of Beijing – or instead, like
Jacob Zuma in Copenhagen two years ago, of Washington? She certainly
isn’t going to protect the interests of the planet or people, judging by
national and municipal climate malgovernance.

For example, City Hall’s decades‑old bias towards a ‘climate‑dumb
Durban’ – i.e. the officials’ nudge‑nudge wink‑wink posture when in the
presence of massive polluters – was evident again on October 10 at
Merebank’s Settlers Primary School. It is a reflection of city health
management and the provincial education department that a decade ago,
Settlers was found to have a 52% asthma rate, the world’s highest, and
that today, the neighbourhood’s main carbon polluters carry on with
noxious emissions, periodic explosions and lethal fires.

As The Mercury reported, “More than 100 primary school children were
taken to hospital – some struggling for breath, others with itchy skin
and eyes – after being splattered by air‑borne droplets of crude oil and
a cloud of smoke and soot from another fire at the Engen fuel refinery
in South Durban.” Engen’s Herb Payne replied to The Witness, “It wasn’t
serious and we managed to contain the fire with internal firefighters.”
Engen handed out a few hundred new school uniforms and R30 car‑wash

Reading from Payne’s script, climate‑dumb Durban’s municipal officials
also show a consistent lack of seriousness. Climate change will
intensify extreme weather events and floods that could devastate our
cracking stormwater drainage system. When in 2008 Durban’s Blue Flag
beach status was decertified due to high E.coli counts, it should have
immediately generated a sanitation construction boom. But go to any of
Durban’s more than 100 major shack settlements and try finding a ratio
of decent, working toilets that is higher than one per 1000 people.

Without decent sanitation, worsening rainstorms coursing through
low‑income areas will gather E.coli in amounts far higher than the
recommended 130/100ml for recreational river use. As a recent State of
the South African Rivers Report found, on the “uMngeni River at Kennedy
Road, E.coli up to 1,080,000. (Cause: Informal Community on the banks of
the Palmiet River.)”

Another climate‑dumb Durban strategy is to cut poor people’s electricity
– often illegally connected due to the municipal policy of not supplying
most settlements, and often due to the price hikes Eskom imposes to pay
for Medupi and Kusile – resulting in an upsurge of violent service
delivery protests. Those which got recent media attention in Kennedy
Road, Sea Cow Lake and Chatsworth are joined by thousands of others
across South Africa each year.

We desperately need to connect the dots between genuine local grievances
and insensitive government climate politics, so as to solve these
problems from both below, in the wretched townships, and above, by
regulating those infernal smokestacks.

On Friday at 5pm, the Community Climate Summit at the University of
KwaZulu‑Natal’s Memorial Tower Building is one place to begin, for so
many of us vaguely aware of the UN climate negotiations – for which we
in Durban are told by the government and allied NGOs to just go plant a
tree or replace a lightbulb, instead of addressing this crisis from the
standpoint of justice.

Patrick Bond’s book Politics of Climate Justice is out next month from UKZN Press.

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