Month: September 2014

SOS – Save Our Seed: The battle for African seed independence, food security and sovereignty.

In the bid to address Africa’s poor agricultural productivity, international players are set to forbid and even criminalise traditional seed saving practices across the continent. This misguided thrust is driven primarily by corporate interests actively assisted by first world governments and front organisations such as Africa-Bio, which parade as non-governmental organisations.

Africa is situated on the most recent frontier of international agricultural intervention for several reasons. First is the reality that the continent lags significantly behind the rest of the world as far as agricultural productivity is concerned. This is largely the result of poor investment and support for agriculture across the continent, exacerbated by the inability to compete with subsidised first world food commodities.

Secondly, Africa has more arable land available for cultivation than any other continent. This is unsurprising given that China, India, the USA, Western and most of Eastern Europe, along with other little islands like Japan and the United Kingdom are collectively smaller than Africa by area. Africa’s vast landmass, coupled to inadequate historical investment and support into agricultural development makes the continent an attractive investment destination for both speculative and developmental reasons.

Third is the pressing reality to feed Africa’s growing population, set to more than double from its present 1.1 billion, to an estimated 2.4 billion by 2050. Given the high proportion of food insecure Africans, the development of the continent’s agricultural production is a moral and economic obligation for both the African and the international community.

These overlapping realities have created a veritable rush to assist Africa to help itself. However this assistance has been motivated by widely differing and often conflicting aims and consequences. On the one hand are speculators seeking to cash in on the financial opportunities. On the other are supposed philanthropists and development agencies which are not always what they appear to be.

Speculation is a bad tool for development. Speculators have long been a bane of developing nations and particularly of Africa. The continent has a history of exploitation and continues to haemorrhage money, losing tens of millions of dollars daily in illicit flows. Africa loses far more in the value of illicit transfer of material goods and financial flows than it gains in investment, aid and assistance.

The recent thrust to impose a strict and unsuitable intellectual property regime on the sale and trade of seed threatens to worsen this problem by increasing control of the entire agricultural supply chain in corporate hands, removing it from smallholder farmers.

Subsistence agriculture has long been portrayed as inefficient by western development experts, not only in terms of productivity but more specifically because of its insignificant contribution to capital flows. Even successful subsistence and smallholder farmers move very little money through the agricultural supply chain and are therefore not seen as contributing toward economic growth.

Smallholders are nevertheless still profoundly vulnerable. The immediate risks they face are the consequence of crop loss through climatic events like floods, drought, or pest infestations. This has traditionally been dealt with by cultivating a wide variety of crops, trees and livestock by way of insurance.

Because such a system is inherently complex and fragile to interference, it is easily destabilised by ill-informed external interference. Quick fix, technological interventions are an almost open invitation to the law of unintended consequences.

Besides the increasing threats of land grabs and the consequent loss of arable farmland from traditional control to large foreign owners, proposals to modernise traditional seed saving and sharing customs have sinister implications.

The general motivation to improve traditional seed quality is not entirely unfounded. However the technocratic approach to managing this transition, linked with the introduction of strict, restrictive intellectual property law is poorly suited to African farming methods and communal systems.

A short word here on the notion of smallholder farming and the tendency to reject it outright as unsuitable to this day and age. The reality is that smallholder farming has been shown to be far more conducive to community and regional food security than large-scale industrialised agricultural production methods.

The publication of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology and Development (IAASTD) report in 2008, sponsored by the World Bank and various UN agencies, clearly stated that food security relies on what it calls the multifunctionality of agricultural production. This means that farming is not only about producing food, although that is the primary aim. It is also about culture, medicinal plants, the maintenance of ecological integrity, self-sufficiency and other outcomes which are not directly financially aligned.

Several institutions have emerged out of the drive to improve African agriculture. First is the African Union agricultural programme, the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP). Second is the externally funded African Green Revolution for Agriculture (AGRA), founded by the Gates foundation, now also supported by both the US and UK governments, along with private and corporate interests.

While both the CAADP and AGRA are ostensibly well-intended and have developed many useful initiatives, their drive to improve the seed supply chain is arguably the most risky intervention of all. The most obvious threat is the direct intervention of the world’s largest seed companies. While these powerful entities purportedly wish to provide assistance, they have continually applied pressure to impose a restrictive, intellectual property regime with continental implications.

