Trees of Life: A series of Photo-Interviews

Photo Elicitation On Trees in our natural environment.

Introduction

This essay will utilise the format of the photo elicitation, otherwise known as photo-interviewing, to obtain personal, historical anecdotal information from those interviewed concerning (Tinkler 2013:173) . The process of photo elicitation refers to the incorporation of photos in an interview, in an attempt to invoke memories and information from the person who is being interviewed.  The process of photo-elicitation is often regarded as a physical type of interview, where the Viewing and keeping photos in mind while conducting an interview allows the interviewed to go through and talk about thoughts pertaining to previous experiences that might have been suppressed.

I have chosen to interview individuals close to me, as they will be able to share stories about their memories with trees more eagerly, as people with ties to the interviewer usually are more willing to do so (Tinkler 2013:177).

These photo-interviews will make use of the topic of trees, and the part they have played in the collective human memory concerning narratives as outlined by Dean, on trees as a narrative off service, trees as a narrative of power, trees as a narrative of heritage and the counter-narrative of the unruly tree.

Photo Narratives

1: Narrative of service:

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My mom and dad standing beneath a palm tree overlooking the sea. I can think of no better tree that humans consider of service to them than that of the Palm Tree. Having provided not only a source of food and flavouring to the local cuisine of islanders, or to people living on the coast, the palm tree is the epitome of a tree of life,\ of course, always suggested as the main source of help, as sun block, nourishment, and hydration to cast-aways in novels, and in survivalist shows!

 

 

2: Narrative of power:

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Trees of the same type that have been planted in rows have been shown to invoke feelings of power when the viewer is confronted with them (Dean 2015:163). They speak of uniformity, according to Dean, to “tame the wildness”(Dean 2015:164). These trees in San Juan are banked off from the rest and planted in rows in the middle of the city.

3: Narrative of heritage:

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The Turpentine Tree dots the hillsides of the fertile BVI in the Caribbean. For the locals, it has also become known as the Tourist Tree, for its red colour and strange peeling bark, reminiscent of the stereotypical tourists from Europe and elsewhere visiting the tropical islands of the BVI (British Virgin Islands), who forget that the sun and climate is much harsher to the skin than from where they’re from. It was rare to see these trees, local inhabitants find them unattractive for their blistering peeling bark, and cut theses indigenous trees down frequently. The turpentine tree is therefore a tree that ties in with local modern folklore, a tree of heritage in its own right (Dean 2013:164).

 

Counter-narratives: the unruly tree

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Even though visually attractive, the owner of this little bar/pub on the island of Virgin Gorda, confided in us that he wished to cut down the palm trees that were casting shade over the swimming pool, to “open up the space” a little bit more.

Photo- Interviews

Desmond (Dad)

 Narrative of Service

Desmond, my father, starts off by talking about his childhood days. He grew up on a farm, and in the middle of this piece of land was a particularly large Eucalyptus Tree. In the tree they had built a very large treehouse, and they apparently they would also eat some of its gum. Him, his brother and his sister would climb very high in this tree and they had also put up a very high slide. Underneath the tree, they would find entertainment for themselves for hours. The treehouse would be improved over every school holiday. Over the school holidays, they would sleep over in the treehouse for days. He recalls the tree always being beautiful and green. He ends off on a sigh, saying that all he can say is, that the tree had a big impression on his childhood.

Narrative of Power

My dad mentions now how he got to know my mother. They had recently moved to Hartbeespoort, and my dad and grandad decided to start an ambitious project, build a 42 ft boat by themselves to take it down to Cape Town to launch after they had finished building it to sail around the world. At some point they needed help with the furnishing and wood work. My mom’s dad works with wood cabinets, furnishing and was also incidentally building a boat at the time. My dad makes mention about his first visit to my grandfather’s industrial wood workshop. He was astonished to see that much wood being cut up and manipulated into shapes that suit a specific human need. To my dad, this story directly related to a narrative of power in relation to trees. How humans manipulate trees by cutting them down, using their material to build transport, and in the distant past, imposing warships.

Narrative of Heritage

We have travelled a lot. My dad looked at my photo as an example of a tree as a narrative of heritage and he immediately thought of the olive tree and its significance in Greece. We sailed and basically lived in Greece on our boat for a little bit over 6 months. During this time we got to know the ways in which the Greek people revere and respect the olive tree, culturally and historically. The olive tree is a recurring theme in Greek mythology. My dad specifically refer to the myth of Daphne and Apollo, where Apollo chases madly in love after Daphne, a beautiful forest nymph, and she turns into the olive tree to escape him. The ultimate gift from Mount Olympus, the ancient gods, is even considered to be Olive oil.

Narrative of the Unruly Tree

My dad now refers to the one estate we rented a house in briefly back in 2013, Eldo Meadows. Back then the estate was still rather empty, with a lot of empty plots covered in grass and trees. My dad angrily starts by stating that the people who have their houses in estates seem to be very bothered by trees growing in their natural habitat, willing to rather replace it with kitsch looking bushes that they then cut into kitsch shapes. On the lawn next to the house was a tree growing freely. It was not part of our house or the neighbouring house’s ground. We could not conceive any reasons on why the neighbour would be bothered by the tree, but still got permission from the estate’s “council” to cut it down. Apparently he was just affronted by its sight bordering his well-manicured, kitsch lawn. Some of the houses in the estate even opted for fake, plastic grass for their front lawns. What can be said about this side of human preference for the artificial instead of the unruly, wild and uncontrolled natural.

