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Rights for rivers and mountains? January 18, 2011

Posted by Andreas in Climate change, Column, Environment, Global warming, Society, Sustainable Living.
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Rights for rivers and mountains?

(This column was first published on 2010-11-10 at News24 here)

Should nature and its constituent parts – animals, plants, rivers and valleys – have legally recognised rights comparable to those of humans?

Not too long ago nobody who mattered in the world (ie mostly rich white males) would have dreamed of considering women as being equal to men or black people as being people at all. Today, these concepts are well entrenched human rights, recognised and defended by all but the most barbaric throwbacks.

These days, very few of the people who matter in the world (ie mostly rich white males) would seriously consider extending legal rights to nature. But so-called Earth rights are gradually forcing themselves onto the global enviro-political agenda.

South Africans should be at the forefront of the debate. It was a Cape Town lawyer, Cormac Cullinan, who in 2002 published Wild Law: A Manifesto for Earth Justice, which remains the seminal book on the topic. Cullinan has been instrumental in helping to disseminate the concept of Earth rights and turning it into a lived reality internationally, but you’re much more likely to have heard of him if you’re Bolivian than if you’re a Saffer.

The ideas behind Earth rights aren’t complicated, but for most of us they will require a major shift in mindset. Our planet as a whole is conceived of as a self-regulating, self-sustaining community of interrelated and interdependent natural entities that includes human beings, rather than simply as a collection of individual components which humans are entitled to exploit for their exclusive benefit.

The basis for this way of looking at the world is not some New Age tree-hugging esoterica, but sound scientific, ecological reasoning. The long-term survival of a complex, integrated, living system is crucially dependent on an equilibrated balance between all of its constituent parts. If humans continue to insist on dominating, polluting and unsustainably exploiting the larger natural system of which we are a part, we will ultimately be responsible for its destruction and for our own demise. Earth rights are an attempt to formally and legally balance the rights and responsibilities of humans against those of the other members of the natural community that makes up our planet.

In recent times these ideas have started to gain international prominence. In 2008, Ecuador became the first country in the world to adopt a constitution that recognises the rights of nature and April of this year saw the first World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Bolivia at which Earth rights took centre stage.

Faced with the threat of climate change, but frustrated by the lack of political will and action from developed countries and the dismal performance of international agreements like the Kyoto Protocol and the Copenhagen Accord, more than 30 000 participants from 140 countries produced a draft for a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth and a People’s Agreement which were subsequently submitted to the UN by the Bolivian government.

The Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, in the drafting of which Cullinan played a leading role, asserts that humans are members of an indivisible, self-regulating community of interrelated beings”, each of which has an inherent right to water, clean air, health, freedom from contamination, pollution, toxic or radioactive waste and detrimental genetic modification. It asserts that humans have an obligation to act in accordance with these rights.

The proposals from the World People’s Conference go far beyond the weak rhetoric of Copenhagen, demanding a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emission in developed countries by 2017, a one degree limit on global temperature increase during this century, payment of climate debts and compensation to developing countries, the establishment of a Tribunal of Climate and Environmental Justice and a rejection of carbon markets as a mechanism for dealing with climate change. Capitalism, as a system premised on endless growth on a finite planet, was identified as incompatible with life itself and an underlying structural cause of climate change and environmental degradation.

Call me an idiot (again), but I for one hope that Earth rights grow from the militant groundswell they represent today into a universal principle to stand alongside human rights before it’s too late.

The eco footprint of rape November 30, 2010

Posted by Andreas in Climate change, Column, Environment, Global warming, Politics, rant, Society, South Africa, Sustainable Living.
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The eco footprint of rape

(This column was first published on 2010-10-20 at News24 here)

Rape contributes to climate change and environmental degradation.

While this may not be a notion that gets much – no, make that any – airtime or column space in the media or even one that many environmentalists are aware of, it is hardly a new concept. Feminists, including Dr Yvette Abrahams of the South African Commission for Gender Equality (CGE), have tried to raise awareness about the connection between gender based violence and the environment for years.

The calculus may be brutal, but it’s really quite straight forward. Population growth is one of the most important pressures on the environment. People consume natural resources like water and food, produce waste and generate greenhouse gases and as the earth’s human population increases, the stress we put on the planet rises. Babies born as a result of rape add to this stress and thus contribute to our growing ecological woes.

