Agripa Munyai gets to grips with Aquaponics. Image courtesy of Sustain Our Africa
The inaugural Sustain Our Africa Summit, Festival and Expo took place in and around the Victoria and Albert Waterfront last week, bringing together a diverse range of people engaging with the toughest questions regarding the sustainability of our species, ecosystems and planet as a whole.
The summit took place over three days and speakers from a massive diversity of backgrounds spoke, broadly around the topic of ‘does Africa have enough, for all, forever?’. Even if you didn’t make it to the event, you can watch videos of the speakers here
, and access Change Agent, the official communication’s platform for the summit here
. The Change Agent magazine
is in and of itself amazing, with informative articles and interviews across a wide gamut of people, from small scale farmers to academics, from politicians to poets.
For me the conference was fascinating, overwhelming, tiring, inspiring and informative all at once. I found myself listening to every speaker with rapt attention, trying to unearth what they felt and knew about the challenges and opportunities of the rapidly approaching future.
Dr Ian McCullum was the first speaker at the summit and for me, his insights into human psychology really framed the entire discourse of the event. Amoungst other things, he spoke of the structure of the human brain and how it possesses three main areas which dictate our behaviour. The inner most part is known as the ‘reptilian brain’ and is characterised by selfish actions, short-termisim, territorialism and a host of other crocodile like characteristics. Next is the ‘mammalian brain’; capable of socialisation and family recognition, the mammalian brain is the key to our understanding of the social elements of this world. Finally, the well-developed neo cortex is responsible for our conception of personhood, and, importantly, gives us empathy and the ability to resist the more destructive sides of our human nature.
Our psychological makeup is at the root of all that is humanity, and it is our psychology that will map the way we approach the future. Do we have what it takes to rise above our reptilian ancestry and find our place in the world as a holistic interconnected species once again?
It’s not going to be easy.
Our fixation on economic growth, consumerism, and massive environmental destruction for personal gain has set us apart from the natural world. As Cormac Cullinan and various other speakers at SOA noted, human see ourselves as a species above all others, lording over the natural world as if we hadn’t crawled out of the very same primordial muck that every other living thing came from. And yet we are inextricably linked to every living thing and every natural system on this planet, and it is not until we accept and protect this connection that we will be able to call ourselves truly sustainable.
As our population rushes towards 9 billion, as we urbanise, demand more services, goods and a longer life, so we draw from a finite amount of resources derived from our natural world. Anthony Turton, a founding member of The Water Stewardship Council Trust and an expert in the field, reflected on how our economy needs to shift from a demand driven one to one that is supply constrained. Although we imagine unlimited growth is possible, it is simply because our accountants have failed to take stock of natural capital, which is rapidly diminishing at alarming rates.
Take water for example. Anthony presented three statistics during his talk which drive home just how important water is in the South African context. There is 48 billion meters cubed per year of water in our rivers, 38 billion of which is stored in dams for use. By 2030 we will require 63 billion meters cubed of water. That is a fifth more water than South Africa has available, and where will it come from?
Ultimately, the economy, no matter how much economists talk about growth, is embedded in the ecosystem, and it can only grow to the limits of its natural capital, no further.
That said, there are innovative ways of engaging in the current economic model that address many of the issues of sustainable living, from food security, energy production and job creation, to new investment models, long term profit and environmental rehabilitation.
Some of the most exciting talks given at the summit were by those who are grabbing the current economic system by the horns and proving, time and again, how it is possible to earn money while still doing social and environmental good.
Arguably the most outstanding examples of this were the talks by Jason Drew and Gunter Pauli.
Jason Drew is a ‘serial entrepreneur’ who has a variety of unique projects that are reworking our understanding of what it means to be resource efficient and economically viable. From rearing fly larvae
to be sold as fish food , thus reducing the impact on wild fish stocks, to capturing and converting human waste into valuable and important fertilizer, Jason repeatedly showed how out of the box thinking can do good for the environment and the economy.
Gunter Pauli, an experienced entrepreneur and author was another inspirational speaker who spoke of the massive opportunity that arises out of environmental, social and economic challenges. With his solutions based approach, Gunter showcased projects from around the world that are having lasting positive impacts while being financially stable and environmentally beneficial. From low cost bamboo housing, to paper made from rocks, he illustrated the diversity of opportunity around the world and asked some difficult questions about why individuals in South Africa were so slow on the uptake.
But it’s not all about the money, despite what the economists amoung us might say.
If we are to move towards a future where humans live a sustainable lifestyle that supports the flourishing of all life forms on this planet, it is vital that we engage with education of the masses, re-aligning their priorities with the realities of what it means to be an organism sharing this planet with countless others.
For example, the Green Ambassadors
project in Kokstad and Franklin, Kwazulu Natal is empowering young people to learn skills, gain knowledge and spread news via civilian journalism. The young Green Ambassadors document cases of sustainable development and challenges to development in their communities, helping to inform the Greater Kokstad Municipality on what actions to take to move towards a more sustainable society.
For more information on the Green Ambassadors and to watch and read their stories, follow this link
Ultimately, the Sustain Our Africa conference was an amazing event that brought together many likeminded people in discussion on how we can move toward creating a more just, balanced, ecologically sensitive and sustainable society. The challenge for the future will be on getting the word out beyond what many were referring to as ‘the converted’ and inspiring a change in behaviour, policy, education, economics and society as a whole.
It is a formidable challenge to say the least, but with dedication fuelled by necessity, I believe we will witness, and form part of, a massive change in how we go about living in this world in the near future.
I strongly recommend you view the videos available at www.sustainourafrica.org
and take a read through Change Agent online also. As the year progresses, more of the magazine will be made available.