Lynette (Mom)

 Narrative of Service

My mom; Lynette, referred to her childhood home. She spoke of her father, and how he had built their home at Hartbeespoort. The garden they had planned out, and it had quite a few trees that were notable to my mom. They had planted fruit trees, and especially had a favourite lemon tree, that wasn’t actually their own. It was the neighbours, and they would ask for baskets or bags full of the lemons. My grandmother would then bake cookies, muffins, lemon cheesecake and Lemon Meringue pie. My mom tells me that she and her sisters would excitedly look forward to asking their mom after school if they should ask for lemons from the neighbours, in the hopes that she would agree to make them something delicious. She wonders now if the tree is still standing, concurring that it probably still is, but also throught this tree they had formed a relationship with their neighbours. She then started to wonder what had become of the people, their neighbours.

 Narrative of Power

Lynette, speaks of how when she grew up in the early 70s in Hartbespoort. Back then they had still referred to it as “Nappy Town”, people still had to build their own houses in order to live there. This means that the people still had to plan their own gardens according to their own personal needs, or rather, their own wants.

Narrative of Heritage

My mother retold the story of Anegada’s Christmas Tree, after having been reminded of it after I showed her a photo I took of the “Tourist Tree” in Virgin Gorda in the BVI. During our last sailing trip there, we sailed to Anegada around Christmas season., thinking it would be more quiet. Not so much! My mom told about the fascination the islanders have with a Christmas tree that was erected on the Island, despite the tropical weather. It is the tallest Christmas Tree in the BVI, and is even maintained by the Anegada Cultural Committee. They have made the tree lighting ceremony a yearly event now, bringing people of the island together  and it is clear that a lot of meaning has been attached to this tree, especially when one takes into account the amount of care invested in maintaining it.

Narrative of the Unruly Tree

My mom makes further mention of Hartbeespoort, especially of the Schoemansville neighbourhood. and its current state. She mentions how the city council doesn’t really take care of cutting back trees, or just in general unruly foliage, anymore,  and how it has now taken over a lot of the old houses. Some of the old houses look abandoned that she used to be familiar with as a child. At first, she mentions how she wished they would maintain it for aesthetic reasons, perhaps to preserve her childhood. But then she mentions how she is happy that this bad management could in fact maybe attract birds and small reptiles back to the area.

Nicholas (Older Brother)

 Narrative of Service

My older brother, Nicholas, started off reminiscing on our younger days. When we were kids, at our first house in Midrand, Vorna Valley, we had a very large mulberry tree in our front yard. My brother used to bring silkworms back from school and would use the mulberry tree leaves as nourishment for them. I remember him picking off mulberries from heights I could not reach, and we would eat them.

 Narrative of Power

My brother took a look at the photo I provided and immediately connected it with the lines, rows, of trees outside his workplace. He works at Audi Hatfield. He thought that there might even be a connection, between this “narrative of power” between planting trees to show off status, to be outside the place Audi vehicles are sold, almost to show off the prestigious value this car brand apparently holds

Narrative of Heritage

My brother could not think of a story, or remember a story when I showed him the photo of the Turpentine/ Tourist Tree, despite giving him background on the story behind the tree’s naming and the ongoing folk speculation around it. I took this as an indication of the lack of information or knowledge that the public has on natural flora. It might also be an indication of how disinterested people have become when regarding the stories or history behind natural flora of any particular area.

Narrative of the Unruly Tree

Nicholas tells me about a tree we cut off at our first house at Vorna Valley. I remembered this as well, even though I was little, because I was standing in the way and I was scolded for putting myself in danger. This tree was in a very precarious position. It was squeezed between the wall of my parents’ bedroom and the neighbours wall, and a wall separating our front and back yard. Basically it was boxed in and its roots were causing havoc to our walls, and our neighbours started to complain about the trouble it was causing for them. My parents agreed to cut it down because it was blocking the view to the outside from their window. They complained that it was just an inappropriate place for it to be.

 

Conclusion:

Those interviewed have shown the way they draw out information from photos, how they see a photo and reminisce, shows a great deal about a captured moment, and can provide vital and often forgotten, or overlooked,  information (Tinkler 2013:178). The anecdotal history found in these photo-interviews I have conducted, can help us create and visualise a timeline of the Anthropocene, and the effects that we have on our natural world. It is also proposed that the use of photos allow the interviewee to approach the photos with their own priorities and perspectives (Tinkler 2013:179). Some photo-interviews are unsuccessful because the photos that are chosen don’t elicit the interviewee’s engagement (Tinkler 2013:177). The interviews conducted give an oversight of personal narratives that people have experienced in regards to the natural world around them, here in particular with trees. A lot of these narratives very obviously forming part of their most cherished memories

 

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.

