Stewardship of the Natural Environment

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Humans often forget the importance of the natural environment that surrounds us. One can become so consumed in the hustle and bustle of daily life that it is easy to forget how our actions affect the environment. It is not often that one considers their home to also be the home of many other species.

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I recently took a trip to the Royal Natal Nature Reserve in South Africa with my family. On my trip, I took note of my surroundings, making a point to notice the fauna and flora of the area as well as any environmental concerns. I found this rewarding as through this journalling process, I learnt the names of plants and birds that I had previously not known before. This made me realise how easy it is to visit a natural place and not see its true beauty. Royal Natal is situated in the Drakensberg and is a popular destination for holiday goers, campers and hikers. People visit it because it makes one feel as if they are truly away from the city and surrounded by nature. This blog aims to discuss my visit to this site in the hopes that the reader will become inspired to make their own trip to a nature reserve or green space and become more aware of the environment that surrounds them.

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During my visit, I took note of some of the fauna and flora of the area. I noticed that most of the flora in the area is indigenous to South Africa. Some of this flora is: Maidenhead ferns, Yellowood trees, Proteas, Drakensberg wild flowers, Aloes, Strelitzia, Sagewood, Dogwood and River Bushwillow, to name a few. On one of my hikes, I noticed that the park had put labels on some of the trees so one could see what it was called. This really impressed me as it shows the effort the park has gone to to educate their visitors about South Africa’s indigenous plants. Some of the fauna in the area is: baboon, Red Winged Scarlet, Hoopoe, Seed-eaters, dassies, Weavers, otter, Rhinoceros Beetle, common Moorhen and Guinea Fowl. I also noticed many tics on my hike which is a good sign of animal life in the area.

Royal Natal is not only a beautiful site for visitors but also is important to the community outside of it. This heritage site brings many foreign visitors as well as visitors from all over South Africa and with them comes money. This income helps the community to make a living by giving them jobs. Royal Natal also educates people about the environment and African landscape, making the public more environmentally conscious. It is a valuable site as it is a natural space where our animals can live and indigenous plants can grow wild.

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However, I did notice several environmental concerns while in the area. One of these was soil erosion. Farmers from the community surrounding Royal Natal leave their herds to graze and follow the same paths down the hills, causing soil erosion. This will eventually become an issue as one will not be able to grow anything in this soil. A solution to this would be to educate these farmers about soil erosion and teach them how to move their cattle to graze in different areas, allowing the plants to replenish themselves.

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The second environmental concern I found was litter. On the hiking paths, one can find sweet wrappers and tissues. This can potentially become dangerous to the animals in the area as they could try to eat it. A solution to this would be to remind people not to litter as well as encourage people to pick up the litter they find on their walks. I picked up a couple pieces of litter and this made me feel like I was playing a small role in helping the environment.

Finally, I noticed water tanks leaking as well as sewerage next to the road in the park. The smell was very unpleasant. This is an environmental threat as this water is not healthy for the animals in the area to drink and is also polluting the environment. A solution to this would be the Royal Natal officials stopping the leak. These sort of problems need to be reported to the park officials.

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If Royal Natal and the Drakensberg could be promoted through media and marketed to more people, it would encourage the public to visit, ultimately reminding people of the importance of nature. Guided hikes as weekend trips could be advertised to the public in the cities, encouraging people to go support the community and heritage site, educating them about the beautiful environment right on their doorstep.

The aim of this blog was to create an awareness of the environment that surrounds us and to encourage the reader to start noticing and appreciating the plants and creatures that share our home in South Africa. One needs to go out and explore nature in order to fully understand the beauty and importance of it. One needs to play their part in protecting these kinds of sites by simply picking up litter or reporting environmental issues to the officials of the parks.

Tall Tales

Introduction:

Trees make up an important part of our environment and our lives. Humans enjoy telling stories and sharing memories of trees, particularly city trees, that are significant to them and that have brought them joy. This blog aims to discuss the four different types of tree narratives outlined by Joanna Dean (2015). An example of a personal story and photograph will be provided for each narrative. Personal tree stories from three other people collected from photo elicitation interviews will also be provided.

A photo elicitation interview can be defined as an interview where the interviewer presents photographs to the interviewee. The interviewee is then encouraged to engage with the photographs. The purpose of this is to initiate a discussion between the interviewer and the interviewee (Tinkler 2013:174). By providing photographs to the interviewee, it makes them more comfortable and open to sharing their thoughts. The interviewee is provided with something that has the potential to spark a thought or remind them of a memory, thus taking the attention and pressure off them (Tinkler 2013:174). Therefore, photo elicitation interviews are valuable as they foster conversations that generate useful data (Tinkler 2013:194).

Personal Narratives:

A Narrative of Service:

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This is a story that involves a tree tending to a human need. When I was growing up, trees provided a source of enjoyment for me. I enjoyed climbing up them. One day, my father and I decided to try build a treehouse in a huge Mulberry tree in my garden. This ended up being a simple platform in the tree. However, I would often go sit there and watch the birds on the branches. This brought me much happiness.

