Paying the Price

No person has the right to pursue their own wellbeing at the expense of the natural communities, systems and processes that sustain us all.
Any person or legal entity that harms and profits at the expense of a natural community must be held accountable for restoring its integrity, functioning and health. In short, those that harm the Earth must be held accountable.
Meaningful development has been eluding our continent and time has come for us to tackle questions about how and why the global environment is changing, what future changes are likely, and what choices can be made to enhance resilience, reduce the vulnerabilities of humans and other species and support sustainable development.
We have a beautiful continent that can feed our bodies, shelter us  inspire our imaginations, and shape our many cultures and spiritual beliefs.
But alas, it has been dominated by the dysfunctional relationship between humans and nature which drives the unwelcome behaviour that has caused many to abandon the proven ancestral wisdom of Africa which has taught some of us, that we came into being through our relationships with the whole community of life and that to unfold our full humanity, we must respect and live in peace with all beings.
We have lost our love for the land, animals, plants, mountains and rivers that are our kin and who safeguard the wellbeing of our people. We have caused so much harm through the promotion of arrogant and disrespectful industrialisation modes that unashamedly promote selfishness, greed, exploitation and separateness.
Global warming resulting from an increase in the earth’s temperature due to the build up carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from burning coal, oil and fossil fuels and other greenhouse gases has caused a negative climate crisis. Historically, since 1751 roughly 315 billion tonnes of carbon have been released into the atmosphere largely from the burning of fossil fuels, and half of these emissions have occurred since the mid-1970s.
Historically, industrial development in the Global North is largely responsible for the climate catastrophe.
Climate change, whose negative consequences are now with us, is a symptom of the exploitative, destructive, polluting, profit – driven consumption and production patterns, which have manifested themselves in a planetary ecological crisis.
It is important to locate climate change as a systemic problem rather than a technical or an environmental problem.
Our societies are full of didactic stories and wisdom directed at heightening our consciousness to the fact that the Earth is sacred to us and no person or legal entity has the right to pollute or degrade the soils, waters, and atmosphere that sustain life.
All plants, animals and other creatures are our kin and have a right to play their unique role within the community of life.
Imagine an Africa without sacred forests, pools, mountains and other places or a continent where these shall not remain protected in the wild. Every creature, large or small, every plant, rock, mountain, river, or sea that has come into being has the right to exist in its place, to be respected and to fulfil its role within the community of life.
Modern industrial societies have been so destructive to the extent that its thinkers and major beneficiaries disregard the fact that every person and each generation must maintain natural balances by giving back to nature communities in return for what they receive.
For example, it is prudent to note that until the composition of the atmosphere is restored to balance, each person and each generation must ensure that their presence on Earth causes more carbon to be removed from the atmosphere than is released into it.
Careless human activities like mining which disrupt vital ecological balances and functions must be carefully reviewed and downscaled in the interim and hopefully we will get to a stage where these can be stopped and replaced with practices that improve the health of natural communities.
Lest we forget our relatives that died in coal mines and harmed beyond repair in the gold and asbestos mines of this region.
We have seen the proliferation of practices that erode the land and deplete the natural fertility of the soil. Zimbabwean television recently showed images of big graders invading the agricultural fields of some Mberengwa villages in pursuit of chrome belts and not addressing the plight of the impoverished peasants in the area.
The Chinese and their Zimbabwean mining counterparts were duping the Mberengwa peasants to surrender their sovereignty by giving them a paltry US$1 000 each. These activities must be stopped and should be replaced with mining, growing and harvesting practices that work with natural processes to enhance the fertility of the land and the health and resilience of natural communities.
We must fight for a world where the rights of people to benefit from the land and other beings flow from their relationships with them and decisions that impact on the integrity or health of a natural community shall be made by people who have deep relationships with that community and will experience the consequences of the decisions most directly.
Those who are not part of a natural community do not have the right to make decisions or take actions that harm or threaten the integrity, health or functioning of that community as is happening now in our communities notably with the new wave of domination triggered by the presence of oriental players backed by the elite capture of many states in Africa.
Those who intentionally or recklessly damage natural communities or put them at risk shall forfeit the right to make decisions that may harm them regardless of the fact that they have been elected and have mandates from communities to be in constitutionally guaranteed office including the public servants and their counterparts in the private sector.
Time has come for us to organise and mobilise our people to stop human activities that they have good reason to believe may harm the community.