South Africa has been used as a springboard for this interventionist expansion into sub-Saharan Africa. Its own seed market is now controlled by the world’s two largest seed companies, Monsanto and DuPont’s Pioneer. Because these companies are deeply invested into seed research, buying up seed companies and genetic data – for instance Monsanto purchased Malawi’s national seed company some time ago while Pioneer recently acquired South Africa’s last large seed company Pannar in 2011 – they maintain tight control of their investments through intellectual property regimes.

These companies also sell genetically modified (GM) seed and agricultural chemicals. While both AGRA and the Gates Foundation have supported GM technology as a real solution to food security, the IAASTD report downplayed any significant potential. Experts feel that GM is a technical response to broader, more systemic problems such as poor infrastructure, markets and concentrated supply chains.

Across the developed world these modern GM and hybrid seeds are protected by strict intellectual property regimes, notably by an intellectual property regime known as UPOV 1991. The seed companies, along with South Africa’s seed organisation SANSOR, the US State Department and the UK Department of International Development have all applied significant pressure on African governments to adopt UPOV 91.

As a result the African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO) has unilaterally drafted a protocol in order to push for the adoption of UPOV 91 through government regulatory processes. If CAADP and AGRA truly wish to assist improvement of seed quality and if the promise that new seed varieties being introduced to this end will actually have no patent or intellectual property protection as claimed by the supposed benefactors, then it is clear that UPOV 91 is not just a clumsy tool to manage this matter, but is in fact entirely the wrong instrument.

Strong grassroots opposition has arisen against the protocol to introduce UPOV 91 as it will effectively outlaw traditional seed saving and sharing. A statement drafted by more than 75 national and regional agricultural NGOs and civil society organisations has strongly objected to the ARIPO protocol and called for its withdrawal.

However the reality appears to be that powerful vested interests are fixated on securing control of African agricultural production through force, artifice and stealth. This flies in the face of the International Declaration on Human rights and that the principle that equality of fair opportunity be afforded to both innovators and those who develop and rely on traditional seed rights.

It would be counter-productive to deny Africans the right to fairly and equitably feed themselves without undue interference. Africa certainly needs innovation but it cannot be so that one form of innovation is permitted to outweigh or dominate another. In order to be just and ethically acceptable, the development of African agriculture needs to occur consultatively, not by stealth or by seeking to dominate through abuse of first world mechanisms devised to perpetuate an extension of the colonial model from which the continent has yet to fully emerge.

Controlling seed means controlling food production. It is the right of Africans to choose how they farm and not to fall victim to indebtedness through being forced to purchase seed from a predatory agricultural-industrial complex.

SACSIS Attribution
A shortened version of this article was first published on SACSIS, the website of the South African Civil Society Information Service – http://www.sacsis.org.za
Should you wish to republish this SACSIS article, please attribute the author and cite The South African Civil Society Information Service as its source.
The article is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution Licence:
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/za/

Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) – lighting our way to a cleaner, greener future.

The electronics revolution has opened up massive opportunities through the internet and communication technology. It has also made our lives far more energy efficient, particularly through improvements to interior lighting. The latest kid on the block of lighting are light emitting diodes (LEDs) which are quietly revolutionising how we light our lives, in just about every way.

In a few decades we will recall our use of old fashioned, inefficient incandescent light bulbs as strangely as we now view our grandparents using coal-fired stoves to cook on.

There are presently three main varieties of light bulbs available for home use. The old-fashioned incandescent light bulb works by passing power through a coil of tungsten wire enclosed in a vacuum, making it glow white hot. Most of the energy is wasted as heat. The bulbs last only a short time, around 1200 hours on average. Energy efficiency is generally less than 5%.

Incandescent bulbs include the familiar normal round light bulbs, as well as reflective spotlights and the slightly more sophisticated halogen light bulbs normally used as recessed down-lighters. The sheer electrical inefficiency of incandescent light bulbs is rapidly making them obsolescent.

Most people are now aware of the new energy efficient compact fluorescent lights (CFL) which are essentially a miniaturised version of the long, old fashioned fluorescent tubes one still finds in schools, factories and other large open spaces. Miniaturised electronics have enabled manufacturers to reduce the size of CFLs to approach those of incandescent light bulbs.

CFLs are far more efficient and long lasting than the incandescent lights they replace, operating at around 15 to 20% efficiency, about four times that of incandescent lights. They last between 6000 and 10 000 hours, around 5 to 8 times longer than incandescent lights. They emit far less heat, yet do become warm.

Finally there are light emitting diodes or LED lights. LEDs are semi-conductors, just as transistors or computer chips are. It has only recently become technically feasible to manufacture LEDs that emit sufficient amounts of light in similar parts of the colour spectrum to incandescent and CFL bulbs.

