Environmental Awareness and action: A South African side of the tree-hugging movement- An Opinion Piece

–          By Fatima H Ragie

 

Our world is in trouble environmentally and mankind is largely the reason why. There are countless studies being conducted, articles and books written on the subject, documentaries made and natural disasters occurring that paint a dismal picture of our planet today. Our planet is under duress. The human population is spiralling out of control and we have become careless consumers of “stuff” with severe repercussions.

 A vital array of questions prevails. How is it that we – arguably the most intelligent living species on this planet – fail to account for the consequences of our actions? How is it that we fail to realise that our water crisis is real, our airs are polluted, lands are wasted and living organisms throughout this planet are being harmed because of our short- sightedness? How are we, the “information” people, the techno-savvy generation, so environmentally oblivious and inactive?

 South Africa’s political history has significantly impacted on our local culture of “environmental unawareness”. Furthermore, it has influenced where we focus our resources. Developing on limited and ineffective financial as well as human capital, the agenda has always been to “correct the past” and “serve the people”. While these are subjects that need prioritising, failure to recognise the need to accommodate environmental factors into development processes, is a disservice to the public and the environment alike, especially when taking into account its impact on future generations. As a result of poor planning practices, we are creating an unsustainable infrastructure which has a negative impact on our environment.

 Even though our status as a developing country has allowed us to remain in touch with our natural roots, South Africans are becoming disconnected with their surroundings on a personal and cultural level. Modern society with its towering skyscrapers, sprawling cities, its “conveniences” and built-in industrial processes, has made it simply too easy to forget that we humans are just as much dependent on the air, lands and waters as the worm in the soil. The loss of traditional practices which were more environmentally friendly is a global trend to which South Africa is not immune.

 The question thus arises: How can we address these issues? At a grass-root level, education plays an important part in encouraging environmental awareness.  A general lack of knowledge about infrastructure, manufacturing, water treatment  and  waste disposal amongst our youth and adults alike, can  add towards the problem in that it fails to create an understanding that each individual’s actions has an impact on the environment at large. Here, local corporates and municipalities have a role to play in instilling environmental friendly values.

 On the upside, and from personal experience heading a similar initiative, the demand for change by South Africans is slowly gaining steam. Many new, fun, and inclusive organisations are gaining momentum in protecting the rights of people and the environment. As with any new movement, there is a lag in the response from the general public, but through the use of technology as well as engagement by the youth in particular, South Africa’s future is looking greener.

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