Conserved spaces

It is unnerving walking into a space where silence is so all encompassing- a microcosm of earth still untarred and underdeveloped. In the humdrum of everyday city life, this stark contrast always catches me by surprise. This blog recounts my visit to Faerie Glen Nature Reserve as well as a local park in Pretoria North. I reflect on these visits, relay some of wealth of information I have learnt, identify environmental issues and muse on possible solutions.

It wasn’t the first time that I had visited Faerie Glen Nature Reserve but it had been a long since I had immersed myself in the natural environment. The year had been pressured and fast paced. To take a morning off and learn about plant species refreshing; I was being introduced to familiar sights that I had never bothered to get to know.

The nature reserve consisted of grassland and acacia veldt/ sour bushveld. I was told that the reserve had a rich birdlife and the Moreleta spruit flows through it. We considered the cultural associations of water focusing on how it fine-tunes us as people, forces us to recenter. Water also signifies a baptism or rebirth. It invigorated me to think, if only for a second, that I could close my eyes, listen to the bubbling stream and imagine that my spirit was refreshed.

What excited me most was to hear exactly how impressive and magical plants actually were.  We encountered the cross berry which acts as feed for livestock but has medicinal qualities helpful in treating diarrhoea. This was Potions with Severus Snape 101 except it was real. Furthermore we touched on the circadian rhythms of plants which are more complex than I would have thought. I was reminded of the Game of Thrones slogan “Winter is coming” and how plants forebode the seasons using their rhythms.

I was impressed by the Acacia or as I now call it- the guardian of the grassland. This remarkable thorny plant keeps herds out of overgrazed fields. Additionally it releases an acid when it is chewed and sends warning signals via pheromones to warn other plants. It is incredible to think that communication is taking place amongst us, a language we don’t understand, and secrets that we are not privy to. They could have been discussing us at great lengths while we stood there observing them.

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Mushrooms are another overlooked character we stumbled upon. They act as bio filters and decompose toxic and dead material; such an important role for such a tiny thing.  I was surprised to learn that The Brood Boom sulks when it is moved; it is something we can resonate with on a human level.

The weeping willow is one of the most salient images I have of trees- it conjures feelings of fantasy. I learnt that it is an unsung hero that prevents soil erosion from happening. It’s funny to think that in our complacency the rest of nature still does what it can to keep the earth in equilibrium.

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Some of the problems that were identified during our walk is the amount of waste that travels in the water canals and rivers. Water bottles washed up in the grass, reminding us of the irony that we as humans pay for pure water to drink and end up polluting that very water.

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It lead me to thinking about possible actions that can be taken to combat this. Engaging the community on various platforms seems to be important because people do not necessarily react to mere statistics or words of warning. Incorporating recycling into the everyday mundane is crucial but perhaps recycling should also be included in what us as humans find beautiful and exciting. One suggestion is collective efforts to clean up and use the rubbish material to make art and to craft with it. Continuing visits to national parks, making it a space we regularly engage in is also vital and can be done by spreading awareness of its hidden splendour.

Walking with other people, each being resensitized to; a feeling that collectively the smog stained peels are falling from our eyes is a beautiful and humbling experience.

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Growing back to our roots

 

Trees represent something resilient, solid, anchored and resolute. They are old and ageless; many have seen the transformation of the world play out before them. These fortified giants who have taken root amongst us colour some of our fondest childhood memories. This blog post aims to recount the relationship between human and tree by exploring three different narratives as proposed by Dean in “The Unruly Tree: Stories from the Archives” by mean of a photo elicitation interview.

A photo elicitation interviews can be described as the use of photographs to encourage the interviewee to reflect and engage with the content.  Photo elicitation interviews promote interaction, spark dialogue and produce expedient information (Tinkler 2013: 173). Furthermore they aid in recollection; they act as a visual cue when asking the interviewer to remember something from their past (Tinkler 2013:174). Photographs are also a useful point of entry when stimulating dialogue. In today’s visually directed world a photograph carries a lot of semiotic weight. Photographs also offer new perspectives that the interviewer might not have considered.

According to Dean there are four narratives embedded in the history of trees namely the narrative of service, power, heritage and finally the counter narrative of the unruly tree. The following provides four photographs and captions illustrating the above. The four photographs were presented to three interview candidates in order to elicit their respective perspectives and experiences of the narratives.

The Narrative of service refers to the tree that provides an advantage to its residents. These advantages include shade and clean air (Dean 2015:163). Trees such as fruit trees are planted for the purpose of eating or harvesting. The photo included acts as both a food source- the avocado tree gives fruit and is also a treehouse location.  Even though the trees house has become quite derelict- as children we used to climb in it and pick the avocados.

 

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Narratives of power are often present in long lines of duplicate trees which convey a sense of power and human domination. Dean describes it as lulling the city with beauty (2015:163). It serves to create an impression of balance. This means that they are often trees that speak of wealth, symmetry and order. The trees planted in the Union Buildings garden are an apt example of the narrative of power. They are planted in a long line and trimmed habitually. The Union buildings themselves represent a monument of power and authority and thus the garden follows suit-it conveys a strong sense of human control over nature._MG_9814_MG_9815

 

Narratives of heritage are embedded in trees associated with local folklore and myths. They are trees that are tied to certain tradition and rituals, associated with a time and place and can represent a link with ancestors. The Baobab is reflective of  Africa; it is incorporated in architectural design and corporate identities to connote the idea of Africa. According to traditional folklore ancestors and kings would hold meetings under the baobab tree.

