Archive for November, 2011

COP OUT … (30/11/11)


A lab of environmental carnage (Ashwin Desai, 30/11/11) Daily News

Copy of ND Wentworth residents
Residents of Wentworth matching against Engen. Picture: S’bonelo Ngcob

High on the Bluff, environmentalists are fighting a major battle with the municipality.

The city of Durban has signalled its intention to install wind turbines, but the site proposed for this is also the habitat of the Egyptian slit-faced bat (Nycteris thebaica) and the large-ear-free-tailed bat (Otomops martienssen). Wildlife activists say the spinning blades will pose a hazard to the bats.

In the valley below, an older battle between activists and polluters unfolds daily. This is the South Basin, with the township of Wentworth lying at its heart.

The massive curving pipes, 10 storeys high, connected to stacks that flare red flame around the clock, dominate the landscape. Wentworth is across a narrow road from a huge petrochemical refinery.


The development in the South Basin was carried out at the instigation of white business interests, with the aggressive support of both the local and national government, during the apartheid era. This meant the uprooting of whole communities. In Clairwood, for example, the population declined from 50 000 in 1960 to 5 000 in 1970.

This “creative destruction” was done under the auspices of scientific management, implemented by planning bureaucracies at the local level.

With the present government earmarking the South Basin as a priority development zone, the trend threatens to continue.

The alternatives for the communities are also out of City Hall’s dusty old socialengineering textbooks: relocation, voluntary or otherwise.

People living in an area known as the Barracks in Wentworth, where row upon row of poorly built and narrow dwellings exist, giving the impression of fowl runs, have been persistently threatened with removal to a place some distance from the city centre, where the dwellings are so badly built, cramped and isolated that they have been dubbed “toilets in the veld”.

The green parts of the South Basin are under constant threat from petro-chemical companies seeking to gobble up more land. As if to compound the burdens of the South Basin, it was signalled on the eve of COP17, that Clairwood Racecourse is earmarked for sale to a private property developer.

Meanwhile, there is endemic and chronic asthma at rates four times the national average and a suspiciously high incidence of blood and lung cancers.

An environment conducive to the well-being of each citizen is the promise of the new South Africa, but stunted children, choking air and a repellent aura is the reality for those living here.

Émile Zola, resurrected in Wentworth, would not know that centuries had passed since the Industrial Revolution.

Fires break out, spewing mountains of black smoke into the air. People march. The government issues ultimatums.

When a fire broke out on October 10 at the Engen refinery, a hundred children from Settlers Primary School in nearby Merebank were taken to hospital. Children at this school have the highest recorded rate of asthma in the world, some 52 percent.

Environmentalists spewed venom, calling the fire “an indictment against both Engen and government health and safety officials”. The refinery spokesperson said the refinery “regrets any inconvenience or discomfort caused”.

The next morning, as usual, the fathers went to work at Engen. The mothers marched. The corporations bullied and threatened to close shop.

In these set-piece confrontations and sublimations to the need for paid employment one is reminded of the words of Hannah Arendt: “Nothing then remains but ghastly marionettes with human faces, which all behave like a dog in Pavlov’s experiments, which all react with perfect reliability even when going to their death, and which do nothing but react.”

At a march a protester carries a placard reading “Forward with worker control of the means of production; Socialism is the answer”.

Is that the answer? Socialism, with its wilful productionism. Would it change the environment in which people labour and the air that people breathe if the petro-chemical industry were nationalised? If capitalism puts profits before people, does not socialism puts production before people?

But marches are not for debate and engagement but controlled confrontation with the other.

The eminent geographer David Harvey writes of capitalism as “accumulation through dispossession.” Socialism always seems like accumulation through repossession by a centralised state machinery that keeps production intact but distributes more fairly.

As if to confirm my un- ease the following week the general secretary of the all-mighty National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) berated environmentalists. He wanted us to keep the coal mines churning, but under worker control of course. In order to address these conundrums, leftists have come up with a new fudge, eco-socialism.

Scanning the literature, it is hard to discern the content of what the economy will look like under the sway of eco-socialists but no doubt a manifesto will emerge during the civil society deliberations around COP17.

As morning breaks, slit-faced bats prepare to do battle with wind turbines, mothers pack asthma pumps alongside their children’s school books, fathers don overalls to seek work at the very factories that clog their lungs.

Lydia Johnson, the KwaZulu-Natal MEC who gave Engen an ultimatum to come clean, gets fired.

The community calls a meeting at Settlers Primary School smelling, through cynical nostrils, a conspiracy.

We agree to a memorandum and another march.

l Ashwin Desai is Professor of Sociology at the University of Johannesburg



Sustainable bio-energy fuelled by cow dung (Laea Medley, Daily news, 29/11/2011)

Rhythm Divine ….