A Narrative of Power:

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This involves a story about a tree having a symbolic or semiotic function. My narrative involves trees becoming a symbol of the control humans have over nature. There is a beautiful road in Johannesburg I sometimes drive down and it always catches my attention. What is so beautiful about this road is there are lines of Oak trees on either side of the road. Considering they are all the same type of tree and are growing in a straight line, this is symbolic of man’s involvement in the growth of these trees. These Oak trees also give the idea of wealth and are often seen in fairly wealthy suburbs, lined up along the road.

 

A Narrative of Heritage:

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This is a story that involves a tree reminding one of their history and traditions. It can also include a tree as a prominent community landmark. When I was very young, my sister and I decided to carve a special message to our grandparents on a tree in their garden. These messages have stayed there ever since, moving higher as the tree grows taller. This tree now serves as a reminder of our history, our youth and our special visits to our grandparents house.

 

A Counter Narrative of the Unruly Tree:

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This involves a story of a tree that has caused a person trouble. My garden wall is situated next to some very tall, ugly looking trees that are on the verge. These trees make a mess on my driveway, dropping their thorny leaves everywhere. They have also grown at a slant due to the slope of the verge. This has become a concern as these trees could easily get struck by lightning, given how tall they are, and fall on the wall. After appealing to the authorities to remove them due to the safety hazard and offering to plant safer, indigenous trees in their place, the authorities refused. Thus, they continue to be a worry.

 

Photo Elicitation Narratives:

After narrating my own stories and showing my interviewees my photographs, they told me their own tree narratives:

18 year old Emma Coppings:

For a narrative of service, Emma told me about an avocado tree that was in the garden of the house she grew up in. It lived in the corner of the garden which was always a very busy corner. She spent a lot of time playing in the shade of that tree, had all her outdoor parties under the tree and she ate the “delicious, buttery avocados” it produced. The Guinea Fowls also loved that tree as they spent a lot of time together and around that tree, pecking in the grass during the day and sleeping there at night.

My narrative of power reminded Emma of the Bonsai’s her friends own. These are beautiful, miniature trees that require a fair amount of attention. They are ornamental living trees that “are quite an art in themselves”. She sees this as an example of human control over trees because through human intervention, one is not letting them grow to their true size. She believes these trees become a symbol of something that is endearing as well as a symbol of wealth and an art, allowing a person to own a variety of different trees whilst not needing a huge garden. It also is a hobby and a skill, becoming something that people can show off.

Emma’s narrative of heritage reflects on her school trip to Victoria Falls. On the way there they made a stop for the night in Botswana. On a walk with her friends, she came across a huge Baobab tree. Five of her friends could fit around the base of the tree while hugging it. She explained that this narrative of the Baobab links to heritage as the Baobab is an important tree in African culture and history. It is believed to be a link to the ancestors as it was tradition that the dead would be buried underneath them.

Emma’s narrative of an unruly tree looks back on her walk to School Mass one morning. While walking, she did not notice a stick-like tree growing in the middle of the path in front of her. She ended up walking into the tree and scratching herself on it’s bark. She believes this is an example of an unruly tree because of how it decided to grow in the middle of the path, defying the man-made structure and becoming a hazard for those walking there.

47 year old Kathryn Coppings:

Kathryn began by telling me about a beautifully shaped tree she had in her garden growing up. It links to the service narrative as, just like my treehouse Mulberry tree, it was perfect for play. She used to play cops and robbers, cowboys and red indians and use this tree as the base camp. They also built a platform in this tree as well as a swing and this became the focal area around which her play with siblings and friends commenced.

My narrative of power linking to human control reminded Kathryn of a couple of trees she has in her garden. They have been shaped to create a certain look and effect. They are regularly pruned into their lollipop shapes to create uniformity and structure. She believes they become a symbol elegance and organisation. This shows the power Kathryn supposes over the trees as they would not naturally grow into these rigid shapes. Lollipop trees can also be considered a symbol of wealth as one often sees them in wealthy suburbs.

Kathryn linked her narrative of heritage to the idea of trees reminding one of a tradition. Growing up, her parents always liked to use real Fir trees for their Christmas tree. Fir trees have now become a landmark and part of the families’ traditions for this special holiday. They never use plastic Christmas trees. She had a faithful Fir tree growing outside her house and every year at Christmas time, her dad would chop a large branch off the tree, pot it and place it in the lounge. The whole family would then spend time decorating it together.

According to Kathryn, trees are always the ideal place to park under on a hot summer day. At her work, this was the choice instead of in the hot, searing sun. The only problem was, when she returned to her car, it was covered in little drops of sticky tree glue. This was a job and a half for her to try remove. Therefore, she believes that this tree is the perfect example of an unruly tree.

