Category Archives: Activism

No! to the proposed SA nuclear build programme

My written submission objecting to the proposed plan to put into effect the first stages of a plan to build approximately eight nuclear power stations for South Africa

I thank you for the opportunity to comment on the above.
History has shown that:

  • nuclear is hazardous: despite the rosy picture painted by individual apologists for nuclear, and denials and reassurances from corporate and other vested interests, nuclear is not safe (reference: see 1 below)
  • nuclear is unaffordable: extrapolations based on the doubling of the projected costs of constructing the Medupi and Kusile coal power plants translate into a price-tag for the nuclear build programme of between one and two trillion rand, which is unaffordable, reckless and – given poverty and related challenges facing South Africa – criminally profligate (see 2 below)
  • nuclear is inappropriate: extrapolations based, inter alia, on the trebling of the projected time it took to construct the Medupi and Kusile coal power plants (see 2 and 3 below) translate into power becoming available only in 10 to 20 years, by which time, given that solar panels (also in informal settlements) are increasingly ubiquitous, given that energy-saving solutions are now standard building requirements, and given the rapid improvements in green technologies, mean that once nuclear power is finally generated it will no longer be required. This is already happening in the US (see 4 below). Hence a charge of wasteful expenditure
  • nuclear procurement is open to corruption: past and current financial scandals, coupled with the opaque and secretive nature of the recent nuclear procurement process do much to promote cynicism, distrust and anger (see 5 & 6 below)

Therefore I wish to register my objection to and rejection of the proposed nuclear build programme.

Hendrik Jeremy Mentz (20160829)

  1. Nuclear power plant accidents: listed and ranked since 1952 (The Guardian)
  2. Why South Africa should not build eight new nuclear power stations (M&G)
  3. “Urgent” nuclear power? This is how long it takes to build a reactor (htxt:africa)
  4. On rooftops, a rival for utilities (NYT)
  5. DoE claims nuke procurement details classified (M&G)
  6. Key details of SA’s nuclear procurement plan kept under wraps (BDLive)

Seven black wattles

Every morning I awake torn between a desire to save the world and an inclination to savour it. This makes it hard to plan the day. But if we forget to savour the world, what possible reason do we have for saving it? In a way, savouring must come first (E.B. White)

“But Louis,” I remonstrated, “Look behind you. There’s a forest of black wattles.”

“Well I have pulled out seven of them.”

Louis de Villiers uprooting 1 of 7-black wattles
Louis de Villiers uprooting one of seven black wattles

Louis and I were tending a small herd of goats alongside the Caledon River, which joins the Buffeljags to flow past the former mission village of Zuurbraak, Suurbraak or its original Attaqua Khoikhoi name !Xairu  meaning ‘A place called Paradise‘ in the Overberg region of the Western Cape Province in South Africa.

Gaunt, testy – but with a twinkle in his eye signalling a heart of gold, my good friend, Louis de Villiers, is an inveterate kampvegter (champion) for the environment. He therefore walks the talk, which is why he was tugging away at a black wattle while all I wanted to do was enjoy the evening watching the goats graze.

In South Africa, the black wattle tree (Acacia mearnsii) is classified as an invader, which ‘competes with and replaces indigenous grassland and riverine species … (thus reducing) the grazing area for domestic and wild animals.’ (Invasive Species South Africa).

The forest of black wattle in question was growing on the lower slopes of the Langeberge and was now also invading one of the few remaining thickets of original vegetation that, inter alia, included  Kaapse boekenhout and wild almond which, incidentally, was sustaining our goats. Chastened by Louis’ example I undertook to do the same. However, I am ashamed to confess that since that day, I failed to uproot one single black wattle.

That event took place on 27 July 2015. Almost a month later on the 17 August I received a visit from Gari whose plot adjoins the stretch where Louis uprooted his 7 black wattles. Gari shared his concern that not only black wattle but the goats were destroying the natural vegetation alongside the river, which he informed me he was planning to conserve as a retreat for anyone wishing to relax there. Part of his plan was to rid the area of black wattle. The second part of his plan was for the area no longer to be used for grazing, and would I mind?

Tragedy of the commons

Matt and Sasha (my son and daughter-in-law) and the other livestock farmers of Suurbraak grazed their goats, cattle and horses on that same stretch of commonage years before Gari and others moved onto their plots. Sharing the commons is also a large troop of baboons, which periodically come down from the mountain. Consequently there is huge pressure on whatever land remains – exacerbated by plant invaders (black wattle, blue gum, hakea, and pine).

Clearly the stage is set for the tragedy of the commons. What’s to do, particularly as there is clearly a need to conserve what little is left?

As I see it, Louis has demonstrated the solution: seven black wattles: ‘The challenge,’ Louis explains, ‘Is to find the balance between our way of doing and living, while recognising and respecting the delicate balances in nature in which we are interfering.’

Had I, therefore, as intended, followed Louis’ example set on the 27 July 2015, there would have been 224 fewer black wattles. But I had done nothing. So If I needed grazing for the goats, while valuing biodiversity and beauty I realised I must stop pretending all is well with the commons and I must do something to conserve what is precious.

My commitment, therefore, is that whenever and wherever I graze the goats –including that stretch – I would pay my dues by pulling out the equivalent of seven black wattles. Yesterday I started working on my backlog and uprooted 60 black wattles. Added to Louis’ seven, equals 67 fewer black wattles. Tonight, at least seven more.

Combating black wattle aliens
Combating plant invaders along the Buffeljagsrivier flowing past Suurbraak

Acknowledgement: Louis shared the quote above by E.B. White, which he says sums up his dilemma.

Afterword: While visiting, Louis also took out a grove of hakea, which will be the subject of a forthcoming post: a how-to get rid of hakea.

Malthusian juncture in the history of our planet

Kavin Senapathy in Forbes Magazine: Note To Neil Young: Monsanto Isn’t Evil, And GMOs Are Harmless. My reply (edited):

Ms Senapathy … I wonder whether you have listened to ‘The Monsanto Years’ appropriately. In other words, not only in your head.

Surely art’s role is to enable a deeper understanding of the way things are, by going to and articulating the heart of things, as Neil Young’s ‘The Monsanto Years’ album does, by pointing out the danger inherent in commoditizing and corporatizing every facet of life, which, with respect to nature, is being driven by giant multinational biotech/agricultural corporations (Big Ag), symbolised by Monsanto. Surely you too experience a sense of unease when considering the farming practises promoted by Big Ag: GMOs/herbicides/chemical fertilisers/pesticides/mono-cropping, which Neil Young believes ‘thoughtlessly plunder’ the earth (Wolf Moon).

It is against this truth that you might need to weigh the import of your boldly unambiguous title ‘Note To Neil Young: Monsanto Isn’t Evil, And GMOs Are Harmless’. Because not you, Ms Senapathy, or any of your readers know where this will end – think, for instance, gene drives.

Maybe at this Malthusian juncture in the history of our species and our planet, we all require humility. Maybe we also need to heed Neil Young’s ominous warning: ‘You never know what the future holds in the shallow soil of Monsanto, Monsanto’ (Monsanto Years).

The featured image above was shot early morning in a field in Suurbraak, which was to be sprayed with Roundup or 2,4-Dinitrophenol herbicide. Thankfully the farmers agreed not to poison the soil. Thus the Suurbraak poison-free initiative was born.

I share this follow-up from Glenn Ashton, who also kindly provided the above link to gene drives: