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