76 year old Maureen Yardley:

Maureen was very excited to tell me her stories and began with telling me about her tree narrative of service. On her grandparents’ farm there was a forest of Gum trees. These trees served as a wind break and provided cool shade to create respite from the heat of the sun. As a child, she played under them, creating fairy gardens and using the acorn-like seeds to create small tea gardens.

After narrating my power narrative, she started telling me about the trees in her garden she cropped quite often, to keep them within a reasonable height. Her family felt that she was unfair to keep them within her idea of the final height she wanted. However, the effect was to her requirements. For example, the Leopard Tree in her garden never attained the height it was supposed to eventually become. This symbolised human intervention.

According to Maureen, the three Jacaranda trees she had growing on the periphery of her garden were symbolic of the Pietermaritzburg area. The beautiful, purple flowers in Spring were an indication to students that it was time to study for upcoming examinations. Sadly these trees are becoming extinct in that area of the country because they are not indigenous and are now considered a nuisance factor as branches break and cause damage. They also drink lots of the water in the area. The Jacaranda trees can be considered a narrative of heritage as they have become a landmark for certain areas in the country.

My narrative of an unruly tree reminded Maureen of a lemon tree she had in the garden of her old house. It was fairly old and was not bearing the necessary fruit she required from it. She was told by an old lady that she should, in Maureen’s words, “cut its skirts and then beat it with a stick whilst warning it verbally that it would be uprooted unless it bore lemons.” Her children thought she had lost her mind when she duly carried out the advice given by the old lady. One month later this unruly tree bore prolifically and surprised everyone.

Conclusion:

This essay aims to create an awareness of the importance of trees in our lives and in our cities and urban environments. This essay also shows the wealth of information that can be generated through a photo elicitation interview. The photos helped the interviewees to comfortably share their stories and memories. It is hoped that the awareness created through this blog post will encourage readers to also relate to the photographs provided and share their own narratives and experiences they’ve had with trees, with others. The more one emphasises the importance of trees, the more people will start to appreciate and look after them.

Sources Consulted:

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 Silent Killer

Introduction:

Violence can be understood as a sudden catastrophe, confrontation or devastation. An earthquake, explosion or a tsunami are all considered examples of violence. However, there are other forms of violence that are often overlooked. Violence is not always something that is sudden but can occur over a long period and go by gradually and unnoticed. It can be a silent killer with delayed destruction.

This blog post aims to discuss Rob Nixon’s (2011) notion of ‘slow violence’ as well as provide a narrative of four images based on an environmental concern which can be regarded as a form of ‘slow violence’. This aims to increase the public’s awareness of the environmental concern and its silent destruction of the ecosystem and biodiversity.

Slow Violence:

Slow violence is a term introduced by Rob Nixon (2011). It can be defined as violence that is gradual and that goes unnoticed, followed by a destruction that is spread out over a long period of time. Often this form of violence is not viewed as violence at all due to the public’s general understanding of violence (Nixon 2011:2). Violence is seen as an immediate action, erupting into something that can be seen. Humanity is only aware and responsive towards violence they can see. Yet due to slow violence’s invisibility, it is overlooked (Nixon 2011:14). One needs to begin to engage with this type of violence, providing narratives and representations to allow for a better understanding of what is happening in the world today (Nixon 2011:2).

Some examples of slow violence provided by Nixon are climate change, deforestation, toxic drift, radioactivity left as a result of war, acidifying oceans and other environmental problems that are slowly unfolding. They appear small now but will lead to massive problems in the future with dire consequences (Nixon 2011:2).

The Narrative:

I have provided a narrative that focuses on the consequences, effects and damages of slow violence. Four photographs have been provided which symbolise the growing environmental concern of deforestation and development of the city.

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This is a photograph of a beautiful tree I took on a hike in the Drakensberg. It stood out for me because of how tall it was. Trees are a symbol of growth and life. They provide shade, homes and food for animals as well as oxygen. They keep our air clean and free it of pollution, absorbing nearly a ton of CO2 in a lifetime (Davis 2012). They are something beautiful in our world that we often take for granted.

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I decided to go for a trip around Pretoria, taking note of different environmental concerns as I went. On my trip, I noticed this fallen tree that had been hacked and chopped. Right next to this tree was a fence that stood erect and appeared to be new. The comparison created between the fallen tree and the erect, man-made fence became a significant image for me as well as a symbol of the effects of deforestation. Trees are removed, chopped down and cleared away to make space for man whether it is to build fences, buildings or for farmland. This is happening at an alarming rate all over the world and because it is considered slow violence, the public does not see the immediate effects of it.

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Eventually this destruction and deforestation leads to what is seen in this image. Cities that are consumed by buildings, houses and cars where few to no trees remain. Trees also absorb the sound pollution of the areas they surround but because of the lack of trees, in cities such as this, it becomes very noisy. One only hears hooting, traffic and people. Biodiversity and ecosystems that survived due to the existence of the trees disappear with the trees. Animal life as well as other plant species also disappear from the area when the trees are cleared away in order for buildings to be built. As the population in South Africa and the world grows, so does the need for more space for houses, buildings and farmland, resulting in more trees and natural environments being destroyed.