Slow Violence- The Fast Fashion Industry

Concept Statement

Rob Nixon on Slow Violence

Nixon argues extensively that those in poverty are in peril. They are rendered invisible and susceptible to exploitative behaviour by Developed countries, through an action he terms “Slow Violence” (Nixon 2011:4). Rob Nixon elaborates that Slow Violence is the ensuing environmental destruction happening away from our gaze, particularly concentrated in underdeveloped countries, that goes unreported in our sensationalist modern media (Nixon 2011:6). Nixon refers to the Marshall islands as one such victim of slow violence, an area which had been subject to nuclear testing from 1948 to 1958, announced in 1956 as “…the most contaminated place in the world”(Nixon 2011:7). Poor communities are often left in the dark of the potential hazards that invade their space. It is here that Nixon encourages writers, filmmakers and activists to make these tragic environmental injustices visible (Nixon 2011:16).

Introduction

Slow Violence of the Fast Fashion Industry

This essay argues that the fast fashion industry can be seen as an environmental concern and a form of Slow Violence. It takes the form of a photo essay, in which the photos are used to illustrate the ways in which quick disposable clothing are damaging the environment, and exploiting the lives of people in developing countries.

Selected Photos

textile recycling issues infographic

An infographic showing statistics of the effects if the Fast Fashion industry. Available at http://www.weardonaterecycle.org/about/issue.html

waste products from garment factory spill into stagnant pond

Waste products from garment factory spill into stagnant pond. Photographer uncredited. Available at http://www.ifashion.co.za/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=850, credit given to Zed Nelson/Panos Pictures

Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, after collapsing, killing over 1,100 low wage workers. Photographer uncredited. Available at  http://www.businessinsider.com/r-is-fast-fashion-worth-the-cost-to-workers-environment-asks-film-2015-5.

A tannery worker named Saida in the Indian city of Kanpur, suffers from serious skin conditions brought about through contact with toxic waste water from local tanneries. Photographed by Sean Gallagher, India, 2013. Available at http://pulitzercenter.org/reporting/asia-india-toxic-pollution-leather-industry-health-problems

The Consequences, Effects and Damages of Slow Violence

The Fast Fashion industry is a plague that spreads through the materialistic demands of a capitalist free market, fueled by consumerist ideals. “Fast Fashion” is a term that describes the cheaply produced clothing that fit in with the fashion trends set by the luxurious fashion world.

The western developed world has become over-obsessed with image. A feeling of apathy stays within the public sphere, as consumers are bombarded by luxurious advertisements of designer clothing and misinformation about the truth of the fast fashion industry. Media coverage stays low because of the lack of shock imagery available. The collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh refreshed people’s attention a bit, it seems, perhaps because of the gruesome images that were in circulation.

The article by Joy, A. et al. describes the phenomena excellently: “the inherent dissonance among fast fashion consumers, who often share a concern for environmental issues even as they indulge in consumer patterns antithetical to ecological best practices” (Joy, A. et al. 2012:273). This dissonance is exactly what Rob Nixon means by “Slow Violence”: the rapid shortening of people’s attention spans to promote consumerism, leads to the overlooked exploitation of underdeveloped countries and their environments through globalisation (Nixon 2011:8).

Globalisation means that the clothing needs to be shipped back to developed countries, costing crude oil.  It takes 18927,06 litres of water to produce only a pair of jeans and a shirt, because cotton is a plant that needs a lot of water to flourish (Sweeney 2015). According to The Council for Textile Recycling (weardonaterecycle.org), the US EPA has determined that the clothing textiles disposed of makes up around 5% of all our landfills (CTR 2016). The amount of clothing recycled only makes up around 15% of post-consumer textile waste, leaving the 85% heading straight to our landfills (CTR 2016). It is also estimated that the average US citizen disposes of 31.75 kg off clothing each year (CTR 2016). The World Bank has determined that the textile industry produces around 20% of global industrial water pollution, by use of dyes and treating the raw material (Eco360 Trust 2012).

It is obvious that the current slow violence produced by the fashion industry is something that needs to be addressed urgently. The fast fashion industry is wreaking devastation in developing countries, where workers are subjected to unacceptable working conditions, often times with below minimum wage, and exposed to dangerous chemicals and pesticides in cotton fields, etc- all to reduce the cost of the clothing consumers buy at shops. This is not even to begin with the amount of torture the Fast Fashion Industry is inflicting on environments and the ecologies of developing countries. Some textiles like polyester for example, takes 200 years to decompose. Decomposing textiles also release gases that we know are damaging to our planet, such as methane.

Slow Violence is eminent throughout the growing demand of the consumer and the ability of the industry to meet this demand through whatever means necessary. Filmmakers have begun to expose the effect this Slow Violence of the Fast Fashion industry actually has in the developing countries that it mainly bases its industry and manufacture in to make low-cost clothing. There are actual horrors and injustices involved within this industry, that are also brushed away by heads of businesses, as they falsely claim that the industry is helping the economy, not exploiting, developing countries.

 

 

 

The True Cost– Is a must watch documentary on the dire effects of the fast fashion industry, and growing Western demand for cheaper and faster produced clothing. The link leads to a trailer on Youtube.

 

 

References

Council for Textile Recycling/ CTR. 2016. Issue. Available at http://www.weardonaterecycle.org/index.html. Accessed on 23/04/16.

Eco360 Trust. 2012. Water Pollution. Available at http://www.sustainablecommunication.org/eco360/what-is-eco360s-causes/water-pollution. Accessed on 24/04/16.

Joy, A., Sherry J.F., Venkatesh, A., Wang, J., Chan, R. 2012. Fast Fashion, Sustainability, and the Ethical Appeal of Luxury Brands.Berg. Available at https://www3.nd.edu/~jsherry/pdf/2012/FastFashionSustainability.pdf. Accessed on 22/04/16.