 

Photo Credit: John Duff

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The Unruly tree represents the counter-narrative-the tree that resists human discipline and subjugation (Dean 2015:166). The photographed tree is an example of a tree that grows wildly and freely, its stem is gnarled and leaves unpruned. There is another tree growing on it and it grows over human walls, having no regard for boundaries and entering the neighbour’s space-making it a nuisance.

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Interviewee 1

Altie recalls that he grandfather had peach trees growing up and how most Afrikaner communities in Rustenburg also had peach trees. She remembers how her grandfather used to pick peaches for them and her grandmother would make peach jam. She even acknowledges that they used the peach tree in their “kattekwaad” (pranks); she and her friends would put rotten peaches on their neighbours’ front porches, ring the doorbells and run away to a safe hiding place to watch the trouble unfold. Because the peach trees served as a food source and source of entertainment Altie identifies it as an example of a service tree.

Upon viewing my photograph of the Union Building trees Altie identifies the similar use of symmetry and uniform lines present in the planting of palm trees in suburbs, casino’s and schools. She believes that palm trees connote a certain lifestyle of luxury and wealth. The uniformity of the single lines of palm trees also exhibit human’s control over trees as an aesthetic prop, meant to decorate lavish places.

When prompted about an example of a heritage tree Altie thinks of her days spent in the bush veldt and her association with the Acacia (kameeldoring) as a landmark of the African landscape. She is still surrounded by soetdorings at the high school she works at which serve as a reminder of growing up and the tradition of spending time with extended family in the veldt. Eagle owls have also nested in the fever trees at the school which further remind her fondly of the interaction between animals and trees, a relationship which is a prominent theme in  African heritage and as old as time itself.

Altie mentions a massive pine tree in the front garden as an example of an unruly tree. The tree is tall and takes up immense space, often getting in the way of the electric cables. It also covers the front garden with a prickly carpet, making it unpleasant to walk in that part of the garden.  On more than one occasion she has been asked to trim it. However Altie regards this unruly tree fondly because it is a home to many hadedas. To Altie they represent a snippet of the untamed, unbridled and untouched natural world.

Interviewee 2

Rory Spence names a tree from his childhood namely the Syringa Berry Tree in which he and his father built a treehouse. When he had friends over they would use the berries as catapult ammunition. This story is another testimony of how trees have stood in service as the playground for imaginative stories and games to take root and grow. Rory also talks about a Willow tree in his garden that was connected to a French Drain, absorbing most of the water and thus flourishing illustrating a beautiful symbiotic relationship as Rory would spend hours swinging from the branches of the tree. When the French drain was removed the willow withered which upset Rory significantly.

When showed the photo of the Union building trimmed trees Rory suggested poplar trees as a narrative of power. He recounts that they are quite popular for lining the driveways or areas of wealth. Poplar trees do not require extensive maintenance making them ideal as cohabiters. Upon a recent visit to Clarens he saw the town surrounded by these ranks of poplar trees, which complemented the clean and pruned look of the arty town, appeasing the viewer with its ordered lines.

Rory names the Jacaranda tree as an example of a heritage tree because of its reputation as a community landmark in Pretoria. Having spent most of his young adult life in Akasia and Sunnyside juggling jobs and adapting to adult life Jacaranda’s have been a steadfast herald of a new spring. The Jacaranda’s are an integral part of the identity influencing the culture and beliefs of its residents- Rory recalls how it was always considered lucky if a Jacaranda flower fell on your head. He also states however that Jacaranda’s can also be considered as a narrative of service as it provides shade and timber useful for furniture.

Upon thinking about an unruly tree, Rory tells of a tree which he had pruned recently because its pods had been littering the entire garden. The seeds also attached to the fur of their cats, bringing it into the house. He also wincingly tells of the destructive nature of palm trees whose seeds litter the swimming pool and huge leaves can create quite an impact.
Interviewee 3

Frederik also resonates strongly with the Willow tree. He grew up with one on his plot which meant that his friends were mostly dogs and trees. The Willow struck him the most because it was oddly shaped and it provided ample shade. Secondly he recalls the Baobab tree on his father’s farm. It was 900 years old and functioned as a meeting point for friends, a setting for ritual and fellowship. People travelled far just to see the tree and carvings of people’s stories over the years were present on its hide leading to interesting forms, shapes and patterns. . The stem also grew in the shape of a window which captured the imaginations of all the cousins believing that fairies inhabited the Baobab. Finally Frederik also reminisces a bit wistfully on the white stinkwood that he had planted and how they grew up together, how it gave him a strong sense of accomplishment to nurture a tree and how they eventually parted when he moved.