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This environmental concern is an example of slow violence as not many people notice the effects of deforestation and rapid development now, but eventually when there are not enough trees to clean our air, humans will suffer from all sorts of lung diseases. Many different types of ecosystems will have been destroyed. When we reach this point it will be too late to turn back. We will all need to wear masks, just like in the photograph due to the extent of the air pollution. The hole in the ozone layer will keep growing at an alarming rate and climate change will become worse. The effects of deforestation may be small and slow now, but in the future, it may turn out to be our silent killer.

Conclusion:

This photo essay aims to create awareness of slow violence as well as the importance of taking steps towards stopping environmental concerns such as deforestation and destruction of ecosystems before it is too late. It is hoped that the awareness created through this blog post will encourage readers to start educating more people about slow violence by providing their own narratives and representations of slow violence, so as to create stories that are dramatic enough to rouse public sentiment.

Sources Consulted:

Davis, J. 2012. 5 Unbelievable Facts About Trees. [O]. Available:
http://www.takepart.com/photos/5-amazing-unbelievable-facts-about-trees/lonely-end-rainbow
Accessed 24 April 2016

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

Life Companions

Introduction:

Humans are historically linked to a wide range of species on social, biological and behavioural levels. The human body is made up of more bacteria cells than human cells, outnumbering the human cells ten to one, yet are not noticed due to them being smaller than human cells (Statt 2013). Therefore, it can be considered that our evolution is due to relationships with certain bacteria, fungi, and germs. Often humans forget the connection they have with other species. Humans are not the apex because we are a companion species, relying on other species to survive.

This blog post aims to discuss Donna Haraway’s (2007) notion of the ‘companion species’ as well as personal narratives of relations between pets and humans in the form of a photo essay. Four narratives will be provided, each with a photograph narrating the pet-human relationship.

The Companion Species:

The companion species is a term that was coined by Donna Haraway (2007). It is an active relationship with animals and other organic beings. By living with animals, they become apart of our story, as we do theirs and we create a history together. Haraway (2007:9) describes the Companion Species Manifesto as a “kinship claim” where various species become part of the human family tree, preventing one from considering only themselves. Humanity therefore only exists due to the companionship with certain species.

Haraway (2007) looks at the relationship between dogs and humans and how their lives join to explain the notions of the companion species further. Dogs have an interesting co-history with humans. One that can be considered cruel, full of waste and loss, but also one of joy, intelligence, play, labor and teamwork (Haraway 2007:12). They have been kept as pets, creating fond memories and mourned by their owners (Haraway 2007:14). Dogs protected humans and helped them hunt. They co-evolved together, becoming friends and partners. It is this relationship with human beings that makes them an example of a companion species.

Companion Narratives:

The four photographs below are accompanied by personal narratives that highlight pet-human relations.

 

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This is my dog called Pepper. I adopted her as a puppy from the SPCA when I was seven years old. Originally we were told she was a Boxer but as she grew up, she was nothing like a Boxer and instead was a “pavement special”. As a puppy, Pepper loved to play fetch and we would spend hours together in the garden playing. When she gets excited she does a little dance and jumps around, shaking her head about with her toy in her mouth. Because I got Pepper at such a young age, I’ve grown up with her and she was there with me throughout my whole school career. After a long day at school, I would go sit in the garden with her and tell her all about it. She has been a comfort and very close friend who I have confided in throughout the years. I still believe to this day that she smiles when she’s happy. Even though she is now getting old with arthritis in both her front legs, I still love her with all my heart and she has not stopped getting excited about the small things, especially when she gets a belly rub!

 

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This is a photograph of my late grandfather, Roland Yardley and his little Jack Russel called Tasha. Tasha was originally his son’s dog who had adopted her at the age of two from a friend moving overseas. After a short amount of time with her, his son moved to Dubai for work and asked Roland to look after her until he returned in two years time. Roland and Tasha formed such a close bond during this time that when his son returned, he did not want to separate them. Tasha was a playful, clever little dog with lots of energy. Often she thought of herself as a human being, barking to remind everyone she hadn’t received her daily dog biscuit or had not gone for a walk. Every evening she would fall asleep on Roland’s lap while he watched TV. Roland became very sick with emphysema and cancer and fought these illnesses for many years. Tasha was with him through it all, and would sit and lick the wounds on his hands (as seen in the photograph), remarkably making them better. Sadly, Roland died December 2015 and Tasha knew he was gone. She was depressed and very quiet for days. About three weeks later, she too died from a liver problem. We did not see this as a coincidence but rather due to their bond being so strong, she could not live without him.