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

Sweeney, G. It’s the Second Dirtiest Thing in the World—And You’re Wearing It. Available at http://www.alternet.org/environment/its-second-dirtiest-thing-world-and-youre-wearing-it. Accessed 23/04/16.

 

The Companion Species

Concept Statement

Donna Haraway writes in the “Companion Manifesto: Dogs, People and SIgnificant Otherness” that dogs, a companion species to the human were there as “partners in crime”(Haraway 2007: 5) throughout human evolution. It is believed  that dogs first became our companions after being attracted to the waste, food thrown away by people, near our lodgings, this made them less tolerant toward their wild habitat and more dependent on humans (Haraway 2007:29). Dogs are perfect examples for Haraway of a type of relationship that is historical, in which none of the players exist before the relationship started and always relate to one another (Haraway 2007:12). Domestication is an act in which humans intervene with the wild and create tools for themselves (Haraway 2007:28).

An exploration of the notion of a companion species follows through the use of a photo narrative essay, in which I discuss my family’s unique relationship with what I propose as another historical companion species, cats.

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Cats in ancient Egypt were held in high esteem and regard (Hill 2010)

Life with Cats/ Another internet post about Cats

My family has always had a special love and affinity towards the feline species. They are independent creatures who enjoy the love and attention humans spoil them with. They are beautiful and even sometimes regal animals who groom themselves vainly all the time. Yet this is not always the case. In our experiences with them, all cats have their own unique personalities.

Cats, as a companion species, have had a historical relationship with humans. They are believed to have been our companions for over 9000 years (Fang 2014). They were welcomed as pest control and it is proposed that humans would reward them with food (Fang 2014). In Ancient Egypt, the Egyptians venerated them as demi-gods in their own right, and would even mummify them to honour them in their death (Hill 2010). The human family of the cat would also descend into mourning when they died, and shave their eyebrows (Hill 2010). A tomb in Beni Hassan was found with more or less 80000 cat burials (Hill 2010). Scholar of the ancient world Herodotus would write lengthily on the special love Egyptians had for cats. One apocryphal account holds that the Egyptians surrendered in one battle against the Persians after they had released cats on the battlefield, as the Egyptians would rather lose a fight than hurt their feline companions (Hill 2010). Only pharaohs were allowed to have ownership over a cats, thusly all cats were under the guardianship of the pharaoh, and inflicting harm upon one was considered high treason (Hill 2010).

In this photo essay, I will highlight a droplet in the ocean of our experiences and relationships with them. We’ve taken in stray felines and cared for them from my first memories. Our first cat my dad had found as a kitten lost, scared and alone at his old office parking lot. I was still an infant. It seems cats are often left out, forgotten and abandoned by people. Yet they are extremely receptive creatures, who often have an unjust and just completely wrong reputation for being cold and distant. Attached to that, throughout history they have been subject to human superstition.

Vetkat

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This was Garfield, but we called him Vetkat. 

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Vetkat sleeping in a hilarious position

We seemed to put him on diets but it never helped. We found him one day stuck in a tree in our yard. All our other cats were distrusting of him and didn’t allow him to get down from the tree. How he ended up there is still a mystery to us. When we rescued him out of the tree, he was severely malnourished, but extremely lovable and became attached to us seemingly from the start. He loved being cuddled and given hugs. He was a teddy bear who loved being snuggled and was very wary and aggressive toward intruders in the house. He was already middle-aged when we rescued him. After about 4 years of caring for him, he became blind. We had him for seven year in total.

The day he died was very emotional to me personally and a sad day to all of us in my household. He suffered from a stroke in mid 2012, early morning. My dad and I held him and tried to help him, but he deteriorated very quickly. I cried a flood. I went into the house, and then my dad came up to me to tell me that he passed away. I went outside to feel his fur again and to say my last goodbyes. I still tear up when I think of it and write about it. I think it was very shocking to me to come to terms of the death of a beloved pet, I wonder if he was in pain. In a way at the time and up until this day, the memory of being present during his death and after, strongly confronted me with the mortality of all souls on this planet.

Snowy

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Snowy

Snowy is a tuxedo cat who we adopted as a kitten. She is ten years old now. We originally had difficulty naming her, but settled on Snowy, as a reference to my grandfather who seems to call all his pets Snowy all the time. She has a very strong and moody personality, who needs a very special type of understanding. She is also very vocal and meows a lot, complaining about everything. She is a one owner type of cat, who is wary of other people but very sweet towards me. She does NOT like other cats. Yet, she is my constant companion, she always seems to come to me when I am upset or sick. She will lie on top of my chest and purr, providing me comfort, as if there is a connection between us that understands each other. She always gravitates around my room and “talks” to me a lot. She comes to me and “talks” back to me when I whistle at her.

Malles

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Malles

Malles was our sweet old cat. I remember my brother carrying her as a kitten home from a friend’s house whose cat had had kittens. I was about four years old. She died when I was 18, So she lived quite a long time for a cat, given that their average age is 15 years. We named her Godzilla first, because she grew up very fast, but we took to calling her Malles because she would chase invisible mice all around the house. She died of liver and kidney failure, the veterinarian said it was due to old age, and she recommended that we put her down. We were all very upset when we heard the news. She loved being petted but was a very independent cat who would disappear during the day, then reappear at night to sleep on someone’s bed.