Some LEDs still tend to be a bit colder, meaning whiter or bluer, than we are accustomed to. This problem is rapidly being solved with the latest generation of LEDs emitting a more yellow, warmer light spectrum, almost identical to incandescent lights.

However the most important advantage of LED lights is their sheer efficiency. Most LEDs operate at around 35% efficiency and continue to improve in efficiency. Consequently they use far less power and remain cool to the touch.

Then there is the important matter of life span and durability. An LED light bulb lasts between 20 000 and 50 000 hours, 2 to 8 times that of a CFL light and up to 50 times longer than a comparable halogen or incandescent bulb. This is an important consideration as LED lights remain quite expensive, primarily due to the fact that the technology is still developing.

LED efficiency is improving at a similar rate to computing power, doubling every year or so. As the technology improves, the cost will continue to fall.

Fluorescent and incandescent lights emit light differently to LEDs. Both of the former types of lights emit light equally in all directions. LEDs provide a far more focussed beam, most easily compared to a spotlight.

Because of these characteristics it is best to use each of these lights for specific purposes. For instance I have five LED down-lighters in my ceiling that draw only 2 watts each, collectively consuming less power than a single CFL bulb! Because LED light is focussed, they are ideally suited to down-lighters, replacing halogen lights.

They are also far safer because they run cooler. Halogen down-lighters are one of the primary causes of house fires because of the immense heat they emit, combined with the often dusty conditions in which they are installed.

LEDs are also superior for reading due to the fact that they have far less flicker than fluorescent bulbs. The generally whiter light of LEDs is also easier on the eye when reading text on paper. They are also increasingly used in torches, car lights and headlights, with vastly improved battery life and of course bulb life.

There are some individuals who have become sensitive to electromagnetic radiation (EMR), typically emitted by cell phones, wi-fi, cellphone and wi-max masts, who are also often sensitive to the radiation emitted by the circuitry of CFLs. The reality is that CFLs can be a trigger for EMR sensitivity because we are so close to the source of emssions. This, combined with the flicker of fluorescents, remain major reasons for their unpopularity. LEDs do not have this problem, nor do they have a lag after being switched on, common to many CFLs.

However CFLs can be an efficient source of space lighting in situations where conventional incandescent bulbs have traditionally been used. Given their low cost compared to LED lights they presently remain a competitive option when used for this sort of application. I do predict that LED lighting will overcome this shortcoming through design innovations.

It is also important to know that CFL lights contain mercury, in the bulb, to make it work. Therefore broken CFL lights – in fact all fluorescent lights – should not be vacuumed up but should be carefully swept up and safely disposed of. Although the amount of mercury in each lamp is low, the toxicity of this element must be considered when disposing them at the end of their life.

CFLs should never be disposed of in general waste streams or thrown in the bin. Instead they should be returned to the shops where they were purchased, who are obliged, by law, to provide recycling options in South Africa. Many other countries have recycling programmes in place. The CFL light industry is presently finalising a comprehensive recycling scheme which will make the disposal of these bulbs easier.

LEDs on the other hand are completely inert with any toxic material – which may be present in tiny amounts – completely integrated into the solid state lamp. Because of this solid state nature, LED lights are also more shockproof and can usually be dropped without any significant damage, an advantage for clumsy do-it-yourselfers!

So while LEDs presently remain an expensive option they will repay their cost in two ways. Firstly through their efficiency and low wattage saving significant power costs, and then secondly through their longevity.

I have a LED red nightlight for my youngest child that is 11 years old. It is sometimes inadvertently left on but I worry far less about this than if it were an incandescent bulb as it draws less than 1 watt! I remember replacing the old night light bulbs for the younger children almost monthly.

The reality is that LED lights are already far cheaper in the long run, even if they remain expensive to purchase. This is clearly shown in the table below, where LEDs cost about one third of a CFL and more than 12 times cheaper than old fashioned incandescent bulbs.

Even if left on for 24 hours a day a LED light should remain bright enough for around 3 to 5 years; I am not saying that you should leave it on though! They do not blow like other lights but simply fade away when they get older. The cost of the bulbs is constantly coming down and has dropped by almost 50% over the past three years (2011-2014).

LEDs are safer, more environmentally friendly, less polluting in manufacture, use and disposal. They are rapidly becoming more efficient while costs fall. The future is here and it is LED!

 

light comparison table

Table: Cost/Efficiency comparison of incandescent, CFL and LED light bulbs. Ashton 2011.

