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Planetary destruction — the way forward


Bishop Geoff Davies, 'The Green Bishop', is the founder and honorary patron of the Southern African Faith Communities Environmental Institute, and retired Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Umzumvubu.

‘People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money…’ So Greta Thunberg challenged world leaders at the UN Climate Change Action Summit on 23 September 2019.

What is our response? What is the solution? How do we stem mass extinction while responding to the daily call for economic growth? Quite simply, we make the care of the planet and life on it, including ours, our priority.

So first, view the world from the planet’s perspective, and I would add, from God’s perspective!

Second, recognise that we humans are an integral part of the web of life and totally dependent on the well-being of the planet.

Third, use money responsibly. As Charles Eisenstein wrote in Sacred Economics, money should be treated with the same respect we should show to all life so that it is used for good and not evil.

Fourth, recognise that money is only a tool, an agreed medium of exchange, to enable us to do what is needed and right. Don’t worship money, sacrificing life and wellbeing in pursuit of wealth.

Finally, we have a beautiful and bountiful planet. Care for it! One of the greatest threats to future well-being is climate disruption. We can no longer allow “national sovereignty” to be an excuse to destroy the planet. Our survival depends on working together. However, we are seeing how difficult this is. After a quarter of a century of climate talks, we have still not got the commitment needed.

We can do it! It was a global action that led to the banning of CFCs when they were found to be destroying the ozone layer. It is difficult to counter the daily call for economic growth, particularly when South Africa has lost even more jobs and now has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world. But we don’t need economic growth. Rather, we need economic efficiency and justice. Doing what is right — competently — will transform our economy and increase employment.

A host of books have been written about “Prosperity without Growth”. In Wellbeing Economy Lorenzo Fioramonti’s book writes about changing South Africa to well-being. The late Margaret Legum wrote It Doesn’t Have to Be Like This: a New Economy for South Africa and the World.

What is required now is a move from the fossil fuel-led capitalist era into a new Ecological Age. And here follows our manifesto for renewal.

We will urgently end the current Anthropocene, the age where “man” dominates nature and pollutes and destroys the natural environment. We will become responsible and value and protect all of life. We will seek to live in harmony with nature. We will stop the cruel treatment of farmed animals, as if they were not sentient creatures. We will fish responsibly and stop scraping all life off the ocean floor, half of which is by-catch to be thrown away, leaving a marine desert behind.

We will end the indiscriminate use of chemical fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides for agri-business, which destroy the life of the soil and the bees on which we depend. Agro-ecological farming systems will restore the land, produce more food, and employ more people.

We will rediscover that we are wasting our greatest asset, our own human energy. Automation and fossil fuel-driven machines do people out of jobs. By using our own human energy, we can have full employment and fulfilling work.

In the ecological age we will realise that local is lekker, and that “small is beautiful”. We will build into costs the price of transporting goods halfway around the globe, and doing people out of jobs in the process. “Economies of scale” will not be the deciding factor in investments and “developments”.

Our financial resources will be used for the good of people and planet and not just for financial growth. We will end the drive for consumerism. Goods will be made to last. The latest fashions will still appear, but last season’s clothes will be given away and not burnt as happens in some countries. Likewise, with 40% of food being wasted, arrangements will be made for a more equitable distribution of food. We will repair and reuse and aim to consume as little as possible, not as much. The water crisis has given that lesson.

The nations of the world will agree to end deforestation of natural forests. These are the lungs of the planet, which also provide habitats for unknown millions of species. A monoculture plantation is not a forest. The destruction of forests has brought about the demise of many earlier civilisations. Cutting down a 200-year old tree is morally reprehensible. Sometimes this is done to make toilet paper. It is done for profit with no consideration given to the planet or the variety of life that is intricately part of a forest, including indigenous cultures.

In the Ecological age, we will reduce our dependence on all plastic and end the manufacture of all single-use plastic. We survived for thousands of years without it. We need plastic for some purposes such as electrical insulation. We don’t need plastic bags and bottles! We will shop with reusable bags and buy drinks in returnable bottles. Presently, millions of tons of plastic go into our oceans. Half of loggerhead turtles contain plastic in their stomachs, and 70% of sardines. Eight percent of oil production is now used for plastic. We presently use plastic wrapping and products because it is more convenient, efficient and profitable, but no consideration is given to the cost to the planet.

We will have a social market economy, enriched by a welfare state that encourages individual initiative and enterprise and freedom. We will have investments, for constructive work, to create industry, farming, employment, education, and environmental care. We don’t need our present system where people can spend their lives in front of computers speculating on currency exchanges and share prices, to benefit only those who already have money.

In the Ecological Age, there will be greater equity. It is totally unjust — and wrong — that there is such inequality in our world today.

Ecocide will be part of the International Criminal Court. Political leaders and CEOs of extractive industries and fossil fuel companies who refuse to see the environmental destruction they are causing will be brought before it.

We will recognise that we live in one global village and that we must work together. Recognition of our global citizenship should make us co-operate rather than compete. National sovereignty must be secondary to global wellbeing. Peace will be the consequence of establishing this new era of justice and equity. As a global village, we will see the end of the horrendous arms race we are presently witnessing. In 2018 the World’s top 15 military countries spent US$1.8-trillion. The top spenders were the US at U$649-billion and China at US$250-billion. (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute).

Imagine what the release of that money could do to bring development and renewable energy to “developing” countries, and to restoring our damaged natural environment.

With growing automation, increasing numbers of people are being done out of jobs. Justice can be implemented through the Universal Social Dividend, also known as the Basic Income Grant, BIG, where everyone receives a basic subsistence grant. This will overcome the alarming reality in South Africa of 20% of our children being stunted, malnourished and going to school hungry and ill-clad. It will provide dignity and undercut the desperation of the poor who currently resort to crime and violence. It will undermine the temptation for poaching. It will keep money circulating longer in local communities, helping build resilience, and of course in no way will it impede the many who wish to work and accomplish something in their lives.

How we treat the earth and all of creation defines the relationship that each of us has with God… To commit a crime against the natural world is a sin. For humans to cause species to become extinct and to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation… for humans to degrade the integrity of Earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the Earth of its natural forests, or destroying its wetlands… for humans to contaminate the Earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life, with poisonous substances, these are sins”. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

Sin is probably not a word often used in Daily Maverick. But it is sinful or wicked to bring about the destruction of life on this planet, our only home. Faith communities are calling on all people of integrity to stand up and say enough is enough.

Join “Extinction Rebellion” and the Friday march of young people so they may have a chance of a sustainable future. And why will we or should we change? Because our very survival, and that of our children, requires it! DM


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