Misty

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Silly kitty, Misty

 

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Vetkat & Misty

Misty was a kitten when we rescued her from a townhouse complex in Midrand. She literally lived in the gutter, and looked in a bad shape, so we were very concerned. She was very hostile towards us as we approached her, she was very scared of people. When we trapped her, my sister was afraid that she would scratch and bite, but she only hid her tiny face in my sister’s arms and kept dead still, only moving to hide her face. It was very cute. She’s a very lovable cat that reminded me of a rabbit in the way she acted and behaved. She would make a very odd and curious chattering sound when she looked at birds, as if she was entranced by them. She lavished in human attention and was an entertaining cat to observe. Her actions were truly silly and inane, and her round and fluffy body made her actions even more comical. We had to leave her in the care of another family who loves cats, as we went overseas, and she stayed there, as the family became very fond of her.

 

In closing…

This hilarious article claims that cat lovers are more intelligent than dog owners 😉

Study Finds Cat People Are More Intelligent Than Dog People

 

References

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

Fang, J. 2014. How Cats Became Domesticated. Accessed April 16, 2016, From IFLScience. Available at http://www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/genome-comparison-shows-how-wildcats-became-housecats.

Hill, J. 2010. Cats in Ancient Egypt. Accessed April 16, 2016, From Ancient Egypt Online. Available at http://www.ancientegyptonline.co.uk/cat.html.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Soundscape of the Anthropocene

The Anthropocene

The Anthropocene is thought of as a new epoch, where the intervention of mankind’s activities has bought on massive changes to the natural world. This new epoch is suggested if significant evidence exist that humans have altered the Earth enough that a distinct signature from that of the Holocene epoch exists (Waters et al. 2016:137).It is a proposition that human activity has had an impact on the geology of the planet. It is proposed by Steffen et al that these changes especially became increasingly accelerated at the start of the 19th century Industrial evolution onward. (Steffen et al. 2011).

The most obvious evidence of this altering of the natural world is seen right there in the comfort of our houses, as pointed out by Gisli et al. We continue our existence on human made sediment (Gisli et al. 2013). This points to the idea that humans have now made a permanent mark on the planet forever, which will read in the Earth’s strata for future generations.

The current issue of rapid changes in the Earth’s climate has brought attention to the idea that anthropogenic activities greatly affects our globe. Through human’s increased population and vigourous expansion, carbon emissions have increased tenfold (Steffen et al 2011: 842).

Human advancements have also made an impact on important elemental cycles that are vital to the functioning of the planet. These elements include phosphorous, sulphur and nitrogen (Steffen et al 2011: 843). The alterations bought on to the natural flow of rivers to support human expansion has bought on changes to the water cycle. The ongoing man-made constructs that have changed and removed the natural foliage has interrupted the way water vapour travels tot he atmosphere. There is also evidence that suggest that human involvement has lead to the extinction of many animal and plant species (Waters 2016:137) (Steffen et al 2011: 843). All of this points to the impact humans have on the globe, reinforcing the concept of the Anthropocene.

 

Soundscaping

The Droning of human life

From the 5th of April onward, I tried my best to keep my ears open to sounds I would previously have kept myself oblivious to. It has become second nature to ignore these man-made sounds.  At first, the droning of human transport became the most obvious. At night, the sound of airplanes flying overhead becomes much clearer. Distant sounds of cars driving around midnight.

I take the Gautrain to university if my schedule allows. The Gautrain station itself is rich with the sounds of people talking, walking and trains screeching like banshees to a halt. There are various announcements made, and the train ride itself is a massive drone of movement of the various carriages. I usually listen to music on my phone during the ride to break the dull sound away.

The walk to and from the university and Gautrain has a soundscape littered with the sounds of construction sites, buses and cars zooming around. The sound of taxis hooting is also in abundant supply. Nearby Hatfield Plaza, a massive building is being built, and the sound of crashing cranes and drilling fills the ears to near deafness. It is not pleasant to listen to, and is remedied only by walking faster, or walking with earphones and music loud enough to destroy the other outside sounds.

I see fellow pedestrians walking with earphones or headphones plugged in, filling the ears with man-made music, more palatable that the sounds of man-made construction. This reminded me of the comfortable removed-ness of humans from the obvious destruction they create. Gisli et al describes this as the ‘new human condition’, a condition that is marked by increasing awareness of global environmental changes brought on my human activity (Gisli et al 2013:4).

The far-off droning of human transport was a constant reminder of how removed from nature we have actually become. This is something Whitehouse especially takes into consideration. He describes how the Anthropocene epoch has created a soundscape that is loaded with the sounds of electronical enhancement, operating machines and engines that has come to dominate the sounds of the natural environment (Whitehouse 2015: 57). This supports the ideas of Steffen et al, who argues strongly in favour of how the Anthropocene has come to shape the planet globally, the overwhelmig droning out of the sounds of natural environment possibly signalling a growing decline of the Earth’s biodiversity (Steffen et al 2011:856).