This article was originally published in the magazine “Natural Medicine” in South Africa in 2011. It has been rewritten and the table was updated to 2014 prices.

South African Journal of Natural Medicine

Some recent unpublished letters to the newspaper….

I must be losing my touch. It used to be that the newspapers would publish every letter I wrote to the editor. Sometimes this would amount to one or two a month.

For some reason – which I will get to shortly – our local morning daily, the Cape Times, has not published a single letter for quite some time. I am starting to wonder whether I have lost my touch. I do know that there is a new editor and owner and probably a new letters editor, which may have something to do with it.

Perhaps this is not so. Perhaps my letters cut more and more to the real issues and the printed media does not want to deal with the real issues? Maybe it prefers to dabble on the surface and not really immerse itself into the swamp of greed into which the world has sunk.

This may not be so and perhaps the years have transformed me into a verbose, curmudgeonly old fart with nothing worthwhile to say.

In case I am wrong I share the last few letters, with some background context, for those who care to read. After all each of them follow the theme of this blog: trying to make the world a better place. And maybe that is not what newspapers are really about anymore. But that is far too cynical and a dark place to go and visit, no?

Questioning big pharma:

This letter was in response to correspondence which questioned Complimentary Alternative Medicines (CAM), with all of the usual biases shown in that debate around how CAM is unscientific and untested. Which is crap…

I am happy that Sidney Kaye (letters 5 June) wishes to fine-tune his mechanistic body with assistance from the medical industrial complex rather than the world of complementary medicine, or apparently, of common sense.
He may be interested to learn that poor medical practices and medical side effects, also known as iatrogenics, conservatively caused 210 000 deaths per year 2008-2011 in the USA, according to a study published by the Journal of Patient Safety. This was a sharp increase from the 98 000 “lost” in 1999.

A single pharmaceutical, Merck’s “Vioxx,” has been deemed responsible for some 50 000 fatalities. Its forced withdrawal from the market has been credited with saving nearly half a million lives. Over the last three years the US government has fined the pharmaceutical industry alone over $11 billion for illegal sales, marketing, drug contamination and manipulating research.

Conversely, remarkably little research is directed by toward solving our most pressing global health challenges. Malaria research is funded primarily through philanthropic, non-medical sources because industry deems it insufficiently profitable.

Yet a new front line malaria drug, artemisinin, is sourced from a plant, Artemisia annua, as was the first, Quinine. Nearly half of existing pharmaceutical drugs are sourced from plants. Extensive research has been conducted on plant based bio-compounds, thousands indicating proof of efficacy.

I would personally prefer to choose natural and complimentary medicines. They are rarely conclusively linked to contra-indications. When these occur they are usually between plant compounds and chemical pharmaceuticals. These cases are routinely hyped up by the medical-industrial complex, blaming natural medicines, not pharmaceuticals.

South Africa struggles to regulate even conventional pharmaceuticals. The Medicines Control Council (MCC) is essentially dysfunctional. To overburden the MCC by forcing it to regulate harmless, yet often useful complimentary medicines is a reactionary response, actively encouraged misinformed and avaricious interests allied to conventional medicine.

While Kaye may wish to tune his “mechanical” organism through conventional medicine, others clearly prefer to first employ individual approaches. Our increasing knowledge of natural and alternative medicines has provided profound revelations how these substances help maintain the delicate balances within our complex, individual metabolic processes. We are not uniform, Cartesian machines.

Yes, there certainly is a place for conventional, allopathic medicine. But to claim the unalloyed superiority of reductionist Cartesian perspectives appears misplaced. Doctors are not gods, neither is the medical industry infallible.