Frederik is an architect student and likes relating all his answers to the built environment. For the narrative of power Frederik recounts the story of a lane of trees he discovered on Google Earth which are built on an axis that line up with the Old Arts building on campus. The trees are currently hidden on the Girls High grounds but he deduces that they were originally planted to serve as an impressive lane of trees leading to the entrance of the Old Arts. To him this illustrates the narrative of power-how trees served as emblems of authority and as signposts attesting to the impressive institution or building that they lead into.  Frederik also mentions his first ever design, a small doringboom which he reared as an example of human control and order imposed on trees.

Upon reflecting about heritage trees Frederik tells of The Wonderboom, a 1000 year old fig tree residing in the Magaliesburg. He considers it an apt example of a tree which has seen various epochs of human history.

Frederik was quick to think of an example of an unruly tree. He describes an abandoned factory in Mosselbaai close to their holiday home and the giant tree growing on top of and through the cracks of the factory. The factory is in disrepair but the tree is flourishing. This is a poignant image of the unruly tree sequestering the very buildings man had erected on its territory, possibly removing trees to build it in the first place.

Conclusively Dean states how trees have a rocky relationship with humans, where trees have been subservient to human need and whim (Dean 2015: 162). These include trees that provide food, shade, act as a playground and contribute to cleaning the air. However the most intriguing tale is that of the unruly tree which scoffs at the human hand and grows wild and untamed. As Dean promulgates the objective should be to move beyond the anthropocentric narratives of humans and their imperial relationship to trees and uncover the narrative of the maverick tree which defies human crafted symmetry and order. Trees are much more complex, not only occupying spaces on ground level but a level underground (Dean 2015: 166).

Exploring the narrative of the unruly tree exposes the conflict between people and the trees they occupy a space with (Dean 2015: 178).During these interviews it was interesting to note how quickly people pruned unruly trees or were prompted to do so. Furthermore the use of photo’s aided in clarifying some of the theory of the narratives and made the interview a more immersive experience. I did find that it could easily distract the interviewee as Tinkler warns but overall it produced rich and detailed answers (2013:175) which gave me some insight into the teeming, interwoven narratives that are growing around trees.

SOURCES CONSULTED

Duff, J. 2015. Learn more about the familiar baobab tree. [O]. Available:

http://hazyviewherald.co.za/172166/learn-more-about-the-familiar-baobab-tree/

Accessed 11/05/16

Dean, J. 2015. The unruly tree: stories from the archives, in Urban forests, trees, and greenspace: a political ecology perspective, edited by LA Sandberg, A Bardekjian & S Butt. New York: Routledge: 162-175.

Tinkler, P. 2013. Using photographs in social and historical research. London: SAGE.

 

The Rainbow Bruise: The Chemicals that assault our Ocean Life

The Rainbow Bruise: The Chemicals that assault our Ocean Life

In his book Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the poor Rob Nixon’s introduces the concept of slow violence which describes a violence that is not immediate, volatile or erupted but a  gradual and incremental atrophy(Nixon 2011:2). Slow violence is characteristically spread over a period of time and space and widely disseminated. Furthermore Nixon highlights that we live in a world that glorifies and feeds on fast-paced explosive violence such as tsunami’s or genocides. As a society we are desensitized to images of pollution-it is nothing new, not unexpected. We are met with gratuitous images every day; images of decapitated and severed tree corpses,  scarred and lacerated skin of earth caused by soil erosion, the battered and bruised earth suffering at the actively violent fist of humanity confront us. However due to the slow nature of this violence which doesn’t conjure effects we can immediately see, it is largely suppressed and ignored.

Nixon poses the problem in conveying the image and narrative of slow violence in a manner that is impactful (Nixon 2011:3). Nixon asserts that we tend to only be ethical about that which we see (2011:14). The aim of this blog post is to make visible the often unseen and invisible detrimental effects of ocean pollution such as oil spills and biomagnification.

Oil spillage occurs due to the leakage of petroleum from a pipe, vehicle or storage. When humans are involved oil spills usually occur from drilling rigs and offshore platforms (Rinkesh [Sa] ) Pictures of poisoned marine animals often upset viewers because the violence and casualty is immediate. However the effects of oil spills are ongoing and still in the process of affecting marine life and biodiversity .Biomagnification refers to the accumulation of pollutants (for instance mercury) in organisms which increases as one proceeds up the food chain. For example fish containing mercury will be consumed by a predator containing greater mercury levels(Biomagnification [Sa]).

Different images of violence compete with each other and that which is most compelling, hard-hitting and claims the most victims grabs the viewer.  This blog aims to convey the narrative of the extended and gradual violence of ocean pollution by packaging it in a four image photo essay, in order to arouse and sustain attention. I deliberately chose to compare ocean pollution with a violence that is more immediate and situations that are personal and relatable in order to bring the message home.

 

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Figure 1: Rainbow Oil on Water. feedmegrapes. Tumblr.  2013.

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Figure 2 : Rainbow Bruise. Scoopthegoop. Reddit.2015

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Figure 3: Fish and corals. Pretoria Zoo Aquarium. 2012. Photograph by author.

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Figure 4: Chemical life and plastic reef. 2016. Photograph by author.

