An Open Letter to the UN Climate Change Gathering in Copenhagen

Allow me to make a few points about the current international negotiations which are likely to make a huge impact on the future of the planet.  At the heart of the issue is the trade off that has to be made between those who want to continue on a path of exploitation and the protesters marching in the streets for a new path of being less prodigal.

South Africa, post 1994, eliminated the debt attributed to Namibia in a gesture of reconciliation.  We fell short of distancing ourselves from the odious debt of apartheid and subsequently lost momentum in overcoming the backlogs in education, health and housing that doing so would have allowed.  We should not fall short again, when a deal is signed to cap the carbon emissions for the industrial countries, with a deferred cap for developing countries in the considerably hotter next decade.

The danger in falling short of setting deep cuts of 45% from 1990 carbon emission levels is that it puts us beyond the tipping point where unknown additional and more catastrophic changes will be wrought in the earth’s water and rainfall systems, ultimately killing millions in sudden and violent storms, droughts and fires.

If we would rather act in solidarity, and harness the commitment and vitality brought by the unemployed, women, and youth through skills transfer, and if we funded the transfer of energy saving technology, water saving technology and efficient trickle drip systems of agriculture, that solidarity could produce a realistic dividend or fund (again South Africa created a Trust with the sale of strategic bunkers of fuel, to accelerate development of health and education in particularly rural areas — with Kagiso and the IDT) for green jobs.

I believe we should all try to educate ourselves on some of the local impacts that are bound to come our way.  I mean we know that Africa and the countries of the South least responsible for historical carbon will feel the worst effects.  The trade in natural resources that allowed Europe to develop must not translate into a trade in waste byproducts and pollution that again distributes the greatest burdens on the poor.  Individual action is important, to reduce our own footprint on the planet’s resources, but we should be vigilant about the action of South Africa, brokering a deal that allows the corporations and the oil giants to continue to abuse the earth.

Better that there is no deal, so that ordinary citizens can make their choices and voices heard, against the marketing excesses for the rich allowing some to gorge themselves while others starve.  Mahatma Gandhi was asked by a reporter, when India gained its independence, whether his country would seek to be as prosperous as Britain.  “It has taken all the resources of one planet to make Britain prosperous,” he replied, “how many planets would be needed for India?”

Prof D V Brutus
Cape Town

10 December 2009

See, also, a YouTube message for Copenhagen recorded by Prof Brutus on his 85th Birthday last week:

Dennis Brutus is a South African poet.  Active against Apartheid, he was arrested in 1963 and imprisoned for 18 months on Robben Island.  After his release, he became a political refugee in the United States.  Today he is based at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, engaged in poetry and activism against all forms of oppression and exploitation. 

| Print