Most importantly, complimentary, alternative and traditional medicines still have a very real role to play in our lives. It is democratically abhorrent to limit our free choice in this matter.

~~~

Next was a long letter which examines the increasingly pro-development bent of our City Council, under the control of the liberal (even neo-liberal) Democratic Alliance, who have rolled out a “red carpet for red tape” for developers:

The excellent reports in your newspaper by (reporters) Melanie Gosling and Zara Nicholson, along with related consequent correspondence in the letters column regarding the alienation of important agricultural land in the Phillipi area for housing and industrial use refers.

The decision by the City of Cape Town Mayoral Committee (Mayco) to allow development in an important component of the Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA) flies in the face of several established city policies. These include the recently promulgated and widely consultative Spatial Development Framework and its associated city zoning scheme, the groundbreaking Urban Agriculture policy (the first such policy in sub-Saharan Africa), the Integrated Metropolitan Environmental Policy, the Urban Edge as well as several other regional and international policies. It is counterproductive to broadly consult, at great expense, develop policies and then disregard them.

The misleading justifications of this bizarre about face proffered by Cllr. Bloor illustrate three things: Firstly his poor grasp of integrated planning principles, exacerbated by a poor comprehension of what constitutes a sustainable city; secondly, his unsuitability as a committee member for Economic, Environmental and Spatial Planning (EESP) and finally and most seriously, the inherent conflict between political party funding, combined with the toxic relationship between the Western Cape Property Development Forum (WCPDF) and the DA, city and provincial authorities with their “red carpet for red tape” policy. I will deal with each of these serious issues in turn.

Urbanisation is a major global trend, although it is predicted to slow in South Africa. Cities, long perceived as unsustainable entities, have been re-imagined to provide emerging models for sustainable development. For this to occur cities need to fulfil several criteria, including due care of environmental resources, in this case those related to urban food security. Cities are unsustainable if they simply import food from distant areas.

Philippi is therefore a critical environmental resource. It produces more than 90 000 tonnes of food per year, on around 1500 hectares of land, through up to 5 crops per annum. This land is amongst the most productive in the country, yielding on average over 50 tonnes per hectare. To even consider building on land of this quality, especially when there are numerous other alternatives already identified in the area, not only epitomises unsustainable practice, it borders on the criminally insane. Mayco ought to relocate, en masse, to a familiar urban landmark with a green roof (the local asylum) for even considering this development proposal.

Second, Councillor Bloor appears unable to differentiate his categorically conflicted roles on the EESP. His pursuit of economic development through house and industrial development illustrates a constrained world view. He is clearly ill-equipped and untrained to represent environmental interests, which fundamentally conflict with the objectives of economic development, especially when viewed through his lens of economics training. Like most conventional neo-liberal economists, especially adherents of the discredited Chicago and Austrian schools which he aligns himself with as a member of the Mount Pelerin Society, he believes that the environment both stands in the way of economic growth, while simultaneously providing huge economic benefits through exploitation. This thinking highlights the disjuncture in his official position.

If Cape Town is to become a sustainable city – and we are most certainly a long way from one at present – we have to pursue and encourage sustainable practices. The PHA, which supplies half of our fresh vegetables, is an essential part of our city’s foodbowl. Bloor’s colleague Cllr. Smit likewise shows an inability to recognise the contradictions in his thinking, which appears to be that if there is uncontrolled squatting, let’s not control it but simply use it as justification for further development outside the designated urban edge. This is akin to allowing developers let large tracts of land go to ruin under alien vegetation and then claim it has no intrinsic botanical value hence should be developed. Instead of going down that particular rabbit hole, we should rather police the urban edge, not permit uncontrolled squatting or loss of agricultural land.

Finally and possibly most importantly we need to follow the money. The reality is that party political funding is the Achilles heel of our democratic system, across the board. This has been demonstrated by the ANC with its Chancellor house relationships and also by the DA with its chequebook influenced decision making structures.

Elected DA representatives are not simply expected to attract funding, they are impelled to do so. Failure brings censure and possible loss of lucrative positions. The relationship between the DA, councillors, officials and the WCPDF is inherently conflictual. The WCPDF even goes so far as to declare that it aims to become a statutory body. Imagine that; development policy dictated by developers.

The cosy relationship between councillors, officials, decision makers and the WCPDF is unacceptable. It actively undermines the intents and purposes of the agreed upon Spatial Development Framework, notably the aspects that deal with agriculture and the concept of sustainability.

That the WCPDF has been granted direct access to power is at odds with open democracy. This relationship undermines transparent public participation, especially given that there is no countervailing information flow with civil society organisations and representatives.

In reality we do not have a city that works for us. Instead our city works for developers, who lobby and undermine public processes in return for short term capital gain and profits.

A strong argument can be made that there should be public hearings, if not a commission of enquiry into the relationship between the WCPDF and the DA, our elected representatives, city officials and other decision makers. This is an unhealthy relationship which must be curtailed.

~~~

The next was along similar lines, questioning why the city has even considered an unsolicited bid to build a massive exurb to the north of Cape Town, driven by the same development interests:

A number of events lead me to a firm conclusion that environmental planning and developmental analysis in this city is under unprecedented attack through collusion between political and commercial interests.