“So what!?” I hear all my male readers say. “You’re exaggerating the importance of rape and besides, I’m not a rapist anyway!”

In a country like South Africa, where rape is widespread and perennially under-reported, the importance of rape to women and by inference to the natural environment could hardly be exaggerated. More importantly, however, you’re missing the point. Rape is merely the most evil expression of gender based violence in a society that is based on the oppression of women and systematically undermines their ability to control their reproductive capacity.

South African women are estimated to be engaged in productive, but unpaid labour – from domestic work to child and frail care – for almost three times longer than the country’s men every day. While they are responsible for a considerable proportion of the country’s food production, female landownership remains at an outrageous 1%. The fact that the concept of a “glass ceiling” has become a cliché doesn’t mean that it is no longer firmly in place. In 2005 women earned only 45 cents for every rand earned by men and unemployment rates are substantially higher for women than men.

Gender based violence in South Africa is endemic and commonly domestic. We have the highest rate of femicide in the world and according to the CGE in 2007 “a staggering 30% of girls […] said that their first sexual experience was under force or threat of force”. With insufficient family planning and widespread unprotected sex, pregnancy rates among school girls are among the highest anywhere.

In this patriarchal society, Abrahams explains, “women […] cannot choose to have children because they want to. They have children because they have to, […] providing men with heirs and capitalism with cheap labour.” She estimates that “something like 24-30% of children born are conceived through gender based violence, and that a majority of children born are not planed or responsibly chosen.”

The corollary to this shocking statistic is that environmental activism isn’t just about renewable energy and recycling. We can make substantial contributions to a healthier planet by working for gender equality, which has been shown to lead to reduced rates of reproduction and slowed or even reversed population growth. As Abrahams points out, “when women have more choices, they tend to chose to have fewer but healthier children”.

“You’re still not talking to me,” I can hear my male readers complain again. “I haven’t oppressed any women in all of my life.” Once again, I’m afraid you’re missing the point. Living under Apartheid as a white person meant benefiting from the system whether you thought it was atrocious or not. Similarly – and I write this as a privileged white male and a father of two sons – living under patriarchy as a man means benefiting from the system, whether you’re conscious of it or not.

Is it really too much to ask that we actively work towards creating a society in which half the population isn’t constantly treated like second-class citizens or worse? As an added bonus, we’ll be engaging in effective green activism while we’re at it, because fighting patriarchy means fighting environmental destruction.


Can meat eaters be green? October 26, 2010

Posted by Andreas in Column, Environment, Global warming, Life, rant, Society, Sustainable Living.
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Can meat eaters be green?

(This column was first published on 2010-09-08 at News24 here)

I’ve been an omnivore all my life. Although I’ve wrestled with the idea of vegetarianism at various times, I’ve never found the arguments particularly convincing.

We come from a long line of hunters and eaters of meat. Cut marks on almost 3.4 million year old animal bones tell us so, as does the tooth enamel of our distant hominin ancestors. Hunter-gatherers are so called for good reason. We have evolved on a mixed diet that includes meat, and some of the essential nutrients our bodies require, including vitamin A, vitamin D and the amino acid tryptophan, are exceedingly difficult to find in plant sources.

In recent years, however, vegetarian and vegan activists have added a new charge against us carnivores: you can not consume meat and also claim to be an environmentalist. The main culprits behind this claim are cows.

Cows, the argument goes, are fed grains like maize and soy which are grown on huge tracts of land – some of which used to be Amazon rainforest – with massive inputs of fossil fuels and water, and since they also belch voluminous quantities of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, they have monstrous carbon hoofprints. A 2006 report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation revealed that 18% of the world’s anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions – more than what’s generated by all of transportation put together – comes from livestock.

So does this spell the end of my meat eating days? Well, no. It turns out that there are cows and there are cows, and not all of them eat grains or contribute massively to climate change.

Good cow, bad cow

Let’s start with the “bad” cows. After the Second World War, the so-called Green Revolution was driven mostly by the large-scale production of artificial nitrogen fertiliser using huge amounts of cheap oil, gas, coal and electricity. This allowed the farming of livestock animals including cows, which had previously been integral providers of soil fertility on farms through their manure, to be separated from the production of grains.