 

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This is a photograph of Matthew Malcolm with his dog Bailey. Bailey has more breeds within her genetics than anyone could begin to guess. She was sold to Matthew’s family as a giant breed. They wrongly believed the salesman and promptly purchased a kennel the size of a small apartment in anticipation for her fully grown size. Bailey however was nowhere close to a giant breed but rather grew to just the right height needed to knock tea cups off the coffee table with her tail. What Bailey lacked in height she made up for in character! This patchy pooch attempts to look fierce and intimidating when any stranger enters the house but this is a textbook case of a dog whose bark is greater than their bite. Deep down Bailey is just a big softy who loves to bury herself in a blanket when it is cold and refuses to walk on grass when it is wet. She is always devoted and while she may refuse to fetch a ball, she lives to go on walks. It is always a special time for Matthew to go for a walk with her. She has brought a lot of joy and happiness into Matthew’s life. They have had Bailey since she was very young, and while she is now much older, she is still equally loved and adored.

 

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This is a photograph of my cousin, Thomas Yardley and his cat Ace. Ace was found with his sister on the side of the street, abandoned and all alone. Messages were sent around social media asking people to adopt the stray kittens and Thomas’ mom, Helen, jumped at the opportunity, adopting Ace into their home. Since then, Ace has brought lots of happiness into their lives and has created funny memories they can now look back on. Ace fancies himself as a tightrope walker and has fallen out the window dropping one story yet still landing on his feet. He is definitely not aloof but loves to be given attention and affection. Ace is a very talkative cat. He often bounds down the stairs, stopping halfway to poke his head through the opening in the steps to meow hello when they arrive home. Ace lies next to Thomas every afternoon while he works, naps or watches TV. He has been a friend, playmate and comfort to Thomas. They are both grateful every day to have him in their lives.

 

Conclusion:

This photo essay aims to create awareness of the companion species as well as the importance of other species in the lives of humans, being it bacteria, fungi or our pets. It is hoped that the awareness created through this blog post will encourage readers to start respecting and appreciating the importance of the animals that are around them. It is hoped that special relationships, like the ones seen above, created with animals like dogs and cats, do not go unnoticed.

Sources Consulted:

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

Statt, N. 2013. Fact: You carry around enough bacteria to fill a large soup can. [O]. Available:
http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2011-09/fyi-how-much-bacteria-do-people-carry-around
Accessed 16 April 2016

Living in the Anthropocene

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Photographer: Sarah Coppings, 2016. Johannesburg.

Introduction

Sound is all around us but often humans do not always notice these sounds. If one starts consciously listening, many sounds such as traffic, the hum of running appliances, an aeroplane or a lawnmower can suddenly be heard. One will always be able to hear different sounds, no matter one is. However, the sounds generated by humans are starting to drown out natural sounds such as birds singing and this can potentially drown out bird song for good. Studies have shown that because noise pollution has become so pervasive, humans are becoming accustomed to shutting out all sounds including the limited natural sounds around us (Berman 2015).

This blog aims to discuss the soundscape of the Anthropocene and various ecosystems under threat from everyday human activities by using the theories of Gisli et al (2013), Steffen et al (2011), Waters et al (2016) and Whitehouse (2015). These theories will be used to discuss the key propositions of the Anthropocene and provide an analysis and critique of the sound journal compiled. An account of animals and bird life that existed years ago will also be provided.

Key Propositions of the Anthropocene

Human activity can be considered the driver of global environmental change. Therefore, theorists are suggesting that this is an emerging epoch in planetary history, a successor of the last epoch known as ‘Holocene’ and thus should be called the ‘Anthropocene’ (Gisli 2013:4). The Anthropocene recognises the change from a nature-dominated environment to that of a human-dominated global environment (Gisli 2013:5).
Waters et al (2016) proposes that the start of the Anthropocene was due to factors such as the beginning of agriculture, animal domestication and the deforestation of large areas of land which started the increase of the release of atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane. There are three main driving human forces responsible for the anthropogenic signatures being left on the Earth and these are namely the acceleration of technological development, the growth of human population as well as the rapid increase of consumption (Waters 2016).
The Anthropocene sees the decline in the Earth’s existing biological diversity. Fauna and flora as well as various ecosystems are under threat from the everyday human activity that is leaving these anthropogenic signatures on the Earth. Despite the increase in the allocation of protected areas, there is a rapid decline of the vertebrate population, the extent of forest cover and the ocean’s coral reefs (Steffen 2011:856). Natural habitats are being destroyed due to the development of farm lands, cities and roads. Wild animals are being replaced by domesticated animals in order to keep up with the food demands of the growing population (Waters 2016). This biological diversity destruction is all due to human’s ecological footprint, the number of alien species being left to grow, the management of sustainable forests and overexploitation (Steffen 2011:856).

A Soundscape of the Anthropocene

For two days I kept a journal of the sounds I heard around me by recording them on my phone. Every time I entered a new space such as the city and the suburbs, I made a new entry in my sound journal. The sound journal made me consciously aware of the noises surrounding me and made me notice sounds I had not noticed before.