The first event is the out- of-the-blue initiative by a consortium of developers to initiate a massive exurb on the northern periphery of Cape Town. This initiative has been roundly condemned by all well informed independent planning academics and experts. It is doubly ironic that the consortium made this proposal on the virtual eve of Cape Town becoming the design capital of the world in 2014 – nothing could be as far removed from good design as this pretentious pustule of poor planning.

The second is the increasing cosiness between the DA led City and Province and the Western Cape Property Development Forum (WCPDF). The proposed “red carpet” to smooth planning proposals, while ostensibly sensible, is simultaneously a massive threat to proper integrated planning, as evinced above. The stated goal of the WCPDF is to become “A body that represents development that is recognized by authorities and which will ultimately become a statutory recognised body.” Its tentacles already appear to control too many administrative levers of power.

To even consider having a forum, guided, run and controlled by property developers as a statutory, recognised body should send chills down our collective backs. This is centralised planning epitomised. The reality behind party political funding should ring additional alarm bells in our collective conscience.

The third event is the unilateral concentration of planning administration in the City in one central office, removing planning decision making from the various sub-councils. This and the gutting of SPELUM, the Spatial Planning, Environment and Land Use Management Committee by the mayoral executive committee are even more sinister from a democratic perspective.

The fourth and final warning bell is the tabling of a Proposed Amendments to Systems
of Delegations for Economic, Environmental and Spatial Planning before the City Council in order to further facilitate planning centralisation in the city. In this proposal, one individual, the Executive Director: Economic, Environmental and Spatial Planning will effectively hold centralised control over all metropolitan planning authority.

What appears to be underway is an unprecedented takeover of the planning and development of our city by developers and building companies which hold massive power through their non-transparent funding of political parties and power. The Competition Commission has already investigated the building industry for collusion and found it wanting. What is emerging is the potential for collusion and corruption on an almost unimaginable scale.

All of the above is profoundly undemocratic and is counter to our fundamental constitutional rights. Section 152 of the Constitution states that “The objects of local
government are to provide democratic and accountable government for local communities.” What is occurring, let alone what is proposed, is the very antithesis of this. It is also antithetical to the proper administration of the Municipal Systems act which must provide democratic and accountable local government that encourages community involvement.

The DA led City and Province effectively indicate a desire to enable developers and construction firms to undermine our collective democratic rights. This is in line with that parties liberal principles which prioritise unfettered business and commercial rights, in this case from an urban planning and development perspective. This is not speculation – the evidence is clear.

The DA is simply showing its true colours as a profoundly anti-democratic party which supports the interests of free and unfettered enterprise above and beyond those of individual or of collective constitutional rights. A collective Princess Vlei awaits us all, a chilling situation indeed.

~~~

This next letter was a broadside at our monopoly power producer Eskom, the fifth largest power producer in the world and the third largest emitter of CO2, along with our coal to oil converter, Sasol, which runs the worlds biggest single point emitter of CO2 in Secunda. These two entities are both attempting to avoid clean air regulation.

Your editorial of Friday October 4, “Air waves”, refers.

It is beyond the pale that long-term polluters like Eskom and Sasol, who have each enjoyed years of externalising the costs and impacts of their activities on humans and the environment, have the temerity to apply for exemptions to the National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act (NEMAQA).

Both Sasol and Eskom rely on coal as feedstock. Coal is the dirtiest fuel on the planet, bar none. Considering the cost of the impacts of mercury emissions from coal alone, South Africa is the second largest emitter of mercury in the world after China. Mercury is a persistent, cumulative toxin, with serious health impacts. Neither is mercury coal’s only serious pollutant.

Industry has delayed the implementation of NEMAQA for years through legal appeals against the law and its regulations, which effectively remain ongoing. Representatives from the energy, chemicals, petroleum, cement and forestry sectors have thrown huge resources at weakening and delaying the implementation of meaningful regulation of dangerous airborne pollution, placing profit above public interest and benefit.

A similar situation occurred in 1980’s in the USA when the government sought to limit sulphur emissions that caused acid rain in Canada. The power utilities fought tooth and nail against any regulation. Yet when emissions were eventually controlled, the costs over the first decade came to between $8 and $9 billion. The benefits were valued at between $101 and $119 billion – a ten-fold benefit.

We have good environmental laws. We can no longer be held to ransom by obstructionist industries which profit by externalising the impacts of their activities. Besides the inherent immorality of the matter is that these large corporations are squandering our own, limited public resources by shamelessly spending vast sums to endlessly delay the due and proper implementation of an act signed into law almost a decade ago.