Rainbows generally connote positive feelings.  Biblically it is a sign of hope after the storm; in South Africa it evokes the idea of rainbow nation and diversity. The beautiful iridescence that occurs naturally in the environment is striking, for example in clams, shells and the feathers of the peacock.  However, when oil meets water the rainbow turns ominous and reflects the rainbow of a bruised body. Oil spillage reflects lack of diversity and the mutilation and assault of marine life. The rainbow coloured bruise reflecting of the oil on the ocean’s surface is a symbol of bruised tissue under the surface of the ocean skin. This damaged matter includes the marine life and organisms that comprise the ocean body.

Additionally we see the natural rainbow occurring within the ocean-the beautiful multi-coloured coral reefs and fish. Upon closer look marine life can be replaced with chemicals and coral reefs with colourful plastic.  We consume so many products that ensure that we as humans are a healthy, functioning and advanced society whilst depleting the earth’s resources. We consume from the ocean which acts as both our food resource and waste container. All the chemicals and waste which are by -products of our consumption gets pumped back into the ocean which  is consumed and absorbed by marine life. Thus as organisms at the top of the food chain we consume the very waste that we dump in the ocean.

It is imperative that we invent narratives which raises awareness of the urgency of slow violence. Despite the lack of immediate casualties and visible effects, the earth is riddled with wounds indicating a slow and torturous decay. Before we are surprised by an explosive death, apprehension of this slow violence must be instilled. This can be done with short, fast paced and impactful images, symbols and narratives that provoke the same pressure that accompanies instantaneous violent events.

The ocean and the marine life are involuntary guinea pigs of human activities- we are effectively pumping the ocean full of chemicals and poisoning ourselves in the process. The Rainbow on the ocean does not symbolise diversity and hope, it is a warning of a bruised and poisoned earth body.

 

REFERENCES:

Biomagnification – Biomagnification And Food-web Accumulation, Biomagnification Of Some Inorganic Chemicals, Biomagnificaiton Of Some Chlorinated Hydrocarbons. [Sa]. [O]. Available:
http://science.jrank.org/pages/893/Biomagnification.html

Accessed 23 April 2016

Feedmegrapes. 2013. Rainbow oil on water [O]: Available:

https://www.reddit.com/r/pics/comments/xb748/ive_always_loved_the_rainbow_oil_creates_when_on/

Accessed 23 April 2016

Nixon, R. 2011. Slow violence and the environmentalism of the poor. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Rinkesh. Oil Spill. [Sa]. [O]. Available:

http://www.conserve-energy-future.com/effects-of-oil-spills.php

Accessed 23 April 2016

 Scoopthegoop.2015.  Rainbow Bruise. [O].  Available:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/42760704@N07/20870395522

Accessed 23 April 2016

 

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Companion species: The Human-Pet Relationship

Companion species: The Human-Pet Relationship

 

(Featured Image: My Siamese Cat  Mila and I. She used to eat baked beans, we exchanged chicken for affection, she did tiny jumps whenever she saw me and had a penchant for unusual travelling methods…for example on the roof of my car or with claws dug into my back. Just seeing her face lit up my most dismal days).

In the Companion Species Manifesto Haraway introduces the notion of companion species and significant otherness. She describes how humans and companion species who inhabit this world with them have dissimilar inherited histories but a joint future as significant others.

Haraway further claims that there has to be two companion species in a relationship that never ceases to relate (2007: 12). Companion species are not a mere projection of oneself or the end goal; they are species engaged in a fluctuating and historical relationship with humans.  The history of the relationship between humans and companion species such as dogs and cats is fraught with  abuse, indifference and ignorance . Simultaneously it contains narratives of intelligence and delight.  Companion species have been instruments of terror, workers and haulers along side their human counterparts. This blog however aims to narrate how companion species have been and still are inextricably woven into the narratives and daily lives of humans as species distinctively different yet integrated as family members and friends.  Four human-pet relations with a unique emotional connectedness have been examined.

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Gigi is a five year old golden Cocker Spaniel who lives at the Clarens Inn Backpackers with owner Nicki and her son Robert.  She was adopted from previous owners in Clarens . Gigi is tentative and shy but once she has any visitors figured out she approaches and stays for an ear rub before returning to her owners. Gigi spends her day frolicking and playing in the beautiful  scenic Clarens with Robert , often accompanying him kilometres from home as they engage in imaginary play on the walking routes. She is very protective of her owners and the relationship between her and Robert mimics what Haraway calls a “trust and respect” relationship where each treat the other with reverence.

I took this photo of Gigi as she awoke from an early morning nap next to the river, marvelling at how poised she is and how luscious her locks are.

 

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Munchkin is an 11- year old mixed breed cat who is convinced that he is a dog. Munchkin was found by Rachel’s aunt as a kitten kicked out of the “nest”. Rachel speculates that this is because Munchkin was born with a club tail. Afterwards Munchie spend a few months growing up with an unusually  timid Rottweiler who became his best friend. Having now imprinted on both humans and dogs as companion species, Munchie was passed on to Rachel after her aunt moved. Rachel often finds Munchie patrolling the borders of their house, acting as a watchdog.  Munchkin is very much integrated into the household routine-knowing exactly when it is his owners bed time so he can sleep on his favourite spot-her face.

