No economy without ecology

John Steenhuisen writes that every day must be Earth Day

No economy without ecology. Every day must be Earth Day.

22 April 2021

Today, on Earth Day and in this week of devastating fires on Table Mountain, we at the Democratic Alliance reaffirm our commitment to protecting and preserving the natural world on which our lives and livelihoods depend.

This has been a week of heart-breaking loss in which, amongst other precious heritage items, the priceless treasure that was UCT’s African Studies collection has been needlessly destroyed.

Measures could have been taken to prevent this tragedy. SANParks could have better fulfilled its mandate to clear invasive alien vegetation, which burns hotter and faster than fynbos. Firebreaks could have been maintained. Fire response could have been quicker. Vagrancy laws could have been more rational. On a broader level climate change, which is making our summers hotter and drier, could have been avoided.

This is the lesson we must take away. The imperative to act before it is too late.

Preventing ecological collapse cannot be something we think about annually on Earth Day or leave to those most passionate about the natural world. It is a survivalist move for humanity and must be front and centre of how we live.

World-renowned thinker, Yuval Harari, has warned that humanity faces three existential threats in the 21st century: the return to war, technological disruption, and ecological collapse. Whereas the other two are a future risk, ecological collapse is a current reality.

Protecting our environment makes economic sense. To realise the immense potential of tourism to generate jobs and foreign exchange, we need to protect South Africa’s magnificent natural heritage. Imagine too how swiftly Cape Town’s economy would have collapsed had Day Zero arrived in 2018.

Protecting our environment is also a moral imperative, since the poor will always suffer the effects of environmental degradation most keenly, with less buffer against rising food prices and other impacts.

There is much that each of us as individuals can do to live more sustainably. But the key environmental challenges (climate disruption, biodiversity loss, pollution etc) are systemic and require collaboration and cooperation. This means governments – local, provincial, national and international – have a key role to play.

How would a DA national government produce cleaner, greener outcomes? What is the DA doing locally and provincially to build ecological resilience?

The DA is firmly committed to a low-carbon future. We passed a policy resolution at our Federal Congress last year to cut South Africa’s carbon emissions by 80% by 2030, well ahead of the timeline set out by the Paris Agreement.

A DA national government would long since have opened South Africa’s energy market, ending Eskom’s monopoly on power generation. The renewable power industry would be far further developed by now enabling us to reduce coal consumption and avoid dirty emergency measures such as burning diesel in open-cycle gas turbines, and powerships.

Indeed, DA-run Cape Town is Africa’s green economy hub, with 70% of South Africa’s renewable energy manufacturing taking place in DA-run Western Cape.

Under a DA national government, small-scale generation would also be a significant contributor to the national energy supply by now, as the DA would have capped supply at 50 megawatts rather than the 1 megawatt that has so held back this source of energy.

In the DA-run Western Cape, most municipalities have in place the necessary systems to accept rooftop photovoltaic power into their grids and have approved tariffs in place so consumers can be compensated for electricity they feed back into the grid.

A DA national government would fix our broken railway system, privatising it if necessary. We would devolve rail power to metros, enabling rail to be integrated with bus transport. This would take millions of passenger and freight vehicles off our roads, relieving congestion and pollution, since rail is far the greener option.

Cape Town has set the goal of attaining urban forest status and has employed satellite technology to map the tree canopy over the entire metro. It is a member of C40 Cities, one of 97 leading megacities around the world taking climate action, and it will release its updated Climate Action Strategy Document this year.

DA governments have built plastic roads (to create an end-use for plastic waste). They’ve deployed experimental electric vehicle charging stations. They lead in waste recycling initiatives.

The opportunities to innovate, save, and restore are limitless, exciting and urgent. We need to be smart enough to find solutions and wise enough to know how important this is. In the upcoming local government elections on 27 October 2021, a vote for the DA will be a vote for a cleaner, more resilient South Africa. 

Warm regards,

John Steenhuisen