Bird Gossip

For the next few days I kept an attentive ear focused solely on searching for the teetering and chirping of birds. They were there, when I listened closely. I heard many unidentifiable birds. To listen to birds in the Anthropocene is to have to pay attention undividedly. Late nights at the art studio walking  towards my car I heard a very peculiar bird sound that I had not yet paid attention to my whole life. It was a type of “hoop” sound. The chirping of birds early morning is something I still hear regularly at my house in Midrand. The sound of hadedas are also prominent and I have seen and heard a few robins around the garden.

I realised how birds could be heard clearly in the  very early morning, before the human world has woken up. The sounds of birds need to continually compete with the overwhelming droning soundscape of human industry. Whitehouse regards this as evidence of the Anthropocene era and how it is different from the pre-Anthropocene: previously the sounds of nature and human activities had melded together. The post-Anthropocene is an era in which human created sounds seek to destroy this harmony (Whitehouse 2015:57).

The cooing and scuffling of pigeons is a sound that is all to familiar to the ears of art students, as they nest in the ceilings of our first year studio as well as our printmaking studio. Pigeons seem to adapt well with human expansions. Pigeons and hadedas seem to be the most common bird sounds heard and observed by everyone. To their credit, they are highly adaptable birds. Whitehouse describes this phenomena by relating it to a concept by Krause, that the sounds indicate the evolution of certain species as they interact with other sounds in the same soundscape (Whitehouse 2015:57). Another bird species I see and hear often is the Indian Myna bird. This bird is an invasive species, and hurts our indigenous bird population immensely through its aggressive interactions with indigenous bird species (SANPArks n.d.).

The rich and diverse sounds of birds are becoming more rare through human interventions on the planet. Biophonic sounds, sounds that are produced by the natural world, are drowned out by the anthrophonic sounds, sounds made by human activity (Whitehouse 2015:57,58). This loss of sounds creates a type of anxiety of extinction caused by the Anthropocene. Birds and their habitats are lost through human industry, pesticides and motorways. The loss of the sounds of birds against the backdrop of a disruptive human soundscape could be considered as symptoms of the Anthropocene (Whitehouse 2015: 66).

Talking to the Elders

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Approaching the older generation on their past experiences with wildlife up until now makes the realisation of the rapid effects of the Anthropocene much more stark and depressing. My parents moved to Midrand when the area was still very much a rugged landscape, back in the early 90s. There is a restaurant here called The Spotted Genet, so named after the furry creatures that would claw and jump around the branches of the trees surrounding the restaurant, my parents tell me they saw them there once, but didn’t see them again on any other visitation.

Many of the points they made even I remember in my own short span of 21 years. Midrand used to have an open marsh that we used to walk to and visit to catch snakes and frogs and other critters for our pet snakes to eat. This marsh area has largely disappeared due to ongoing construction in that area. My brother also remembers finding and showing a chameleon in our own backyard at our first house in Vorna Valley, who then went on his own merry way. We never saw one again. We moved to a house back in 2004 that used to have an open field in front of it (later replaced by two new complexes), that we once observed a mongoose running out of (not kidding!). I shudder wondering where the poor creatures ended up.

One observation I made early on, during the brief discussion in class, was that I hadn’t seen or heard a Loerie in a very long time. I remember the distinctive “Kwê” sounds very well and haven’t heard them in a very long time. We also used to catch a lot of field mice around the yard, mostly because the cat would bring them in, and we would rescue them. I haven’t seen a wild field mouse since I was ten years old. This makes me wonder how the domesticated animals that humans keep as companions affect the natural environment in their own little way as well. Cats and even dogs keep the rat population in check, but so as well do they keep the bird population in check. Luckily, I find that I often still find little indigenous non-invasive frog and toad species regularly in the yard.

(Image of Grey Loerie from http://www.biodiversityexplorer.org/birds/musophagidae/corythaixoides_concolor.htm)

Conclusion

The current soundscape we live in has predominantly been created and influenced by us. Humans gain more and more knowledge and develop more complex ways of manipulating the environment to their will. Humans are the only species capable of this disruption (Steffen et al 2011:847). The sounds of nature has become discordant from the sounds of human activity. Humans do not just influence other sounds through their own sounds but also through the disruptive and harmful activities they invoke against the natural world (Whitehouse 2015:57).

The loss of sounds from the natural environment causes a greater concern of how humans are rapidly causing the disappearance of a natural harmony that we have existed in prior to the Anthropocene epoch. Listening to and documenting our current soundscape solidifies the Anthropocene concept- it is an obvious indicator of how a previously nature-dominated planet has now become a human-dominated environment (Gisli et al. 2013:5).

 

References:

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.

South African Natural Parks. n.d. Birders, Alien Invaders. Accessed April 10, 2016, from SANPArks-South African Natural Parks. Available at https://www.sanparks.org/groups/birders/alien_birds.php

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.

 

Amelia Daubermann 15191037

An Analysis of media coverage of Fracking in the Karoo

 

Who and what are the drivers of change?

What is happening?

What can be done?

How to get it

done?