Grains were now grown industrially, on big, state-subsidised, monocrop factory farms with nutrients provided by synthetic fertilisers, resulting in major surpluses during the second half of the 20th Century. Crammed into high-density “feedlots”, cows could be fattened and brought to market in record time on a diet of this cheap grain, while being responsible for criminal levels of greenhouse gas emissions and noxious effluents by the pond full.

And then there are the “good” cows. Cows that are allowed to graze on pastures of mixed grasses, their natural diet. Cows that are part of agricultural systems that carefully integrate animals and perennial polycultures and mimic nature’s cycles, rather than being production units in disaggregated food factories generating pollution and waste and demanding constant inputs of non-renewable resources. Cows that are carbon-neutral or perhaps even carbon-negative.

On his Polyface Farm in Virginia, pioneering family farmer Joel Salatin, for instance, rotates cows and chickens on pastures of mixed perennial grasses which are neither plowed or artificially fertilised nor sprayed with pesticides and also host foraging pigs, turkeys and rabbits. Over a period of more than 45 years, Salatin, who only sells his produce locally, has been able to raise the carbon content of his pasture soils by 6.5%.

Soils contain about two-thirds of the planet’s carbon reserves – more than forests, oceans and the atmosphere put together – and while industrial farming of annual monocrops depletes soil fertility and leads to billions of tonnes of soil erosion annually, Salatin’s roving bovines continually fertilise their pastures and sequester carbon in the soil they help to build.

It has been estimated that system’s such as Salatin’s, which combine appropriate livestock and mixed, predominantly perennial crops, are capable of removing substantially more CO2 from the atmosphere than they emit.

None of this should be an excuse to relax and enjoy another bite of your rump steak though. If we want to be environmentalists and eat meat, too, it’s our responsibility to find out where our meat comes from and how it was produced. It’s our duty not to eat grain-fattened, factory-farmed meat, and to support local farmers who raise good old pasture-fed, soil-building, carbon-sequestering, sustainable cows.

The Most Dangerous Man In America October 18, 2010

Posted by Andreas in Cape Town, Film screening, History, Politics, Society, South Africa.
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Documentary about freedom of information to be shown in Cape Town

Are you worried about the Protection of Information Bill currently before Parliament? Join the Right2Know Campaign for a screening of The Most Dangerous Man In America, a documentary which illustrates the dangers of restricted public access to information – even in a democracy – and was nominated for an Oscar in 2010.

The Most Dangerous Man In America will be shown at the Labia on Orange cinema in Cape Town on Monday 25 October at 6:15pm.

In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg, a high-level Pentagon official and leading Vietnam War strategist, concludes that the war is based on decades of lies and leaks 7,000 pages of top-secret documents to The New York Times, making headlines around the world. Hailed as a hero, vilified as a traitor and ostracised even by his closest colleagues, Ellsberg risks life in prison to stop a war he helped to plan.

The Most Dangerous Man In America tells the riveting story of one man’s profound change of heart and takes a piercing look at the world of government secrecy as revealed by the ultimate insider. Characterised by an epic battle between America’s greatest newspapers and its president, which goes all the way to the Supreme Court, this political thriller unravels a saga that leads directly to Watergate, Nixon’s resignation and the end of the Vietnam War.

The scenario described by The Most Dangerous Man In America is incredibly relevant to the situation faced by South African’s at this very moment in time. If you care about your right to access to information, don’t miss this feature-length documentary.

The Right2Know Campaign is an umbrella campaign representing a broad front of over 700 civil society groups. We believe a responsive and accountable democracy able to meet the basic needs of our people is built on transparency and the free flow of information. The Right2Know campaign statement – “Let the truth be told. Stop the Secrecy Bill!” – was drafted following parliamentary hearings on the Bill in July 2010 and demands that secrecy legislation must comply with constitutional values. It is based upon detailed submissions made to Parliament by civil society groups. For more information about the Right2Know Campaign consult www.r2k.org.za.

The screening will be followed by a facilitated audience discussion.

Tickets are R20 and can be reserved by calling The Labia at (021) 424 5927. This is a once-off screening and we strongly recommended that you reserve tickets to avoid disappointment.