Some of the constant sounds I noticed in the places that I recorded was the noise of people talking, the sound of cars on the road and the breeze. Some of the prominent sounds I noticed in the city was the sound of the cars driving past, buses brakes as they stopped, pedestrians shouting and whistling, people walking past, hooting taxis as well as the wind. Some of the sounds I recorded in my garden in the suburbs was the sound of the ice-cream truck driving down the road, dogs barking, a lawnmower, an aeroplane flying past, birds singing, people talking next door, the ticking of the electric fence, the hum of electrical appliances and the breeze rustling the leaves in the trees.

The various sounds I noticed through doing my sound journal can be considered a soundscape of the Anthropocene. Although there were a few natural sounds such as the breeze and a couple of birds, the majority of the noises noted were man-made. The Anthropocene links to the idea of human dominance of the planet (Gisli 2013:7). Due to man-made sounds dominating the natural sounds in the spaces recorded, there is a sense of the Anthropocene. The lack of the natural sounds shows the damage being caused to ecosystems by humans as wildlife is disappearing and thus links to the Anthropocene (Whitehouse 2015:54).

The Sounds of Birds

For the next two days of my sound journalling process, I attempted to only record the sounds of birds. At first I started in the city and this presented quite a challenge as there were not many bird sounds one could hear, and if there were, they were drowned out by all the other man-made sounds. One of the bird sounds I did notice was doves as these birds are fairly common around the city. However in the suburbs, I was able to record some sounds of birds including that of the Hardeda, Doves, Loerie, Indian Mynas and Sparrows. Listening to these birds in the Anthropocene meant that I was not only able to hear the sounds of the birds. They were always accompanied by other man-made noises in the area.

The Anthropocene means the destruction of the understanding of nature being a separate entity from society. The human world and non-human world no longer can exist as separate entities. The Anthropocene sees the placement of the human species above all other species of the world. This can be seen in the way humans have predominantly influenced the mix of sounds that can be heard around us and therefore, the sound of bird song is drowned out (Whitehouse 2015:54). It is devastating to realise that the pure sound of bird song is becoming such an uncommon occurrence.

The bird sounds noticed came from only a few bird species. Bird species such as the Indian Mynas and doves are becoming the most commonly found birds as they seem to be growing in numbers. However I noticed that other bird species, such as the Weavers that used to be so common in my garden, could not be heard. The decline of the different bird species one can hear is clearly an example of the dwindling biodiversity evident in the Anthropocene. The development of the area, cutting down of the trees and the destruction of the natural area surrounding us is destroying the biodiversity of the bird life. The different species of birds and other wildlife are clearly under threat and the eco-systems are being affected by human activity (Whitehouse 2016:55). Thus, the bird songs are associated with the environmental changes taking place (Whitehouse 2015:56).

An Account of the Past

I interviewed my parents who grew up in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa and asked them to provide an account of the birds and animals they used to see in their neighbourhood and town when they were growing up. They explained how they used to find chameleons all over their garden and would often play with them. There used to be a lot more creepy crawlies such as caterpillars and many kinds of butterflies in the garden which aren’t as commonly seen anymore. My dad explained how he used to see fireflies and is saddened that he has not seen one since he was a child. Blue headed lizards had also been a common animal found in the garden. There used to be lots of monkeys around but as the area around them developed, more trees were chopped down, the monkeys reduced in numbers and weren’t as commonly seen in the garden. They believe the disappearance of these animals that used to be so commonly seen was due to the pesticides people started to use as well as the development of the area.

This interview draws attention to the disappearing ecosystems and dwindling biodiversity of our present day as there are so many animals mentioned that are not found as easily anymore. I am truly saddened by the fact that I have never been able to find a chameleon or a firefly in my garden.The mention of pesticides, the chopping down of trees and the development of the area are all examples of how humans have changed the environment and therefore killed and chased off these previously common species.

Since my time at school, which was only a couple of years ago, I have noticed a loss of biodiversity as well as the degradation of ecosystems. I live near a river in Johannesburg, South Africa so I remember listening to all the frogs croaking down by the river in the middle of the night when it started to rain. I do not hear as many frogs anymore and I rarely see them now showing how the pollution of that river and ecosystem has caused a loss of the biodiversity. In my horse riding arena as well as at school, I used to see plovers laying their eggs in the sand and we used to watch them run around. They are not seen as often now. I believe they were chased off and not able to find as many safe places to lay their eggs due to the development of the area and people’s dislike of them.

Conclusion

After keeping a sound journal of the sounds found in different spaces and analysing it, one can see that our soundscape reveals that we are living in the Anthropocene. Natural noises such as bird song has essentially been drowned out by the noise pollution created by mankind, showing the loss of ecosystems and biodiversity due to man’s destructive footprint. The sounds of some species has been lost showing how the Anthropocene is evidenced by the loss of biodiversity.