·South African energy crisis· Agricultural sector

·Unemployment rates

·Coal Dependency

· Oil & Gas companies

·The Government

·Economic gains

 

 

· Fracking is proposed as a new energy solution to South Africa’s energy crisis, a gas extracting measure that can have negative impacts on the Karoo’s environment, negating the potential benefits of fracking. ·Exploring Renewable & clean energy options

·Challenge companies that invest in fracking

· support energy alternatives

·Encourage and engage in challenging debate

·Further research about fracking and its aftermath

·Saving energy at home

· Tapping into South Africa’s Solar Energy potential

·Investing in companies that research and fund renewable energy projects

Introduction

 

Fracking is a term used to describe the process of hydraulic fracturing, a technique that is used to harvest oil and gases from shale rock. A pressurised liquid mixture of chemicals, water and sand is charged into drilled wells in the earth to release these gases from the rock (Greenpeace Africa 2011).The topic of fracking in the Karoo is fraught with controversy and also split up into opinions both for, and against this shale gas extracting measure, which was originally proposed as a measure to help with South Africa’s energy crisis. The government is for the use of fracking, whilst opposition has mainly come from environmentalist groups and concerned residents and farmers.

Media coverage forms and develops the viewpoints of the public (Grant & Lawhon 2014:39). The way media represents a certain issue is vital in spurring the necessary action needed to tackle the issue (Grant & Lawhon 2014:40).  This blog post uses and discusses the article ‘Humanities for the Environment—A manifesto for research and action’ (2015)  by Holm, P et al. as well as the theories discussed by Mary Lawhon and Shelby Grant in their article ‘Reporting on rhinos: analysis of the newspaper coverage of rhino poaching’ (2014) to give a critical Environmental Humanities analysis of the following online media articles : Karoo Fracking – What you need to know by Van der Merwe, M,posted on Sustainable.co.za (2013),  Say ‘No’ to Fracking in the Karoo There is still time to stop Shell, by Greenpeace Africa (2011), and  The hunt for Karoo shale gas begins, by Steyn, L, posted on Mail & Guardian (2015).

 

Brief overview of the consequences of Fracking

 

The incredible amount of water required to initiate the process of fracking, especially in the semi-desert geography of the Karoo, an area which experiences frequent water shortages, has been only one of the concerns raised on fracking (Greenpeace Africa 2011). Fracking has very little known long term effects on the environment, and the potentially carcinogenic chemicals that are pumped into the earth, its  effect on the people and the biodiversity of the sensitive Karoo area, as well as the connection with drilling and seismic activity, is still a researched subject (Greenpeace Africa 2011). Groundwater is the main source of water in the Karoo, so the possible pollution of it through accidents and spills is a cause for major concern  ( Van der Merwe 2013).

 

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

 

The “Great Acceleration”refers to the rapid advancements made from the early 20th century onward to the current 21st century which has led to changes globally in the Earth’s nitrogen and  carbon cycles, leading to the extinction of various species and to the troubling increased emissions of green house gases (Holm 2015:980). The increase of these greenhouse gas emissions could  be the cause of changes in the planet’s climate and weather patterns, as well as the acidity levels of the ocean becoming unstable (Holm 2015:980).

According to the Greenpeace article (2011) and Mail & Guardian article by Steyn (2015), there are several oil companies who are interested in the prospect of fracking the Karoo, including  Royal Dutch Shell, an international Gas company which has bought a license for shale gas exploration in the Karoo. This specific driver for change relates directly to the “Great Acceleration”, in that the greediness of the capital-focused oil companies disregards the negative effect that their expansion on the environment will have. The current government is also identified as a driver for change, with its own agendas and reasons for being pro fracking in the article on Sustainable.co.za by Van der Merwe (2013).

These drivers of change hide under the guise of helping the public, whilst deliberately ignoring the impact it could have on the local population, the agricultural sector, tourism and biodiversity in the Karoo, and the sad long term effects this could have on South Africa, both environmentally and ecologically. The drivers of change involved here are short-sighted, focusing on the short-term benefits of shale gas extraction, whereas alternative renewable energy options could be explored that would not contribute towards the further degradation and exploitation of our planet’s natural resources.

 

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

 

The New Human Condition refers to the chosen responses of humans, and how humans choose to discover, diagnose and deal with new found responsibility and the end results of issues relating to the environment (Holm 2015:983). The lack of solutions apparent in Steyn’s article published on the Mail and Guardian (2013) invokes the “slippery slope” feeling of despair (Grant & Lawhon 2014:43). The opening line concludes that oil companies are desperate after the reduction of energy costs globally and that drilling prospecting will “almost certainly” commence (Steyn 2015). A lot of facts are given, which succeeds in highlighting the issue and acknowledging the need for proper action against fracking and its negative effects on the environment is given, but ultimately it fails at providing solutions, discouraging action and making the public more willing to blame corporations  and actions taken by the government, distancing themselves from the issue (Grant & Lawhon 2014: 43).

Mieneke Van der Merwe’s article on Sustainable.co.za (2013), details how alternatives in renewable energy could provide solutions, such as wave, wind and solar energy. However this article fails at mentioning how the public could actively contribute. The listed solutions might encourage the public to invest in renewable energy companies or to maybe buy solar panels or wind chargers at their own personal home, however it fails to address how the public can actively engage in preventing plans for fracking going forward. The solution provided by the article by  Greenpeace (2011), provides an easy way for the public to deal and engage with the matter  by writing an email to either the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs or PASA, the body responsible for granting licenses for fracking. the article by Greenpeace (2011) also makes mention of renewable energy resources, however also fails to mention of the public can engage in promoting it.

 

Do the proposed solutions engage with the business / corporate sector? Can you identify a business that might be interested in partnering with the community to address the environmental concern?