This event is presented by the Right2Know Campaign, the Tri- Continental Film Festival, the Labia and While You Were Sleeping, a Cape Town-based non-profit film collective committed to bringing progressive, non-mainstream documentaries with important social, political and environmental messages to South African audiences.


The Labia:
021 424 5927

The Right2Know Campaign:

Sarah Duff

079 862 6696



While You Were Sleeping:
Andreas Späth
084 772 1056

IWW documentary screening and public meeting October 12, 2010

Posted by Andreas in "The Economy", activism, anarchism, Cape Town, Film screening, Politics, Society, South Africa, Work.
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Join the Cape Town Branch of the IWW for:

A screening of the short documentary “Together we win: the fight to organise Starbucks” followed by a public meeting on “Organising as casuals and contract workers”.

Most workers today work in casual and precarious jobs. In many parts of the world, including South Africa, most unions have not been up to this challenge, and have often failed to organise casual workers.

The IWW Starbucks Union, however, is different. The entire union is made up of casual workers who are organising themselves at Starbucks stores. In tribute to their comrades in the IWW Starbucks Union, the Cape IWW branch is presenting a documentary made by these workers themselves. This inspiring movie tells the remarkable the story of how casual workers in the Starbucks chain of stores fought for and won the right to organise.

Date: Saturday 16th October 2010

Time: 14h00

Venue: Cape Town Democracy Centre, 6 Spin Street, Cape Town

For more information or to RSVP contact us on iww-ct@live.co.za

Green Priorities August 5, 2010

Posted by Andreas in Environment, Society, South Africa, Sustainable Living.
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So I haven’t been a very busy blogger lately – sorry bout that… I’ve been busy doing all sorts of new things, including writing a regular “green” column for News24. I thought it might be fun to re-publish some of these here.

Green Priorities

(This column was first published on 2010-05-26 at News24 here)

Reading, thinking and writing about the environment is terrifying business. Not a day goes by without another horror story – an oil spill, a disappearing species, shrinking rainforests and melting glaciers. It’s enough to make you want to throw in the towel and let someone else worry about the mess.

But that’s not an option. Figuring out how to inhabit this planet sustainably and equitably with millions of other species and without destroying it for future generations by overexploiting its resources and poisoning it with waste is one of the great challenges of the 21st Century. We all have our role to play, individually and collectively. Absconding from that responsibility is simply not an option.

Overwhelmed by information about the environment flooding our inboxes on a daily basis, it might be useful to identify some of the most important priorities we need to tackle. These issues are, of course, intimately interconnected and prioritising one over the other isn’t always possible. If you live next to an oil refinery, for instance, you’re probably more concerned about air pollution than a farmer who worries about his future water supply. Any solutions we come up with need to be based on what activists are calling “environmental justice”: the fair distribution of environmental benefits and burdens among underdeveloped and rich countries alike, and the right of every person, be they poor peasants from the global South or middleclass Northerners, to a clean and healthy habitat.

Climate Change

The threat of catastrophic global warming is a dominant environmental concern and rightly so. We have to dramatically reduce our carbon footprint and fast. What’s required is a very strong emphasis on energy efficiency, reduced consumption and clean, renewable energy sources to meet our transportation and electricity needs. Oil and coal have to be replaced with low-carbon alternatives without us falling into the nuclear power trap which will leave us and our children’s children with long-lived radioactive waste and other major headaches. Someone better tell government and Eskom! They’re intent on building more coal and nuclear power stations while making mere token commitments to renewables.


Much of South Africa is already water-stressed and with climate change upon us the situation will only get more severe. With rising demand from water-intensive industries, mining, urbanisation and agriculture, protecting our natural freshwater sources, both underground and on the surface, from pollution and overexploitation is crucial. The fight against water-sapping alien vegetation, toxic fertiliser and pesticide run-off from farmlands, desertification, polluted mine water drainage and industrial effluents is central here.


For generations, humans have been dumping their waste into the natural environment with gay abandon. But we can no longer simply assume that the ground, oceans and atmosphere are infinitely large reservoirs with the capacity to absorb our effluent indefinitely. Many of these global “sinks” are starting to reach their limits. Pollution is the ugly flipside of our modern consumer society, premised on the philosophy of constant growth. We need to reduce, reuse and recycle on a monumental scale lest we drown in our own rubbish!