 

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Gail and Albert found their two Great Dane companions Titan (8) and Eva (8 months) on the Internet. This couple embodies what Haraway describes so aptly; they do not merely love their pets unconditionally-they see them as distinct beings. Titan and Evan are not considered dependent children but companions whom they respect and love despite both their failings as pets and owners. Titan and Eva are trained dogs, which bestows on them skills and assets helpful for both dog and owner. Gail even trains other individuals to train their dogs  and often distributes advice around the neighbourhood on dog care. She is passionate about the reputation of the Great Dane and cares for the dogs of the neighbourhood, having paid for veterinary expenses on behalf of owners who could not afford it.  Titan has also been around as a supportive member of the family when Gail battled and conquered cancer.

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This is Mia or Asjassie, so named because she was found in a dustbin by Altie. She believes that the impact of her being thrown into an empty bin caused some neurological damage as she has a tremor and limited control of her tail end because she cannot run in a straight line and has some difficulty jumping far distances. However, what she lacks in muscle coordination she makes up for in personality. Mia doesn’t meow normally, she has a strangled cry which she chooses to exhibit at every moment possible.  Harraway proposes that in the companion-human relationhip that the needs of pets be identified. Because Mia was taken away so early all the members of the household act as surrogates for her mother, she often sucks and kneads on t-shirts and hair when looking for comfort. She is also rejected by the other cats thus often needs to to be played with  Similarly Mia acts as emotional support for the household, bringing joy and liveliness, sharing in the joined pains and laughs that come with being awkward and clumsy.

In conclusion, Haraway states that companion species such as dogs lower blood pressure and provides support through traumatic events such as surgery and divorce (2007:12). This is evident in some of the anecdotes above where dogs have animals are play a crucial part in the human support network. Animals are entwined in the human narrative, susceptible to events such as weakness, death and distinction-a narrative that we have created (Haraway 2007:17). It is therefore imperative that in sharing our lives with companion species that we transfer the necessary training and skill to equip these animals to survive in the urban landscape. This is illustrated in Gail and Albert’s attempt to train their dogs. Furthermore treating companion species with the necessary veneration is important, always searching to understand the needs of these beautifully alien creatures which bring such immense joy into the lives of humans.  However different we are, we are both unified in being malleable and opportunistic-enabling us to co-evolve together and learn from each other.

 

Sources Consulted:

Haraway, D. 2007. The Companion Species Manifesto: dogs, people, and significant otherness. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.

 

 

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The Untuned Instruments of Progress: The false notes of the Anthropocene

The Untuned Instruments of Progress: The false notes of the Anthropocene

 

The Anthropocene is a suggested name for a new emerging era characterized by increasing global human impact; the continuing alteration of the environment by the human race (Gisli et al 2013:3). It describes the dawn of a human dominated environment( Gisli et al 2013:5, Steffen 2011: 250) in which human activities such as building cities, machines,  technological advancement , increasing human population,  increased consumption (Waters et al 2016:2, Steffen et al 2011:249)construction and extracting resources are considered drivers of change impacting the environment at record rates. These changes are considered irreversible and likely to impact future generations (Waters et al 2016:1, Steffen et al 2011:856).

Some of the changes to the ecosystems include Combustion of fossil fuels (a human activity) which changes the  configuration of atmosphere (Gisli et al 2013: 3), volcanic activities as a result of melting glacier caps, dwindling biodiversity, ecosystems and extinction of animal population (Gisli et al 2013:9 Waters et al 2016:137,8),spread of agriculture and deforestation,  erosion caused by construction and deforestation (Waters et al2016:137)industrial revolution and advances, the discovery of novel manufactured elements such as concrete, aluminium and plastics in river and glacial sediments (,Greenhouse gasses and rising sea levels (Waters et al 2016:6, Steffen et al 2011 :848).

The Anthropocene is further characterized by the transgression of  human resources, exceeding the limit of what the earth can bear to give or handle(Gisli et al 2013:6). A final proposition of the Anthropocene is the awareness of the human role in influencing the earth and how this awareness impacts the relationship with the natural environment (Gisli et al 2013:8, Steffen et al 2011: 256).

This blog aims to confirm the consequences of the Age of the Anthropocene by empirical means. Firstly a sound journal of the sounds of the Anthropocene was recorded.  Dominant sounds were identified and analysed. Secondly a bird journal was recorded in order to understand the meaning of listening to birds in the Age of the Anthropocene. I enjoyed this activity so much that I proceeded to make sketches and educate myself on a subject I was thoroughly ignorant on.  Finally I interviewed my father so as to ascertain whether a loss of biodiversity in the Anthropocene is evident in local experiences.

The dominant sounds of the Anthropocene identified in my sound journal are sounds of traffic, cars driving on uneven road, hitting bumps, driving on gravel, hooting, pulling away. Furthermore the sound of the radio in my drives to and from campus is prominent as it drowns out most outside noise. During lunch on campus I was accompanied by sounds of construction on campus where they are building. Working in the Mac Lab delivered unsynchronised sounds of typing from various students.  At home there is always the sound of a television and passing cars in the distance. The kettle, oven, dishes and glasses clinking were some other relevant sounds.

