Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Definition of Climate Change

"The Black Rhino is extinct in West Africa" - a global headline on the eve of COP17. The area north of Durban happens to be one of the few places where the few remaining Black and White Rhino can be found. Can you believe that in our lifetime an animal as big and majestic as a Rhinoceros might disappear from existence. And for what...knife handles and alternative medicine, likely a placebo.
Besides loosing a great wonder of nature, which is fun to look at and perhaps not a very consequential cog in the ecosystem, so why does it matter? And besides, what can most of us non-dagger carriers do about the rhino, besides shooting the poachers which doesn't seem very social.
In the last 30 years global fish stocks have been reduced significantly by over fishing. As an example for every 11 Cod that were in the Atlantic Ocean in 1970, there is 1 now. Yikes...I eat fish. If we do some rough math that means no more Cod to eat in a few years.
Everytime we eat meat, we have taken away food from 7 people...i.e. The food it took to feed the cow. Aren't their millions starving, or is that billions?
To produce a bottle of water involves using 3-7 bottles of water depending on the company. Fiji Water is 7. That's like taking a 10 minute shower and then leaving it running for another hour. Isn't water our most precious resource? I'm sure we would all choose a bucket of water over a bar of gold when the survival chips are down
So why does all of this matter since our lives are comfortable and these are other peoples problems...yes, our children's problems, and maybe our problems in a few years. Our actions as consumers - eating, driving, wearing, reading, spending money...- dictate how companies and governments decide to use and abuse the Earth's natural resources. It's comforting to know that they put our "wants" ahead of the environment...or is it? So clearly we have the power to help save species, preserve resources and save human lives.
The solution is temperance. If we all thought through every act of consumption we performed and adjusted accordingly so as not to be excessive. Do I really need a 6 cylinder car or can I make do with a 4, is as important an analysis and choice, as why I really need to get that new pair of jeans or drink that extra beer(like beef, alcohol also takes a lot off food off people's tables).
But how do we have time for this level of consciousness. Since it will involve changes to our routine as well time spent understanding what exactly our impact might be in our various walks of life. This is all seems very time consuming.
In the U.S. the average person watches 4 hours of TV per night! Im sure the rest of the TV watching world is not far behind. How about reading novels and newspapers. How about political discourse. There is plenty of time in these typical activities that could be reassigned to making us better consumers, and who knows, could be more fulfilling than watching NCIS repeats.
The term Climate Change is very controversial and leads to multinational gridlock on how to deal with it. Part of the problem seems to be the average person's understanding of what it means. The science reports of climate change read like a quantum mechanics definition...brain freeze material.
Climate change is better defined by the Rhino situation. Every decision we make and every action that we take that effects the natural world results in climate change. When we overdo it, then climate change becomes detrimental to the future (not too distant) of life as we know it. To prevent climate change requires grassroots temperance and then what scientists and politicians have to say wont matter. Why wait for laws to determine how we live our lives. Let's re-mould our own lifestyles so that they are in harmony with that of the rhino and the rest of the natural world. Our freedom gives us that power.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Spa

The popping bubbles in my brain started to subside, as did a few seconds of mind numbness. Late night in a night club? No, this was the climax of my Port St. Johns Spa experience.

The white mud came first, which must cover the entire body. A short drive into the bush brought us to a small village and the mouth of a cave. To get the white mud one must strip down as far as comfortable and then walk into a damp dark cave and start mining the walls for a small ball of the precious mud. A full self application of the mud feels the skin starting to tighten. Then it's up a cliff using the roots of an enchanted looking tree to the bubbling sulfur pool for a second layer of black mud. First though we stop in front of a hole in the ground which has a long line of buckets waiting in front of it...waiting for the precious water within. We all get to take a sip before we jump into to sulfur pool. This is healing water but doesn't have the sweet taste one might expect from the fountain of youth...this is Fear Factor material. Yuck. Feel better??? I've never felt worse. After some black mud and scrambling down the tree, another hole confronts. No drinking from this one. "Release all your air, put your nose right here and inhale".... Tiiinnny bbuubbles...

