Finding solutions for the future

2008-01-28 00:00

On the mission where I live, Sister Judith Duma rings the Angelus faithfully at 6 am, noon and 6 pm every day. Power cuts are synchronised with the ringing of the bells and after contemplating the incarnation of Jesus and honouring Mary, I have a new mantra: “Beware Eskom, remember to save”. The bells reach a loud urgent crescendo “Remember to save. Remember to save.” Then, whoops! My computer takes another two-hour break.

Eskom is erratic in its cutting schedule. On January 15, Underberg was without electricity for nine hours. The next day, I attended a meeting in Pietermaritzburg, expecting a difficult time, but the area we were in had no power cuts in the three days that we were there. Other parts of the city did have power cuts during that period and so did Underberg.

The load shedding, a euph-emism for power cuts, has plunged the country into trauma. We find scapegoats — neighbouring countries, Eskom, Thabo Mbeki and his Cabinet. And we make jokes about the Prince of Darkness to cushion ourselves from the reality that this situation is here to stay. We are in denial that our way of life has passed away, that it is dead.

The next stage in the mourning process is acceptance. Let’s start by looking at ourselves. Our coal-fired energy contributes hugely to the production of greenhouse gases (GHG), one of a number of gases that form a blanket around the Earth trapping heat from the sun and leading to global warming. South Africans per capita produce more GHG than the average American citizen. That means that you and I are contributing significantly to climate change globally. But now in our booming KwaZulu-Natal cities, businesses and industries are facing bankruptcy. Retrenchments are in the pipeline and our flourishing economy is under dire threat. No one wants job losses and the suffering that causes families, not to mention the rise in crime. Our wasteful energy consumption can be drastically cut to allow the commercial and manufacturing sector sufficient energy to operate during the day.

Scarce electricity is the harbinger of a global resource crisis as we destroy the Earth’s life-support system and consume its resources faster than they can be replaced. Soon it will be oil, petrol and diesel, and where will that leave the households avoiding change by rushing out to buy generators? Water and flush toilets will follow. There is already a shortage of food in many parts of the world as the result of floods, droughts and other freak weather caused by global warming.

The third stage of mourning is to begin a new life. A friend phoned me recently to say that she is using her ingenuity to rise above the electricity problem. All of us have the capacity to find solutions.

These are my suggestions.

Let Eskom introduce a three-monthly competition to honour all municipalities that have cut their electricity consumption by a percentage determined by Eskom. The prize will be no electricity cuts in the following three months. If the municipality maintains that pattern of reduced consumption there will be no further cuts. Municipalities can run similar competitions for their households, businesses, factories and institutions. Those that cut their consumption by the greatest amount will be rewarded with free electricity.

The Witness and other media will run columns where readers and listeners share tips on how to conserve electricity.

The Minister of Finance will introduce subsidies and tax breaks for the manufacturers of energy-saving equipment and appliances, and for individuals and businesses that convert to solar energy. He will also make long-life light bulbs compulsory.

The planned coal-fired power station in Limpopo that will raise our country’s carbon footprint to an even more unacceptable level will not be necessary.

South Africans are being offered the opportunity to pioneer a way of life that recognises that all Earth’s citizens need to reduce their consumption to ensure a future for humanity.

• Marilyn Aitken is the programme director: Women’s Leadership and Training Programme at Reichenau Mission, Underberg.

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