Phyl Palframan
4 minute read
29 May 2009

Lets work at changing what we can

Phyl Palframan

SOME things can’t be changed — and some can....

SOME things can’t be changed — and some can.

Our summer lightning is truly alarming and the thunder is, well, thunderous. We accept outages from lightning strikes with an equanimity we are far from feeling when Eskom messes up (and have only admiration for our local Eskom staff who often have to leave a meal unfinished or a warm bed, to fix the problem whether caused by lightning, floods or snow).

Generators are mandatory. Inconveniences vary from the crucial — from cows that still have to be milked to e-mails that have to be sent (missing a deadline does nothing for one’s sense of humour) — to the irritating.

Nothing galvanises a rugby fan into cranking up the generator quite like an imminent Sharks try. I’m not sure whether all these generators leave a similar carbon footprint (CFP) to the use of Eskom (when it’s on) but I‘ve been told that the Drakensberg range has the most frequent lightning in the whole wide world. (Geologists would tell us it’s all that dolerite, and I would add there are now all these aerials and antennas vibrating invitingly above our roofs.) Perhaps the elements are trying to tell us something, but why pick on us and not somewhere like New York, or Joeys or Sydney with their giant CFPs.

To be truly realistic don’t we have to accept — or rather doesn’t Earth have to accept — that in lots of ways it’s stuck with us and the ways we have messed up. Will we learn to use a different source of energy before oil runs out? I doubt it.

Will we dispense with gold and other minerals and stop all this gruesome mining ? No ways.

Will we ever restore our environments to what they were — no exotic plants, or animals? Forget it.

On that last issue, exotica, perhaps Earth has to learn to live with the fact that plants, even if they are in the wrong place, do absorb lots of carbon and contribute oxygen to the atmosphere; and the best we can do now is eliminate the truly pestilential, and live with the beautiful. I’ve just finished reading Bill Bryson’s Down Under — his amusing take on that continent on the nether side of Earth. The European settlers there did just what they did elsewhere. Introduced all the trees from back where they came from, to make them feel more at home. They couldn’t bear to have to live with just scrub and all those boring old eucalypts. So they made parks, which grew into some of the most beautiful worldwide, like dreamy European woodlands — each one an antipodean Sussex (Bryson’s expressive description).

Now Oz has had a change of heart and is apparently busy replacing their Euro-parks with replicas of the scrub and eucalyptus that surround them for thousands of miles as far as the eye can see. Sounds a bit drastic, doesn’t it. Hopefuly horticulturists with global vision will prevail, at least to a certain degree.

One wonders about the wildfire situation whether it be in Oz’s forests, or California’s, or our fynbos and veld. Isn’t it wonderful that our southern- slope indigenous forests are not vulnerable to fire?

I understand that so-called wild-fires are, or were, a natural phenomenon (lightning, hot summer sun being causes) and when they occur at the right time of year are beneficial environmentally. In fynbos and the veld this is so, and presumably it’s the same in Victoria and California. It’s man that’s messed up (camp fires, cigarettes, arson). Australians apparently live with the knowledge that eucalypts are highly combustible and their houses – even towns – are always at risk. That’s a good reason why for instance, there should not be gum plantations in the Highveld.

(Another reason being that they guzzle water.)

We can’t do anything about the lightning and maybe my reasoning is very subjective. And maybe, too, the restoring of veld, once another plantation has burnt down, would take centuries.

But isn’t this one of the things we do owe to our Earth and our descendants?