This is a lengthy post and I make no excuse for that. Issues of the environment need air time. What follows below is specific to the region where I live, but it is an issue which affects all of us in one way or another, wherever we live.
Developments and bill boards abound. Areas that were once wide open veld or virgin forest are all succumbing to developer's greed.
We only have the one world. When we’ve plundered all the wild places and used up all the natural resources, we’ll be done for – and so will our children, and our children’s children, and our children’s children’s children… We won’t leave a legacy. We’ll leave nothing - just a vast emptiness in time and space, a place where we once were.
As you know from all the phoktobering I’ve been doing, I live in a beautiful part of the world – a place with pristine beaches, rugged mountains, open plains, tumbling rivers, shaded ravines, flowering meadows… The magnificence of nature here is unsurpassed. The wildlife who enjoy it are many and varied – lions, elephants, giraffes, zebra, cheetahs, leopards, baboons, rhinoceroses, hippopotami, springbuck, eland, kudu, nyala, bushbuck, porcupines, wildebeest, hyenas, wild dogs, monkeys, dung beetles, butterflies, tarantulas, whales, dolphins, sharks, puffadders, cobras, genets, otters, ostriches, herons, guinea fowl… Okay, you get the picture.
This pristine stretch of beach is coming under increasing pressure as the land behind it is turning into a "housing complex". Log cabin holiday homes which have been here for years are being bought, knocked down and turned into huge multi-million rand homes...Of course all this beauty, this wild magnificence, brings with it opportunity for those who would get rich quick and couldn’t be bothered about the future. Humanity’s lack of vision, the inability to see beyond the present, always amazes me. Does the future really hold so little value? Are we really that myopic? That greedy? Do our fears run so deep, is our consciousness that unevolved? The answer in so many instances would appear to be yes. For what we have here are those who would make a fast buck and benefit personally as they set out to destroy the wonder that is this land. (And yes, it’s not just here, it happens everywhere but I’m not qualified to speak about other places – you do that, okay?). Here, developers are all too quick to take pristine wilderness and turn it into gated or luxury housing estates. The irony is profound. Wilderness and luxury housing – in the same breath… I think not. It’s as insane as conservation through commercialization – another “concept” which plagues us.
A few days ago I showed you some photos taken along the Garden Route – the travesty is that this beautiful area is rapidly being eroded. There are more gated and luxury housing estates, golf estates, polo fields and commercial developments than I have ever seen – all catering to the ultra wealthy – many of whom are foreigners – all devastating the environment. It’s a beautiful area see so we all want some of the action never mind that we’ll destroy it in the process. Talk about the fallacy of composition… One man comes for the lifestyle and believes his coming will have little or no impact on the environment. But his friends soon follow him and the environment staggers beneath the strain as what the one man sought fast disappears.
Once an exclusive seaside playground for the rich, Plettenberg Bay is now wall to wall houses and developments as everyone wants a slice of the cake.
This entire stretch of coastline is being subject to massive over-development. Beyond the curve of the bay are at least three polo fields, luxury and golf estates. To the left of the shot, half the headland, most of which, fortunately, is national park land, is being turned into gated estates...
Over the past few years one such development has raised particular controversy. Called the Lakes Eco and Golf Reserve (yes, please do laugh very loudly at the name) the project plans included 1200 residential stands, 2x18 hole champion golf courses, 300 timeshare units, 120 home retirement village, 80 room hotel, dams and water storage reservoir, sewerage treatment works, village centre, restaurants, aqua driving ranges, sports facilities, sports academy, fuel storage, adventure sports, polo fields, equestrian centre, hiking trails, nature reserve, water sports, airstrip, marina… You can read more about the concerns here and about the developers and their plans here. Of course, the developers argued that they are “giving back” to the community by creating employment for underprivileged communities. Hmm, destroy it and give back just what – can a job really replace the land? You may have money to buy food but what if there’s no land on which to grow that food? As the people of the area said, “We can’t eat golf balls!” and “We don’t play golf or polo!” Oh yes, there’s employment and that’s great, but as maids, gardeners, caddies, stable-hands and waiters to the wealthy... That’s neither sustainable development nor sustainable upliftment. These things have to be viewed holistically because of course environments include people and their needs – their sustainable needs.