These dominant sounds can be regarded as the soundscape of the Anthropocene because they represent distinct markers of change in the environment. Events such as the Industrial Revolution heralded the advent of an age characterized by technological advances-machines such as drilling, jack hammering, and banging, notable sounds of construction.  Cars, radio, microwaves all represent the increase in technological advancement characteristic of The Great Acceleration of the Anthropocene age (Steffen et al 2011:849).Whitehouse confirms this by stating that the sounds of industry, machinery and electronic amplification represents a new and dissonant soundscape of the Anthropocene referred to as anthrophony (2015:57).

According to Whitehouse the sounds that surround us once consisted of Geophony and biophony (the sounds of the geological landscape and the animal and plant life living on it). However the soundtrack to the Age of the Anthropocene brings forth a new category called anthropony and consists of sounds of human activity.  Anthropony now drowns out geophony and biophony and brings disharmony (2015: 56).Upon actively listening to the bird sounds around me it is somewhat unnerving to intentionally block out the hastened and pressing sounds of the cityscape, the sound of the Anthropocene. It almost felt like the bird sounds were forcing a mind that wanted to rush to quiet down, I felt a bit at odds and unsettled. We are so indoctrinated by these sounds of progress- to advance, to get on with the day, to work, to rush.

I was lucky enough to hear the Grey Lourie, as my father notes that they are not as frequent in our garden as they used to be Whitehouse points out that the sounds of birds have a natural harmony that work together rather than compete with one another. This harmony brought about feelings of astonishment in an era where I am so used to listening to dissonant and competing sounds of cars, hooters and machines (Whitehouse 2015:65). It is with alarming frequency that as I listened intently for different bird sounds, the symphonies were interrupted by passing cars which aroused an irritation in me. It is evident that the sounds of the Anthropocene drowns the animal orchestra and competes with birds(Whitehouse 2015:53).There were also moments of prolonged silence which were unsettling, as Whitehouse points to the “silencing” of birdlife that highlights the connection between human activity and the absence of birds(Whitehouse 2015: 53).

This activity evoked in me a wistful longing to resonate with birds, to give me “a sense of continuity with my own sense of space” (Whitehouse 2015:65). Thus I wanted to hear the birds of my childhood that I so fondly remember with memories of spring and Sunday lunches. I only heard and recorded a few bird species in my journal:

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I tried to make associations between sounds and birds to make a distinction in the future. The grey lourie is the punk with the mohawk and rebellious attitude that says “Go Away!”

 

The silence heard is symptomatic of the Anthropocene and Whitehouse points out that this is uncomfortable because it indicates a kind of death (Whitehouse 2015: 65). This brings about an anxiety about the damage of human activity and a realization of both the actual and potential loss of birdlife in the future. This inevitably leads the recognition of local impact and causes on a global problem. To me personally, loss of biodiversity seemed such an abstract construct up until I heard the silence in my own garden.

My father grew up on both a farm and house in Rivonia and was surrounded by various fauna and flora. My step grandfather had a big garden full of birdlife where we would often pretend to be squirrels living in a beautiful, lush and abundant garden. His house has since been bulldozed to make space for apartment buildings.  My grandfather on my father’s was a photographer and bird enthusiast who wrote two books on meeting and gardening with birds. His first home in Rivonia had a spacious garden filled with bird life and self-made bird baths which was the environment which inspired his first book. This house has since lost its garden to make space for a parking lot and a night club.

 

These shifts in environment draw attention to how humans have environed and shaped the world. As progress and population increases, the demand for new living space and centres of human activities (such as nightclubs) arises. These stories are only a few examples of how humans have encroached on the space and natural habitat of other life as they have expanded. The lack of greenery in turn leads to loss of habitat and sounds of construction have long since displaced some of the birdlife that was present in those neighbourhoods. As a young a child I Remember hearing and seeing Eagle owls at my grandfather’s house. It is an encounter I have not had since. Up until the two days I actively sought out bird sounds I realised that the only bird sounds I could really recall on a daily basis are the sounds of Hadeda’s, sparrows and pigeons. I recognised the sound of the Grey Lourie only as a distant memory, something I used to hear but had since become scarce. I assume that I have only just begun to scrape the surface of the loss that is present in my garden and in my area and I’m sure there is much more that I am still unaware of.

A final anecdote attests to the powerful impact of the Anthropocene on the birdlife in South Africa. I recall as a first year walking on campus when I saw a two people attempting to catch a Hadeda with a plastic bag caught around its neck. It was frightened and struggling to fly. The bag was removed by kind Samaritans but the image of the suffocating interaction between the ages of consumerism on the natural environment was a poignant and haunting one. Our soundscape attests to the Age of the Anthropocene consisting of the out of tune and disharmonious sounds of human instruments; machinery and construction. This is further evidenced by the loss of ecosystems and biodiversity as the silence swells and overwhelms our gardens, deafening the symphonies and concrete jungles replacing our once teeming landscapes. As Whitehouse points out, listening to the sounds of birds in the Age of the Anthropocene is a significant activity that must continue, reminding to us of the imminent threat that we pose and simultaneously urging us to respond to the longing of living alongside, instead of competing with bird life.  Finally to quote my grandfather in his book “Gardening with Birds.” –“ The vicious tide of urbanisation will not stop…’modest effort by many’ remains the password for conservation of our bird life for generations to come” (Spence 1985:9).