South Africa is renowned for its rich plant and animal life, all of which is under growing pressure from urban creep, climate change, alien invasion, deforestation, desertification, industrial monoculture farming and more. A world with constantly shrinking biodiversity is not only aesthetically displeasing, but ecologically unstable. Protecting remaining pockets of indigenous flora and fauna and allowing them to expand and re-connect is a crucial aspect of environmental conservation.


Our long and fragile coastline represents a livelihood for many coastal dwellers and a valuable recreational heritage for the rest of us. It’s time we started treating our oceans as valuable common assets, protecting them from overexploitation and pollution. They’re neither an inexhaustible food basket nor a global sewer.


As the ultimate source of much of our food and the foundation of all land-based life, we urgently need to protect the soil beneath our feet from erosion, depletion and pollution, while nurturing its fertility. There can be no sustainable civilisation on earth without healthy, productive soil.

Are there any other major priorities I have forgotten? Please let me know.

Cape Town launch of Black Flame February 24, 2010

Posted by Andreas in anarchism, Book launch, Cape Town, History, Politics, Society, South Africa.
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The Book Lounge presents the Cape Town launch of :

Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism by Lucien van der Walt and Michael Schmidt.

Black Flame examines the anti-authoritarian class politics of the anarchist/syndicalist movement, and its 150 years of popular struggle on 5 continents. An indispensable conceptual and historical road map, with close attention to Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America, looking at its:

· Opposition to hierarchy, capitalism and the state
· Strategy: building revolutionary counter-power
· History: labour, community, anti-imperialism
· Agenda: participatory, cooperative economics
· Revolutions: Mexico, Spain, Ukraine, Korea
· Revival: today’s struggles

This groundbreaking volume has been praised by reviewers as “deeply impressive”, “fascinating, revealing and often startling”, “a grand work of synthesis”, “remarkable” “outstanding”, “inspired” and “a welcome antidote to Eurocentric accounts”.

All welcome!

Please RSVP to booklounge@gmail.com / 021 462 2425.

More info: http://black-flame-anarchism.blogspot.com/

R.I.P. Howard Zinn January 28, 2010

Posted by Andreas in activism, anarchism, History, Politics, Society.
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“Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy; it is absolutely essential to it. “

Howard Zinn: August 24, 1922 – January 27, 2010

“For every seat in the new Cape Town stadium…” January 27, 2010

Posted by Andreas in "The Economy", activism, Cape Town, Politics, Quotes, Society, South Africa.
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A shocking fact of the day from Equal Education, one of the most dynamic and awesomely brilliant NGOs in South Africa:

” for every 7 seats in the 68 000 capacity R4,5bn stadium in Cape Town we could have had a brand new fully stocked school library.”

The equivalent of more than 9000 school libraries

Some relevant facts, again from Equal Education:

  • Only 7% of public schools in South Africa have functional libraries of any kind. (DoE’s* 2007 NEIMS Report.)
  • These 7% of public schools that have libraries are the former model-C schools who are able to establish libraries and employ librarians through their own funds, collected through fees.
  • Since 1997 the DoE has produced 6 drafts of a national school libraries policy. None have been adopted as official policy.
  • The DoE offers no specialists school librarian posts. All posts are for teachers, and most schools cannot spare a teacher to run the library because of high learner:teacher ratios.
  • The DoE closed its School Libraries Unit in 2002.
  • In November 2008 the DoE published for comment ‘National Minimum Uniform Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure’ which, in tables 15 and 18 states that every large primary school and every large secondary school should have a library of 80m2. The regulations still remain unconfirmed by the Minister and therefore are of no assistance to teachers, learners or education planners.

(*DoE = Department of Education)

The Really Really Free Market – Cape Town November 12, 2009

Posted by Andreas in "The Economy", activism, anarchism, Environment, Facebook, Life, Politics, Society, South Africa, Sustainable Living.
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We’re having the very first ever Really Really Free Market in Cape Town this Sunday (at Zandvlei in Muizenberg where the kite festival normally happens)  and Meghan made this beautiful flyer:

Colour flyer-2

Colour flyer-1

Join the Facebook group and pray for good weather 😉