We have a high moral ground for this imperative.
The rights of present and future generations to live in harmony within healthy natural communities shall prevail over the rights of any person or legal entity to property or profits.
The interests of corporations, the state and other artificial entities shall not be permitted to take precedence over the interests of natural communities. We have propped up systems that permit corporations and other related entities to avoid or limit their responsibilities to their fellow members of natural communities.
Public bodies must safeguard the conditions for living well. Public bodies must be liberated from corporates and the elites that have captured them to guarantee that they serve a few and alienate the rest of society. Public bodies must promote human development through living well in respectful coexistence within natural communities and shall safeguard the conditions necessary to do so.
This can be done through the effective protection of the integrity and health of natural communities and the maintenance of the conditions necessary to live well their highest priority.
We need to put in place policies, laws and systems that prevent human activities from disrupting the natural processes and functions on which we all depend.
Those who have the financial muscle associated with dysfunctional work must cease funding activities that disrupt or endanger vital natural processes and systems.
We need to promote values, technologies, production methods and behaviour patterns that will propel us in the direction of sustainable development.
Floods, famines, wildfires and droughts are clear indicators that the climate crisis is upon us all, but responsibility for climate change lies mainly with developed countries.
With less than 20 percent of the world’s population, our counterparts have emitted almost 75 percent of overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions into the atmosphere.
The effects of global warming, however, fall disproportionately on countries of the global South – countries that are least responsible for the crisis, and have fewer resources to address the impacts.
Africa contributes less than four per cent GHG emissions, yet it contains some of the regions that are most vulnerable to climate change. It is projected that by 2020 rain-fed agriculture in the region could be reduced by up to 50 percent  as a result of climate change, and 75 to 250 million people across the continent could face severe water shortages.
These impacts may mean increased hunger, famine and disease.
Climate change is making the lives of people who live in poverty more challenging, eroding sources of consistent income, and straining coping strategies used to survive hardship.
The growing lack of predictability in weather, and the increased number of climate shocks, is disrupting individual and household planning and budgeting, closing off avenues to climb out of poverty. While poverty rates have fallen, the number of people living on less than US$1.25 a day has risen to at least 1.4 billion, about one quarter of people living in the developing world.
Agriculture in particular is already being hard hit by the effects of climate change. This, in turn, puts food security under threat for people now, and for the approximately three billion people to be added to the global population by 2050.
More than 1.2 billion people are hungry today, and seven out of 10 of them are women and girls.
The majority of the world’s farmers who are wholly or largely dependent on rainfall, not irrigation, to water their crops will be affected most severely.
For many, what they grow is what their families and communities eat. And even in regions where industrialized agriculture has become more widespread, small farmers continue to have an important role in ensuring national food security.
When weather reduces mobility, moving harvested crops will be affected.
Decent harvests become more elusive during droughts, floods, and periods of intense heat or cold. As they do, the incidence of poverty will rise, and with it, hunger. Small producers have the most to lose.
If the global temperature increases by two to three degrees Celsius, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) projects that the yield from crops watered by rain only will drop significantly in some African regions.
Desertification and rising salinity of soils will also challenge food production in parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
Yields of rice, a critical staple food for billions of people, are likely to be negatively impacted by rising temperatures in Asia, where 90 percent of the world’s rice is produced, according to the FAO.
A drop in rice production will mean more hunger and poverty.
The Hadley Centre for Climate Change predicts that by 2100, arid and semi-arid regions in Africa south of the Sahara will increase by 60 to 90 million hectares.
As a result, US $26 billion in potential income could be lost by 2060 in these drought-prone regions. That is more than the sum of bilateral aid to sub-Saharan Africa in 2005.
People living in poverty are often forgotten or excluded from key decisions made around policy interventions.
Genuine and sustainable solutions to climate change and poverty can only be found with the participation, approval, and leadership of those living in poverty.
Africa faces a number of developmental challenges that are likely to be intensified by climate change. These include increasing poverty, high levels of unemployment, inferior infrastructure, inadequate housing, food insecurity, skills deficits, low productive capacity, prevalence of diseases (HIV and AIDS, malaria and TB) and the lack of universal access to social services such as health, education, electricity, adequate sanitation and portable water.
• Thomas Deve is a dedicated Pan-Africanist and a renowned social and economic justice activist based in Zimbabwe. Send your comments to

December 2012
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