For more information, search #DigEcoAction on Twitter and Instagram and join the social media eco revolution.

References:

Maclean, GL. 1985. Roberts’ Birds of Southern Africa. Cape Town: CTP Book Printers

 

Palsson, G et al. 2013. Reconceptualizing the ‘Anthropos’ in the Anthropocene: integrating the social sciences and humanities in global environmental change research.Environmental Science & Policy 28:3-13.

 

Spence, T. 1985. Gardening with Birds. Cape Town: Creda Press.

 

Steffen, W et al. 2011. The Anthropocene: conceptual and historical perspectives.Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 369:842-867.

 

Waters, CN et al. 2016. The Anthropocene is functionally and stratigraphically distinct from the Holocene. Science 351(6269):[sp].

 

Whitehouse, A. 2015. Listening to birds in the Anthropocene: the anxious semiotics of sound in a human-dominated world. Environmental Humanities 6:53-71.

 

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E-waste: a polluted graveyard of human progress

The progress of technology is inextricably tied to the notion of the advancement of the human race. The world is fast becoming dependent on electronic devices to facilitate and enhance a range of activities-from switching on a light to performing medical surgeries. Africa, as a developing continent, is no different and South Africa depends largely on Information Technology for progress socially, politically and scientifically (Khalema 2013:sp).

However, the glossy face of marketing which encourages increasing consumption of electronic devices overshadows the grim reality of the dumping graveyards which are arising once the lives of these devices have expired. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that products are designed with planned obsolescence in mind; once an electronic product is released-a newer, better model is already in the planning phase.

E-waste refers to discarded and obsolete electronic devices. How these old products are being exposed of is problematic, especially in South Africa which has limited legislation in place to regulate the disposal of electronic devices. Furthermore the amount of e-waste is predicted to surge in the future (Khalema 2013: sp).  Large amounts of the waste end up on landfills, are expensive to recycle and pose the risk of exposure to harmful chemicals such as cadmium, chromium and lead (Koka 2015: sp).

Firstly this blog post proceeds to identify the main drivers of change, the summary of the problem and proposed solutions as set forth by three online articles. Furthermore this post aims to critically evaluate the representation of the problem of e-waste in the media by conducting an environmental humanities analysis of the articles. It focuses specifically on the link between E-waste and the notions of the Great Acceleration and new Human Condition as explicated by Holm et al as well as the proposed solutions and the practical implementation thereof by various stakeholders. Grant and Lawhon’s research “Reporting on Rhinos Analysis of the Newspaper Coverage of Rhino poaching” (2014) acts as an example of exploring the role of media in advocating and portraying environmental issues.

The three online articles evaluated are “E-waste: South Africa’s next gold rush?” by Dr.Koebu Khalema, “Meet the silent but dangerous pollutant on our block: E-waste” by Joan Koka and “E-waste recycling can boost the economy” by Simnikiwe Mzekandaba. Here follows a brief summary of the articles:

Who are the drivers of change? What is happening?             What can be done
Companies and designers producing electronic devices Electronic devices are being dumped on landfills and disposed of incorrectly leading to exposure of harmful chemicals.

 

Legislation regulating the disposal of devices

 

Government

 

5% to 8% of municipal solid waste in SA consists of e-waste which is growing three times faster than other forms of waste. Recycling depots for electronic devices

 

Section 21 companies not for profit service providers) such as the e-Waste Association of South Africa

 

 

Lack of infrastructure for recycling, lack of awareness

Lack of technology which aids in recycling of certain components such as batteries

Public awareness campaigns; educating informal recyclers and local communities

extending the lifecycle of electronic products Reusing

 

  Funding  from government and other stakeholders
How to get it done? Means to get it done?

 

Awareness campaigns Money from consumer
Appeal to government Funding from government

According to Holm et al (2015:980) the “Great Acceleration” refers to the incredible advancement of human technologies, powers and consumption in the last 70 years which has operated as a principle driver of Global Change. E-waste is directly tied to the notion of the Great Acceleration. Society’s immense progress in computer technology and the dependence on technologies is a key factor driving the increased production and consumption patterns (Khalema 2013:sp). Drivers for change such as big corporations producing electronic devices have scaled up their production significantly in the past couple of years leading to large amounts of e-waste.  Political and institutional driving factors and powers include the government and companies aiming to increase the economy of businesses and the country, increase trade  and international renown. According to Mzekandaba (2015:sp) government institutions such as state-owned enterprises and municipalities contribute meaningfully to e-waste.

Cultural and societal factors include an increased dependence on technology to simplify life, to entertain and to convey information. Other driving forces include marketing powers which have increased over the years. There has also been an increased focus on a lifestyle of consumption, equating technology with a desired and luxurious life as propagated by the media. On the opposite end of the spectrum organisations such as e-Waste are working hard to be drivers of change in creating awareness and holding stakeholders accountable .

Holm et al introduces the concept of the “New Human Condition” which refers to the manner in which humans aim to cope and react to the ramifications and responsibilities of being “the major driver of planetary change” (2015:983).  Holm proposes that what humans believe and value plays a significant role in what humans will invest in. Furthermore institutionalized interests often override individual and societal interests (2015:982).