(It is amidst virgin forest and on the rise of the hills just south of where this shot was taken, that the Lakes development is planned.)
Of course, as with all things in this benighted land, every developer has government connections and regrettably our young democracy has shown us that our new government is rife with corruption. Everybody wants to make a quick buck – after all, we see the example of the rest of the world and follow in their footsteps...
Another prime example is a beautiful bay on the outskirts of the city. For years it was enjoyed by windsurfers, surfers, dog walkers – anyone who wanted to feel the sea air in their face and the sand between their toes. Now it is wall to wall development, a blanket of buildings crowded together obliterating the landscape - the legacy of the city’s previous mayor in her personal bid to get rich quick.
The irony in all this is that every development is supposed to be subject to an Environmental Impact Assessment – but when the assessor is being paid by the client i.e. the developer, nine times out of ten, the development gets the go ahead. Everyone has their price, it seems.
Two years ago I wrote an article about the destruction of the Garden Route and attempted to get it published in several local and national newspapers. No one would touch it. Why? Because it was contentious. It stated the facts as they were and made no excuses for human greed. As you will know from reading this blog, I ain’t afraid to tell it like it is – and many don’t like that.
These are but two examples of how man’s greed destroys and will continue to destroy our world. Last Wednesday Jan, over at Jan’s Writing Journal posted about Oliver James’ book Affluenza – go and take a read – it strikes me that it sums up some of the reasons why we are so willing to destroy the planet – so we can all go off and catch this new virus and make ourselves sick. It’s insane. What species willingly sets out to destroy itself and its environment? Just how much have we totally lost the plot so that we can “have it all”. A lot? Completely? Yes. What will we have left to have if we keep up this madness? It’s time we got back to basics. Time we reassessed our values, our ethics, our humanity and our priorities. Time we stood up for the planet and all the life on it – not just greedy humans - unless, of course, we really do want to make ourselves and every other living organism on the planet extinct.
But let’s end on an optimistic note. First, in relation to this post – having not followed the Lakes development for a while – I was too busy trying to save trees… I have just read that the Minister for the Environment of the local region has rejected the application to allow the Lakes development to go ahead! Yes! Of course, this doesn’t mean the developer won’t appeal and go to court but at least the Minister has drawn a line in the sand and maybe the already endangered Knysna seahorse whose number was truly up as a result of this development has been granted a reprieve that will last for a very long time… In the case of the Lakes enough local people stood together and protested. They lobbied local councilors, they marched, they wrote letters to the press. They formed an association and said “No, not on our land!” And this is something everyone can do. Yes, it takes guts, it takes strength, it takes time. But if we do not speak up, we have only ourselves to blame. So, if there is something that concerns you, lobby, motivate, raise hell. The rejection of the Lakes application shows that united voices make a difference.
Secondly, we have Blog Action Day - today! - and the focus on the environment – here’s hoping that the united voice of millions of bloggers will raise a sufficient outcry on the multiple issues concerning all of us so that we and our governing bodies sit up, take note, do our bit and stop the madness and the rot that threatens to destroy our environment and our world.
I leave you with a quote from Jared Diamond:
What did the Easter Islander who cut down the last palm tree say while he was doing it? Like modern loggers, did he shout "Jobs, not trees!”? Or: "Technology will solve our problems, never fear, we'll find a substitute for wood"? Or: "We don't have proof that there aren't palms elsewhere on Easter, we need more research, your proposed banning on logging is premature and driven by fear-mongering"? Similar questions arise for every society that has inadvertently damaged its environment.(Jared Diamond: Collapse – How Societies Choose Or Fail To Survive ; Pg 114; Penguin Books 2006)
(NOTE: an ironic aside - while developers are quick to create luxury estates for those who can afford them, millions of South Africans still live in tin and wood shanties... We have curious priorities...)