 

The solutions proposed by Mieneke Van der Merwe in her article on Sustainable.co.za (2013), seems to be one that aims at companies that provide renewable energy resource, and research facilities that can further develop ways in which wave energy can be tapped into. However, her solutions doesn’t directly name any renewable energy companies.  These research facilities however face difficulties with governmental backing, especially as the current government seems hellbent on promoting fracking as the means to sustaining South Africa’s energy crisis. Independent researchers and energy providers seems to be the only salvation to this problem. The solutions provided by the article on Greenpeace Africa (2011) engages with the political and public services sector.

According to Holm, businesses are inherently concerned with how the public views their actions and appearance, that they give back to the community and often and enjoy good publicity through sponsoring the education of the public about the environment ( Holm 2015: 986). Involving local businesses in the private sector, as well as overseas businesses that have sustainability in mind, could not only  help solve our country’s energy crisis, but also bring in long-term financial gain, ensuring that over-exploitation of our natural resources doesn’t occur. Companies that provide finance for renewable energy projects should be considered. There are many companies like this.

One such company is Green Energy International (GEI). GEI in its own words “identifies, develops, and finances viable renewable energy projects” (Green Energy International inc. n.d.) The company operates by gaining capital and obtaining financial assistance through its links to investment banks and influential financial partners. This is because they are a division of the Investbank corporation (Green Energy International inc. n.d.). The company describes how they believe that investing capital motivates and encourages the development of renewable energy technology, and also makes it more affordable, making renewable energy an attainable future (Green Energy International inc. n.d.).

 

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

 

The solutions in Sustainable.co.za’s article Karoo Fracking – What You Need to Know, by Mieneke Van der Merwe (2013) , seem to only be anecdotal. An infographic that includes a source seems to be the only research supporting the solutions given. A “read more” section is provided, however, most of these links do not cover any solutions to fracking. One linked page details that fracking will become inevitable as the growing population creates greater energy demands. This is an example of the type of doom-prophet media coverage that get connected in our social-media driven world, further making discussion about optimistic resolution to our environmental issues seem “naive”(Holm 2015:983). The solution provided by Greenpeace on Say no to fracking in the Karoo (2011), stem from public participation, asking the reader to write an email of opposition against fracking to the PASA and the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs.

 

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

 

The solutions provided by the article on Sustainable.co.za, published by Mieneke Van der Merwe (2013), are vague if read by the public as a means to help prevent fracking. The reader would have to think for themselves further on the matter, perhaps invoking thoughts of investing in renewable energy companies, or spurring them on to buy solar panels for usage at their own homes.  This invokes the feeling that more information is needed on the topic, which could lead to an apathetic reception by the public (Grant & Lawhon 2014: 48). The solution provided by Greenpeace (2011) of voicing your opposition by  writing an email and sending it to PASA and DWEA is made completely achievable, through the inclusion of a button on the article, however this whole process is made impossible since clicking on the button leads you to a page with a message reads “Sorry! We can’t find that page!” and “that page must be extinct…”, leading one to believe that the page has never been updated, discouraging active participation and possibly making Greenpeace seem unprofessional.

Conclusion

 

The subject of fracking the Karoo is one that is in severe need of an in-depth Environmental Humanities analysis, as people are prone to spread and trust media sources that they read online, especially with regards to issues such as this that they have little experience to in a direct way (Grant & Lawhon 2014: 41, 46) . The Government promotes fracking as a cure-all to a number of issues unique to South Africa: the energy crisis, lessening our reliance on coal, solving our unemployment rates, and helping the developing economy  of our country through the export of these gases ( Van der Merwe 2013). This is at the cost of contributing to the desolation of the delicate ecological wonder of the Karoo . Through this blog post, a critical analysis through use of the theories of Holm et al. and Grant & Lawhon has been made of the three articles provided.  The way these different articles presented the issue should be analysed to further reach an understanding of why the public responds the way it does (Grant & Lawhon 2014: 49). This type of analysis aims to promote consciousness, in this case on the matter of fracking, to target areas lacking in the media coverage of fracking, in order to help clear the steps leading up into action.

The hashtag #DigEcoAction, provides more resources that could help cure the current epidemic of inaction towards dire environmental and ecological concerns.

References

 

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.

Green International inc. n.d. A Global Leader in Renewable Energy [Online} Available at- http://www.greenenergyint.com/. [Accessed: 02/04/2016]

Greenpeace Africa. 2011, March 9. Say ‘No’ to Fracking in the Karoo There is still time to stop Shell. [Online]. Available at- http://www.greenpeace.org/africa/en/News/news/Say-No-to-Fracking-in-the-Karoo/. [Accessed: 02/04/2016]

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

Steyn, L. 2015. January 23. The hunt for Karoo shale gas begins.. [Online]. Available at – Mail & Guardian: http://mg.co.za/article/2015-01-22-the-hunt-for-karoo-shale-gas-begins. [Accessed: 02/04/2016]

Van der Merwe, M. 2013, October 1. Karoo Fracking- What you need to know. [Online]. Available at – Sustainable: http://www.sustainable.co.za/blog/2013/10/karoo-fracking-what-you-need-to-know/.  [Accessed: 02/04/2016]

 

 

 

 

AS Daubermann

15191037