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Rock art in the Cederberg July 7, 2009

Posted by Andreas in History, holiday, Life, South Africa.
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We spent a couple of days at Bushmans Kloof in the amazing Cederberg mountains last week. I was totally taken by the rock art in the area. There are over 130 individual sites (and many more in the Cederberg as a whole), ranging in age from around 2000 years to as old as 8000 years. Incredible!

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Don’t carbon offset your guilty conscience September 5, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Climate change, Environment, Global warming, holiday, Life, Society, South Africa, Sustainable Living.
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We’ll be spending two weeks with my parents in Gauteng this month and after considering our options have decided to fly up. I’m feeling decidedly guilty about that and am intend on taking the train next time.

You see, globally, air travel just happens to be the fastest growing source of anthropogenic climate change. George Monbiot estimates that one transatlantic flight basically accounts for a person’s rightful annual carbon emission share if we want to stop the planet from getting toasted.

When it’s feasible, taking your car is better, using public transport much better still, and staying at home is best! We know all this, but stop us from flying more and more every year it does not – airports are expanding around the world and apparently air passenger numbers have risen by over 6% in the first half of 2007.

And once again it’s just a small wealthy minority that’s doing the damage and those who can’t afford air tickets, even budget ones, bear the brunt. You fly, they die.

One of the solutions that’s being touted to overcome this growing problem is carbon off-setting.

Here’s how it works: You book a return ticket to romantic Niagara for you and your pink-haired aunt Colleen through an outfit like responsibletravel.com, you work out the amount of carbon dioxide your journey will generate and you pay someone like ClimateCare, Carbon Footprint or the CarbonNeutral Company a proportional amount which they will use to plant trees in a Third World country or hand out energy-saving light bulbs to the poor, and Bob’s your environmentally-friendly air travel uncle.

It doesn’t work, of course.

For one it’s the calculus of the privileged – a green pyramid scheme to appease our environmental sensibilities, which allows a small number of people to jet-set around the globe while the masses stay at home. Build-in inequality is a fundamental requirement.

As it turns out some people in the global South are already being shunted off their homes in order to accommodate environmentally-conscious First World travelers. Here’s a story about Ugandans who lost their land to carbon off-setting tree plantations and here’s one about one of a number of reports that suggest that planting trees is not going to work anyway…

So what are we to do. Travel less, of course! I know this will not be well received, but it’s a no-brainer and is in accordance with the stop-what-you’re-doing principle. It’s cheap and works every time.

The forest for the trees March 15, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Environment, holiday, South Africa, Sustainable Living.
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We’ve just come back from the most blissful weeks’ holiday in Nature’s Valley, away from the crowds (the “secret season” rocks), the golf courses, driving ranges and golf estates that seem to pollute so much of the Garden Route these days.

Is it just me, or are places like Knysna and Plett getting uglier by the year? I wouldn’t go to Knysna on holiday. It’s just too crowded and over-developed with next to zero charm or character… really sad.

I guess to an extent it’s a case of urbanisation not just being a problem in the big cities like Cape Town, but in smaller centres as well. One of my main problems is that development in these places seems to be too much about luxury retirement/holiday living and kitschy tourism and too little about sustainable growth of communities.

While we were there there was an announcement for a new R2 billion development on the banks of the Knysna River which included, of course, another golf course.

How long will it take for the Knysna lagoon (estuary, actually) to collapse as an ecosystem? If our experience with Rietvlei in Cape Town is anything to go by, I fear it won’t take very long. But we won’t learn from these precedents, will we!? “Can’t happen here” is the mantra.

What struck me most on this trip, however, was the forest. More specifically the difference between the indigenous forest and the commercial MacForestTM plantations.

I imagine that much of the Tsitsikamma coast – the plain between the sea and the mountains – was once covered by a vast and mostly contiguous indigenous forest with fynbos et al filling in the gaps (I really don’t know if this is true and would love to hear from anyone who knows more about the natural history of the area).

Today, the indigenous forest hangs on in a couple of isolated pockets and in some of the deeply incised river gorges. It’s still beautiful and magical, but clearly a shadow of its glorious former self.

In contrast to the almost impenetrable, multi-story and many-specied indigenous forests, the monotonous sterility of the mono-crop pine plantations is truly sick-making. Geometrically aligned, numbered and chosen for their fast and straight growth, the alien trees in these plantations are harvested and turned into floor boards, telephone posts and mining timber on a regular basis leaving behind big stumpy scars to be filled with the next generation of seedlings.

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The contrast between this and the indigenous forest is just mind-boggling. It’s so obvious that I’m not sure why it affected me more this time around than on previous visits.

Perhaps it’s because the forests are a metaphor of how we are conducting ourselves on this planet more generally? It makes me sad to think of what we’ve lost and what we’ve replaced it with, and forests are just one example.

A week in paradise March 9, 2007

Posted by Andreas in holiday, Life, South Africa.
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We’re on a family holiday in Nature’s Valley this week. This is one of my favo0urite places in the world. It’s got a beautiful, long, sandy beach, a lagoon (actually it’s an estuary), mountains, dense indigenous forest and it’s perfect for relaxing and just hanging out. Which is exactly what we’re doing.

Nature's Valley 1

Nature’s Valley is basically surrounded by nature reserves and there are no hotels. The village consists mostly of holiday houses and a few self-catering places and B&B’s There’s a little shop for the basics and a pub restaurant. Even though the valley is some distance off the N2 highway, Plett is only half an hour’s drive away. We’re renting a self-catering house which is actually pretty expensive, but since there are 7 of us the per person per night costs are really cheap.

Nature's Valley 2

Perfect! Don’t you wish you were here!?