This blog aims to create awareness of the Anthropocene and the loss of biodiversity and ecosystems surrounding people by providing an analysis of a sound journal. It is hoped that the awareness created through this blog post will encourage readers to start paying attention to the sounds around them in the Anthropocene and making others aware of it.

 

Sources Consulted:

Berman, A. 2015. Noise pollution impacts our ability to hear nature. [O]. Available:
http://www.mnn.com/health/healthy-spaces/stories/noise-pollution-impacts-our-ability-to-hear-nature
Accessed 9 April 2016

Gisli, P 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.

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.

Drought Devastation

drought-in-kzn-south-africa-e1436361878587

Severe drought in KZN. pic: THINKSTOCK

Who and what are the drivers of change?

What is happening?

What can be done?

  • El Nino
  • A lack of dams being built
  • A lack of maintenance on infrastructure causing pipes to break and leak
  • A growing population
  • A lack of conservation of water in the agricultural sector
  • Global warming and climate change
  • Pollution of dams and rivers
  • The population in South Africa has grown and the available water for the people has not grown with it
  • The water department has not made the proper preparations for drought and El Nino
  • Water departments and municipalities have not spent their full budgets they are given for development
  • Crops and livestock are dying due to the lack of water leading to food shortages and rapidly increasing food prices
  • Dams and rivers are dry
  • Five of South Africa’s provinces declared disaster zones
  • Putting water restrictions in place to conserve water
  • Developing infrastructure and preparing for droughts
  • Fixing leaks in infrastructure to save water
  • Stopping pollution in rivers and dams to increase amount of clean water

Introduction

The majority of the earth’s surface is water and 75% of the human body is water. Therefore, one can see that water is one of the most important resources needed to ensure the survival of mankind. Yet, it is becoming one of the scarcest sources. Without it, one is not able to grow healthy crops and livestock resulting in a serious lack of food. South Africa has been facing the worst drought seen since 1982 with temperatures reaching new highs (Allison 2015). Rivers and dams have dried up, crops and livestock are dead and now the South African people are desperate for solutions.

This blog aims to discuss the growing environmental issue of drought by using the theories of Poul Holm et al. seen in the article ‘Humanities for the Environment- A manifesto for research and action’ (2015) as well as the theories of Shelby Grant and Mary Lawhon in the article, ‘Reporting on rhinos: analysis of the newspaper coverage of rhino poaching’ (2014). These theories will be used to provide an environmental analysis and critique of three media articles that address the subject of drought in South Africa. These articles are ‘Farmers bear brunt of South Africa’s severe drought’ by Simon Allison from The Guardian (2015), ‘Too late to avert water disaster’ by Sipho Kings from the Mail & Guardian (2015) and ‘In South Africa, volunteer water delivers bring relief to drought areas’ by Robyn Dixon from Los Angeles Times (2016). A brief overview of the issue will be provided and various questions regarding drought will be answered by making reference to these media articles.

A brief overview of the drought in South Africa

One of the main factors of water shortages in South Africa is a very strong El Nino, intensified as a result of climate change. The increased temperatures of El Nino cause a reduction in rainfall therefore bringing drought to Southern Africa (Allison 2015). As a result, dams and rivers are dry, farmers’ crops and livestock are dying and food shortages are on the rise. People who rely on the food they grow on their plots have been forced to use their monthly grants to buy food. Communities have been left desperate for drinking water (Dixon 2016).

According to Sipho Kings (2015), the lack of dams being built and lack of maintenance on existing infrastructure are other factors that have contributed to the drought. This is due to the growing South African population needing more water than is available. Therefore the water department and municipalities have not put the proper plans and preparations into place for droughts like this (Kings 2015). Water restrictions were put into place in various provinces to help with the water shortages.

Do the drivers for change relate to the “Great Acceleration” of human technologies, powers and consumption?

According to the three media articles, the drivers of the change and the drought in South Africa are primarily related to political and societal factors. The “Great Acceleration” refers to human technologies and consumption which act as one of the main drivers of Global Warming. These human advances have changed the nitrogen and carbon cycles of the planet and as a result it has caused an increase in endangered and extinct animals and greenhouse gases. This has caused weather patterns to change and an increased acidification of the ocean, destroying the planet in such a way that it will never be able to recover (Holm 2015:980).

Therefore, one can link the drivers of the drought in South Africa to the “Great Acceleration”. The growing population of society contributes to climate change due to the increasing amount of greenhouse gases being released given the protein humans eat and the increasing air pollution from the cars and factories humans operate. This all plays a part in intensifying the strength of El Nino, resulting in the temperatures getting hotter and rainfall getting scarce. Humans’ greed makes them constantly want more and therefore consume more, driving this change. Increasing demands for clean water are not met due to water municipality’s lack of preparation and planning as well as the pollution going into the dams, rivers and oceans (Kings 2015).

How does the absence or presence of solutions relate to “The New Human Condition”?