The latter does as promised and clears yours sinuses . It's also supposed to help prevent arthritis. No mention of any possible brain cell depletion.

We all jumped back into the truck to go and have a nice salt rinse in the sea. Off to 2nd beach, which didn't necessarily mean the excitement was over.

Sharks typically kill about 6 people per year in the entire world. This beach has had 6 fatalities in the last 3 years. 4 lifeguards and 2 surfers. "But not to worry they only attack past the breakers".

If you are still reading, you should stop here if you don't want to hear the gory details. Here is a summary of my Q&A of a guy who was present for one of the past attacks.

It had been 8 weeks since the last attack when he(Jim) and 17 others decided to paddle out. Safety in numbers and enough time had past for some bravado to creep back in. A few hours later most had had enough and 4 were left. He had just finished riding a wave and saw that everyone on the beach were anxiously looking and pointing out to sea. One of remaining surfers had been attacked and was frantically paddling for the beach. Jim helped him in, but by the time they reached the beach he had bled to death. The shark had first grabbed his ankle then come back and bitten the top of his leg.

As scary as this is to hear this from a distance, one fact is probably scarier. These attacks are all by sharks that are only about 4 feet long. Sort of small. Not the apartment buildings made famous by Peter Benchley.

This is a gloomy story to end a day that started with a trail run among zebras and monkeys, followed by the adventure of a spa au naturale. But at the same time it's all part of life in a place called the Wild Coast. Drinks on the deck under the banana trees overlooking 2nd beach.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The New World

"We must be the change we want to see in the world" - Gandhi. These profound words are by a man who cut his teeth in Durban, South Africa, and seem appropriate for the next global climate change conference which is being held in Durban in a few weeks.

It is interesting to observe the state of climate consciousness in the area holding such an important meeting of minds. Obviously, there is a clear escalation of climate change related topics and stories in South African papers leading up to this event...sort of like how people all of a sudden become Curling fans during the winter Olympics. The question however is what is the grassroots interest in Climate Change.

To find out I headed south of Durban to a rural area in the Eastern Cape, known as Pondoland. Visually, this one of the most beautiful areas of South Africa with its rolling green hills, one might mistake it for the Scottish highlands. Adding in some thick jungle along the river valleys where one might expect to run into fairies, trolls and perhaps a hobbit. This area is known as the wild coast because of its rough seas which are renowned for swallowing ships, but the term is quite apt for the whole package. Within this beautiful land live the Pondo people who are a tribe within the Xhosa nation. You would think that these people have it made considering the land they live in which sounds like its full of milk and honey. Well they sort of do, but just like the rest of us they have their struggles.

And those include a very passionate defense of their land. In the 1960s they revolted against an apartheid law, not so much because of human rights, but more so the resulting over population would cause soil erosion and over grazing. They won that battle. More recently they won another battle, which was to prevent an Australian company from mining titanium in the area. The latest battle to prevent the construction of a toll highway through the middle of their land is being waged in the shadow of the climate conference. This battle is being lost, but is not over.

The Pondo understand well the sensitive balance between human activity and nature's survival. They will stop at nothing to prevent outsiders from tipping that balance. But they also realize that their own activities must be kept in check. They realize that using wood for cooking fires is not sustainable for the local forests. Since they live off the grid, and as they patiently wait for the national electricity provider to plug them in, they realize that alternative power sources might be the best way to go, and they are willing to pay. The latter is staggering since they make they make little to no money.

So, in the midst of corporate South Africa scrambling to show how Eco friendly they are as the magnifying glass of the world descends on Durban, there is a group of people who have not lost touch with nature. This is inspirational, and hopefully COP17 will look a few hundred kilometers beyond their conference rooms for answers.

The serendipity in this world never ceases to amaze me