Un événement organisé par

Hope from the ground and not from the top

Environnement | Les individus

Written for session 9 – The awakening of ecological awareness

Remember that hope is a powerful weapon even when all else is lost

Nelson Mandela

The climate change conference known as Conference of the Parties, taking place every year.  Can it be that we are at Cop28 and we have still not resolved how to address climate change?  Last year, at COP27 in Egypt, there were 636 oil and gas industry lobbyists, 25% more than at Glasgow. It is difficult that to believe that such a large delegation of fossil lobbyists are attending in order to speed up the ending of the fossil fuel era.  In my view this has exposed the fossil lobby agenda, and the hope is now that citizen movements and countries that are serious about human rights, will have the courage to tackle this head on.  But irrespective of what is decided at COP28 or even at COP50, the eyes of the world are open.

Research is exposing what communities have always known.  That extractives do not benefit them.  An estimated 260 million people meet their food consumption needs from artisanal fisheries, but are often excluded from decision making that affects them.  Offshore oil and gas is estimated to contribute $0.5 trillion per year, and many countries prioritise oil and gas over food security.  Hope is placed in the “trickle down” economics but increased hardship and conflict is what we see for coastal communities. 

We must have development but it would be tragic if we pursued it in a way that exhausts our resources and denies our children and their children the prospect of a dignified existence (Nelson Mandela)

In the past, South Africa held a conference of all stakeholders to decide the fate of asbestos, which was still being mined and used in 1990’s in South Africa. At that conference, a transnational asbestos company spokesperson stood up and said you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. And one of the affected people, a man with a family who was dying of asbestosis stood up and said, well I am one of those eggs. The conference resolved to ban asbestos. Because humans do have hearts.

But there is the hope, all around the world, citizens at grassroots are taking action.  To be ignored means that you are not considered a threat. But if the powers that be take action against you then you know you are getting to them.  But the price is high.  For the last decade, an environmental rights defender was killed every two days and the attacks are targeted mostly at indigenous leaders, who experience 40% of the attacks even though they make up only 5% of the population.

While the world appears to  be more polarised and acted brutally against their citizens, the counter has been rising movements of citizens demanding system change.

And the system change that is needed right now is the change to the way we consider unintended consequences, or hidden costs of doing business, the externalities.   Clean air and drinkable water are not commodities to be traded for the highest dollar value.  In South Africa, 2000 people are estimated to die every year due to the air pollution from the coal fired power stations, but the pollution abatement measures to prevent the pollution have been delayed for more than a decade as government says it is too expensive – but for who, and who decides?  

We cannot put a price on clean air or clean water.

So, we know we need to get rid of fossil fuels. But economic greed is standing in the way. Oil companies like Totalenergies made $36bn in 2022 and plan to continue investment in fossil fuels and their bankers are content to fund destruction like the EACOP pipeline. The Green Connection has a campaign “who stole our oceans” opposing offshore oil and gas exploration.  Together with many other organisations both in South Africa and internationally,  with Bloom in France, one example:  $3 billion  that the company plans to invest in the Luiperd and Brulpadda offshore gas fields in South Africa with more projects planned.

And yes, their omelettes no doubt are very tasty, the taxes they pay to France might make the French government reluctant to bring them into line, but that is what is needed.

The eggs are being broken. Fishers who have lived for generations from the sea, traditional healers and spiritual healers who have used the sea for millennia are at risk of a dying ocean that can sustain no one, and are demanding to be heard.

But this is about renewing hope. And it is happening. In South Africa, the government is being challenged, by the people of South Africa.  in 2022, there were two court judgements – which found in favour of small fishers against oil companies and their allies. All along the coast, people are rising up to say no.  In the first judgement, the judge found that the company  had deliberately failed to give artisanal fishers the right to be heard.  The company was then interdicted the from continuing with its seismic survey.  In the second case, oil giant Shell was interdicted from continuing its exploration and the judge found that the affected communities were not given opportunity, or information to meaningfully participate nor the opportunity to make representations.

in terms of climate change, the judgement said that “ had the decision-maker had the benefit of considering a comprehensive assessment of the need and desirability of exploring for new oil and gas reserves for climate change and the right to food perspective, the decision-maker may very well have concluded that the proposed exploration is neither needed or desirable”.

The lies are being exposed. And this is where everyone of us, whether academic, business or government, civil society or labour – we have a choice.

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality (Archbishop Desmond Tutu)

You can join that movement, or you can resist. But resisting doing anything about climate change is causing untold misery for the world, the destruction of the world as we know it, or you can join in the solution. Instead of fighting with your heads focused head down on profits and numbers and your own selfish interests, fight with your hearts, for our beautiful blue planet.  We don’t need the market to decide if people live or die.  We need new indicators of success.  GDP has no ethics, it does not speak to inequality or ecological restoration.  It does not speak to justice.  Governments need to make the rules to save the planet and corporations need to join in, instead of lobbying for more obscene profits and continuing with fossil fuel extraction, switch your business to restoring the planet. It is not about doing less harm. The harm has been done. It is about restoring the planet.

We are all part of one earth, So the message of hope is that world at the grassroots level, ordinary people, like the fishers who see the ocean current changing as the climate changes, know we are in trouble and are proposing innovative and indigenous solutions. Companies like Totalenergies and their investors can change.  They can learn to think with their hearts.

At local level, change is happening. You can choose to resist change or embrace it. Which side of history do you want to be?

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