Press Release: Environmentalists protest against Zuma’s plans for our coast

Earthlife Africa Durban

The national government wants to fast track service delivery and reduce unemployment and poverty through “Operation Phakisa”.

It won’t work. Phakisa has very little to do with poverty alleviation and everything to do with profits for corporates, most likely with the familiar kickbacks for well-connected tenderpreneurs and their political allies. President Jacob Zuma is releasing a report today on Operation Phakisa which may provide more details on how our coast will be plundered for short term economic gain and profit, potentially damaging our environment beyond repair. Given the dubious financial rationale behind projects like the port and offshore oil exploration in the dangerous Argulhas Current (Exxon proposes to explore at 3.5km depth), our economic, ecological and social crises will intensify.

Zuma claims that Operation Phakisa is modelled on the success of Malaysia’s “Big Fast Results” methodology. However, the Malaysian government’s “Annual Report 2011”, reveals enormous differences between South African and Malaysian conditions and state programmes.

Malaysia’s programme includes “Addressing the cost of living”. This involves improving the agriculture supply chain to ensure minimal food loss, as well as controlling the price of essential grocery items. Malaysia also doubled the number of clinics under the programme. Part of the programme was “Improving student outcomes”. Literacy and numeracy were improved under the programme so that Malaysia now has a 97% literacy rate and 98% numeracy rate for primary school children. Zuma’s government will be remembered, instead, for the culling of students: in 2009 only 22% were forced out by grade 11, and by 2013 the rate of expulsion had reached nearly 50%. These are just some of the ways that Malaysia’s success stories contrast with Zuma’s Operation Phakisa.

Earthlife Africa Durban (ELA) and the South Durban Community Environment Alliance (SDCEA) are concerned about the speed with which public participation for projects like oil exploration and shipping expansion take place, the general lack of advertising and the failure of government to address concerns of communities, labour and environmentalists.  “Phakisa” means to “hurry up”, and while we would like government to hurry up and provide better health care, water and sanitation, affordable electricity, education, housing, and service delivery, public participation is something which should certainly not be hurried, especially when these plans could have such devastating long-term consequences.

The first phase of Phakisa is to explore the economic potential of our oceans, and will be carried out in 5 years. It is an absolute indictment of Zuma’s priorities that the second phase – which involves overhauling our broken primary health care system – will only take place after the first phase is completed. In other words our government will “hurry up” when it comes to providing subsidies for multi-national corporations, but will take a long time when it comes to more urgent matters like improving our healthcare system.

Our coast could be subject to huge oil spills comparable to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, with disastrous long-term consequences for the tourism and fishing industries. Were these plans to go ahead, the climate crisis would be amplified and South Africa’s own carbon-budget strategy of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 34% by 2020 would be sabotaged. Companies which have applied for oil exploration licenses such as ExxonMobil (EM) have an appalling environmental record, such as  the 11 million US gallon Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989 (the fishing industry has still not recovered), a 30 million gallon Brooklyn oil spill, a Baton Rouge refinery leak in June 2012 which leaked thousands of pounds of toxic chemicals, the rupture of the company’s Pegasus pipeline which spilled thousands of barrels of crude tar sands oil over the town of Mayflower, Arkansas, as well as the Yellowstone river oil spill where a pipeline break leaked 159 000 litres of oil into the Yellowstone river, to name a few.

Climate Change

SDCEA and ELA are concerned that should drilling commence this would break SA’s carbon budget. Already our emission rate per person is 43% higher than the global average. The vast amount of oil in existing reserves, are known as the ‘carbon bubble,’ or ‘unburnable reserves’, because if these reserves are actually brought into production, then climate change will enter the runaway stage, with extreme consequences for many species’ very survival, including our own. We should definitely not be exploring for any new reserves.

Peak Oil

“Peak Oil” is the point in time when the maximum rate of petroleum extraction is reached after which the rate of production is expected to enter terminal decline. EM’s own spokesman has said “All the easy oil and gas has pretty much been found. Now comes the hard work in finding and producing oil from more challenging environments and work areas”. Oil exploration now takes place in environmentally sensitive areas, and deeper in the ocean where there is more risk to the environment in terms of oil spills. According to the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO), the peak of world oilfield discoveries occurred in 1965 and the rate of discovery has been falling steadily since. ELA believes that the hard work should go into alternatives to fossil fuels and not into chasing every last drop of oil. ELA proposed that SA should transition to a low-carbon economy and invest in improving public transport. Ecological farming could drastically reduce oil inputs while improving soils and reversing soil degradation.

Job Creative

EM has admitted that oil drilling will create very few jobs for South Africans. In fact the entire offshore drilling industry in the US has only created 12 500 jobs. Furthermore the profits will go overseas with very little benefit for the SA economy which EM did not dispute in a meeting with ELA and SDCEA.

Seismic testing

Oil drilling companies want to use seismic testing to explore for oil and gas. This involves blasting air through “air guns” which should be more accurately described as air cannons. There is usually an array of about 12 – 48 of these synchronised to create a single simultaneous pulse of sound. Together about 3000-8000 cubic inches of air are fired. The sounds are powerful enough to generate echoes from several geologic boundary layers below the bottom of the ocean. There is cause for concern as whales have been found washing ashore and fleeing in panic after exposure to sonar systems. The impacts of this have been thoroughly studied and show that whales, dolphins, fish, squid and turtles are all clearly impacted by seismic testing. There are clear avoidance responses in ranges of 1 to 7km. Very little is known about marine mammal behaviour and so these activities may have effects that are not yet recognised.

ELA and SDCEA call on all South Africans to support the campaign against oil exploration and to support environmentally sustainable solutions. What is needed is mass mobilisation against the rape of our environmental resources for the sake of corporate profits and government corruption. These come at the expense of the environment and have no real benefits for SA citizens. Instead, the Million Climate Jobs campaign is worthy of support, as it seeks to identify projects which trade unions, communities and environmentalists can unite behind, in order to solve our unemployment and climate crises simultaneously. It is time for South Africa to reject fossil fuels and to move towards a sustainable future by improving public transport, localising the economy, pursuing natural farming and renewable energy.

CONTACTS:
Earthlife Africa Durban:

Alice Thomson
Cell: +27 84 564 3891
Email: Alicetho [at] ispace.co.za
Website: www.earthlife.org.za

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