“The New Human Condition” refers to how humans react to the consequences and responsibilities of environmental issues. Often humans will have no charge to action and ignore the situations. Humans may respond with denial or despair. However, there are those that chose to contribute solutions to the problem. Humans often focus on the short term rather than the long term (Holm 2015:983). The three media articles all provide solutions to the problem of drought by suggesting ways in which people can start to help the situation. This involves things such as implementing water restrictions and transporting water to communities that need it by taking part in voluntary water trucking efforts. The Los Angeles Times (2016) mentions Caroline van Saasen who set up a Facebook page to arrange donated water deliveries to communities in need and was very successful, getting many volunteers signing up (Dixon 2016). This solution may inspire a response particularly from companies that already have delivery trucks running to the areas in need. However, it may cause a lack of action from the general public as not everyone is able to travel with water to the communities in need. Some people may also feel that they have access to clean water and therefore they do not have to worry about the situation. However, The Guardian (2015) mentions water restrictions being implemented involving the reduction of water used for watering the garden and limiting showers to three minutes (Allison 2015). The Mail and Guardian (2016) mentions Jacob Zuma’s plea to the public to close running taps and report leaking pipes to the authorities (Kings 2015).  These solutions can easily be implemented and call to action the general public as it is little things people can start to do to save water.

Do the proposed solutions engage with the business / corporate sector?

The solution proposed in the article from the Los Angeles Times by Robyn Dixon (2016) can definitely be directed to the corporate/ business sector. This solution involves volunteers trucking water in bottles or tanks across the country to various communities that are in desperate need for water. This solution can easily be carried out by business that are travelling in the direction of the communities, as they can stop off to deliver water on their way. Companies can also sponsor delivery trucks to carry water to these communities as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility. Large food companies such as Spar, Checkers and Pick n’ Pay could be interested in taking part with the community to help ease the effects of the drought as they have large trucks constantly travelling all over South Africa with food. They could easily make a little bit of space in their trucks for bottles of water, which could be delivered to the communities as they travel through them.

Do the proposed solutions and means to do it stem from collaborative processes of research, stakeholder engagement and public participation?

The Los Angeles Times (2016) provides a solution that was proposed by an individual, Caroline van Saasen, who promoted her idea on Facebook. She is a member of the public that wanted to help those suffering badly from the drought. The general public then reacted to her proposed idea, making it become a collaborative effort where volunteers work together to fight the drought.

The solutions provided by the Mail & Guardian however, stem from a collaborative process of research and public participation as everyone needed to implement water restrictions.

Are the solutions translated into practical means that can easily be achieved by the public?

The Guardian’s (2015) solution of water restrictions being implemented by the public and limiting showers to three minutes is an easily achievable solution (Allison 2015). If everyone limited the amount of water they used, there would then be enough water to go around, ensuring more people have clean drinking water and possibly saving the crops and livestock. The Mail and Guardian (2015) solution of closing running taps and reporting leaking pipes to the authorities can also be easily achieved by the public (Kings 2015).  All the public has to do is just be more aware of their surroundings and take a little bit of extra effort to start saving water.

The solutions provided by the Los Angeles Times (2016) are directed more at corporations than the general public. However, people could try to encourage the businesses they work at to take part in the delivery of water to communities. This could then increase the businesses that participate.

The solutions mentioned in the three media articles all focus on how the public can solve the problem of the drought in the short-term. However, there is no mention of what the public can do to prevent drought in the long term. The coverage in the media of this specific drought and the absence of how the public can solve the long lasting problem of drought is an issue (Grant & Lawhon, 2014: 41).

Closing Thoughts

Human beings tend to forget how important water is to ensure our survival. This blog post aims to create an awareness of the growing problem of climate change, El Nino and drought in South Africa by providing an environmental analysis on three media articles. It is hoped that he awareness created through this blog post will encourage the reader to take further steps to slow the rate of climate change and save water.

For more environmental analyses similar to this one on different topics, search the hashtag #DigEcoAction. Please share this blog post to start creating awareness so mankind can save the environment before it is too late.

Sources Consulted

Allison, S. 2015. [O]. Available:
http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/nov/17/farmers-bear-brunt-of-south-africas-severe-drought-all-we-can-do-is-pray
Accessed 2 April 2016

Dixon, R. 2016. In South Africa, volunteer water deliveries bring relief to drought areas. [O]. Available:
http://www.latimes.com/world/africa/la-fg-south-africa-drought-20160122-story.html
Accessed 2 April 2016

Grant, S & Lawhon, M. 2014. Reporting on rhinos: analysis of the newspaper coverage of rhino poaching. Southern African Journal of Environmental Education 30:39-52.

Holm, P et al. 2015. Humanities for the Environment- A manifesto for research and action. Humanities 4:977-992.

Kings, S. 2015. Too late to avert water disaster. [O]. Available:
http://mg.co.za/article/2015-11-05-too-late-to-avert-water-disaster
Accessed 2 April 2016

Severe Drought in KZN. Sa. [O].  Available:
http://southafricanmag.com
Accessed 2 April 2016