This is evident in the abovementioned articles. Africa has long been a dumping ground for e-waste as it posed a cheaper option for the West rather than recycling (Mzekandaba 2015:sp). The interest in a growing economy is an institutionalised interest which overrides possible societal interests such as care for the environment. However these articles present solutions which are potentially lucrative for South Africa and increase the incentive for pro-environmental behaviour. It is a sad reflection on the nature of us as human beings; news articles need to posit the economic viability of recycling in their headlines in order to push the credibility of recycling e-waste.

Grant and Lawhon claim that media articles tend to focus on the negative rather than solutions (2014: 43). All three online articles balance the positive and the negative and propose solution but some are more lacklustre in their call for action. Both Koka and Mzekandaba describe the current situation, focusing on current solutions and possible solutions in the future whilst Khalema provides an in depth analysis of the possible solutions and proposes some practical solutions. These articles display urgency for generating solutions such as job creation but do not call for immediate action by the public.

The proposed solutions are very closely tied to the business and corporate sector. The possibility of recycling gold and other valuable metals from e-waste poses a lucrative opportunity . Furthermore Koka states that e-waste has already created opportunities within the recycling sector such as small-scale independent operators, distributors, large-scale recyclers and dismantlers (2015:sp). Furthermore producers such as Dell, Microsoft and Hewlett Packard have created an alliance surrounding the topic of e-waste management and implementing solutions (Khalema 2013:sp).

Koka ascertains there is a lack of awareness among citizens, policy makers and informal collectors (2015: sp).This would indicate  that there is still a disconnect between various stakeholders. However all three articles propose a collaborative process between informal and formal recyclers, government and institutions. Mzekhebande suggests a collaboration between government and other stakeholders in training informal recyclers. Khamela proposes actively engaging in existing NGO’s such as EWASA and government and institutional funding for small businesses and research in new recycling technology. Khalema suggests   the establishment of a green e-waste channel consisting of multiple stakeholders working together. This can benefit all stakeholders by creating jobs, providing waste to processors and boosting the economy.

Khalema also suggests public participation in the form of a green fee to be paid by consumers when they purchase an electronic device. This green fee would then contribute to the setting up of proper recycling infrastructure. All three articles mention non-profit organisations that can aid the public in disposing of waste but there aren’t any easy practical solutions presented to the public (2015:sp). Koka’s article does not directly involve the public in combatting e-waste but lays the responsibility on waste pickers and government. Similarly Mzekhandabe proposes that it is the municipality’s responsibility to educate households and businesses. This is problematic in the sense that people tend to become unreceptive towards stories that do not directly involve them and citizen voices are largely absent in the media (Grant and Lawhon 2014:42). E-waste management solutions can benefit by including the voices of the general public and other misrepresented voices such as informal recyclers to identify factors which hinder or encourage pro-recycling behaviour. Furthermore raising awareness should not rest squarely on the government’s shoulders but all stakeholders-companies and marketing  and media divisions. Media informs and represents public opinion in a significant way and social media platforms can contribute vastly to education on the subject (Grant and Lawhon 2014: 41).

Africa presents a unique socio-economic makeup where factors such as food security, cultural views on environment and the rise of the middle class, consumerism and digital age all complicate the waste management picture. As Holm proposes, it is necessary to foster a regional and cultural dialogue in order to better understand the interests and incentives of different stakeholders.  A survey  conducted by ITWeb has confirmed that close to half of South African organisations are ignorant of South Africa’s e-waste dumping laws (Khalema 2013: sp).

It is therefore imperative for the media to act as informers and educators in seeking everyday practical means to minimizing the e-waste problem. In conclusion, these three online media articles suggest that the media does present a number of positive solutions to e-waste management which attempts to involve multiple stakeholders such as government, companies and NGO’s. However there is still room for a better understanding of the role of the general public not involved in policy making and the development of a social responsibility to the earth which isn’t necessarily driven by an economic incentive. The recycling behaviours and motives of the average person across the socio-economic spectrum is also something worth looking into in order to give a voice to citizens.

 

References:

Holm, P , Adamson, J,  Huang, H, Kirdan, L, Kitch, S, McCalman, I, Ogude, J, Ronan, M,     Scott, D,  Thompson , K, Travis, C & Wehner, K. 2015. Humanities for the Environment—A Manifesto for Research and Action. Humanities 4:977-992.

Grant, S & Lawhon, M. 2014. Reporting on Rhino’s Analysis of the Newspaper Coverage of Rhino Poaching. Southern African Journal of Environmental Education 30:39-52.

Khalema, K. 2013. E-waste: South Africa’s next gold rush? [O]. Available:

https://waste-management-world.com/a/e-waste-south-africas-next-gold-rush

Accessed 29 March 2016

Koka, J. 2015. Meet the silent but dangerous pollutant on our block: E-waste. [O].

Available: http://mg.co.za/article/2015-03-04-meet-the-silent-but- dangerous-pollutant-on-our-block-e-waste

Accessed 30 March 2016.

Mzekandaba, S. 2015. E-waste recycling can boost the economy. [O]. Available:

http://www.itweb.co.za/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=145983

Accessed 30 March 2016.

 

 

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