Musical brilliance: Tanga Pasi performing live (Spencer and Pamela Ngwenya in shot) Picture by Timothy Wiggill
The rhythm filled the air with song and dance at the COP17 Peoples Space held at Howard College yesterday hosted by Nidhi Nepaul and Pamela Ngwenya: A definite success. It must be said that the night was stolen by Tanga Pasi, with their melodic voices, amazing beat and overall charisma on stage, they are a definite must see. Other acts included interpretative dance, poetry readings which were performed by Nomvula Greeninglady; Bongisipho Bongs Phewa and Menzi Maseko. Tonight, there is going to be a movie screening of “The reckoning” which should be entertaining and informative. Make sure you bring all your mates down to the Peoples space for these evenings which run for the duration of COP17. A fun evening out and you will definitely be inspired in an environmental sense … See you there tonight. ~ Kamleshan Pillay

Reaffirm Kyoto Protocol – Zuma (Richard Davies, 29/11/11)

zuma cop 17President Jacob Zuma and top UN climate change official Christiana Figueres at the opening ceremony of COP17. Photo: Marilyn Bernard

President Jacob Zuma urged delegates at the UN climate summit on Monday to work for an outcome that was “balanced, fair and credible”, and to reaffirm the Kyoto Protocol.“You have before you the responsibility to reaffirm the multilateral rules-based system undercut by the Kyoto Protocol,” he said, speaking at the event’s opening ceremony.

He called on delegates to provide the funding needed by developing countries to address the impacts of climate change.

This could be achieved by activating the so-called Green Fund, the $100 billion a year that developed counties have promised to provide by 2020.

Zuma said a key issue facing delegates had to do with a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol, and “reaching agreement on the legal nature of a future climate change system”.

The summit opened late on Monday morning to the sound of drums.

A group of bare-chested men in red kikois entertained delegates with some high-kicking, hard-stomping Zulu dance moves as they waited patiently for the opening ceremony to commence.

Ten minutes after the scheduled 10am start time and with many delegates still streaming into the venue, an official called on them to rise for the entry of South African President Jacob Zuma. Then he told them to sit down.

“I’ve just been informed the president is arriving later. Please be seated.”

A little later, he announced: “I hope they’re not stuck in a holding room and no one can find the locksmith!”

Delegates, officials and journalists waited a further half hour before Zuma arrived and the opening finally got under way at 10.41am.

One of its first decisions was confirming the election of South African International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, as COP17 president.

Nkoana-Mashabane told delegates that a “mammoth task” lay ahead of them.

“We are in Durban with one purpose: that is to secure a future for generations to come.”

Referring to a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol, she warned that if this question was not resolved, “the outcome of other matters in the negotiations will become extremely difficult”.

The summit, which ends on December 9, is aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep any rise in global average temperature to below 2°C to prevent catastrophic climate change later this century.

Zuma warned that Africa was especially vulnerable to climate change. This was not just because of extreme events such as droughts and floods, but also due to poverty, “which limits the ability of countries to cope with climate change”. – Sapa

A picture says a thousand words …


Carbon prices tumble to record low (Javier Blas, Financial times, 24/11/2011)

The price of carbon permits has fallen to an all-time low, prompting bankers and traders to question the future of the European Union and United Nations’ cap-and-trade scheme.

The sharp price fall comes as several top commodities trading houses and Wall Street banks cut sharply their activity in the market. “The carbon scheme isn’t working,” Per Lekander, analyst at Swiss bank UBS, told clients in a note.

Noble Group, the Singapore-listed trader, said earlier this month it had “limited” its activity in the carbon market, complaining there was “insufficient market liquidity” to insure its positions.

In another sign of companies losing faith in the scheme’s prospects, JPMorgan sold its ClimateCare carbon permits business in August, although the bank remains active in the carbon market.

Analysts blamed the sharp drop in prices on lower European economic growth, which is likely to reduce emissions growth, and the imminent sale of millions of allowances from the European Investment Bank, which plans to use the proceeds to invest in green projects.

The price of UN-backed certificates of emission reductions (CER), which polluters buy to offset their output of greenhouse gases, fell on Thursday to an all-time low of €5.90, down more than 50 per cent since June. The price of European allowances (EUA) under Brussels’ six-year-old emissions trading scheme also fell to a record low on Thursday, hitting €7.80, below the previous low of €8.05 set in February 2009. EUA prices have fallen 15 per cent this week.

“We do not expect the pricing outlook to improve materially in the foreseeable future,” said Isabelle Curien at Deutsche Bank in Paris. Trevor Sikorski, at Barclays Capital in London, said: “The risks are biased to the downside.”

The fall in the prices of permits could complicate talks at the UN climate summit in Durban, which starts next week, amid widespread fears that negotiators will again fail to produce a comprehensive, legally binding global agreement to tackle climate change.

Cap-and-trade schemes, led by the EU, have suffered since their launch. In January, the EU authorities said that “cyber-thieves” stole as much as €30m in carbon allowances from the region’s emissions trading system, forcing exchanges across Europe to halt briefly trading in carbon allowances But the schemes have more recently received a boost after Australia announced a tax system on polluters, putting the country on track to have the biggest emissions trading system outside Europe.

The low price for carbon permits is raising questions about the effectiveness of the cap-and-trade scheme in forcing companies to adopt greener technologies.

“The [carbon] price is already too low to have any significant environmental impact,” Mr Lekander said in the UBS note, prompting a rebuttal from lobby groups supporting the cap-and-trade scheme.

Miles Austin, director of the Climate Markets and Investment Association, said the EU’s scheme has “put 11,000 European industrial installations onto a low carbon pathway, in line with the agreed cap.”