Monday, June 23, 2008


On the fourth Sunday of every month my Quaker Meeting organises for someone, usually a member, to give us a brief talk on a topic which obviously is of interest to the speaker and of interest to others.

This past Sunday I gave the talk and here it is in textual form:

Let me start by saying that I do not intend to talk about humanity’s destructive impact on the rest of creation and the particular things that we can do about it. Although such things are important I want to focus instead on what seems to me to be at the root of the problem.

Ever since my childhood, during which I grew up on a dairy farm in KZN, I have always been very conscious of the rest of creation and of our dependence on it.

As I have grown older this consciousness has been expanded through gathering more and more bits of knowledge.

This has been particularly so in recent years as humankind’s unthinking destruction of the rest of creation has become more public and thus more environmental knowledge, particularly about environmental destruction, has been absorbed by me.

A recent knowledge gathering event left me particularly disturbed about the possible future of life on earth as we know it. This came from attending the SAFCEI AGM and Conference in April. Much of what I learnt there was about humankind’s persistent and ever increasing destruction of the environment right here in South Africa.

As I struggled with this knowledge often discussing the whole issue with others the following understandings begun to emerge into my consciousness and I would like to share them with you.

Firstly the rest of creation is responding appropriately to what humanity is doing to our planet. It can do no other.

Secondly the environmental problems being generated by human beings are so complex, so vast and so overwhelming that I am sure that the very best thing that we can do is to turn in to the Light, humbly seeking its guidance on actions that we can each take in respect of this destruction. The Light knows what is right for us individually even if we do not.

For Friends this is nothing new it is how we understand that we need to live our lives anyway. It is therefore not a strange or unusual approach to all matters that deeply concern us. It is just that now we need to recognise the severity of the ongoing environmental destruction by ourselves and actively seek to include it in our prayers for guidance from the Light.

Thirdly the main reason why I think that humanity has got itself into this dreadful pickle is that Western Culture has triumphed over the other cultures on earth. Now all of humankind is striving, through the same means as the West used, to achieve the same levels of material wealth as those reached in the West.

The striving is not a problem it is the means that are the problem. Why is this?

Historically and up until this point in time the West’s attitude to the rest of creation has been fundamentally and arrogantly exploitative rather than humbly cooperative. We have seen ourselves as somehow above the rest of creation which we perceive as being there for us to exploit as we please.

The reality is that we are just a part of creation like everything else and are therefore equally subject to its rules and regulations. Where we perhaps differ from the rest of creation is that we have consciousness and can therefore, if we so desire, enter into a conscious relationship with the ‘All’, the ‘Spirit’ the ‘Light’, whatever you might want to call it, and can therefore be guided in a good way in our relating to the rest of creation.

For this to happen however we have each got to humbly seek the guidance of the Light in all our relating with the rest of creation.

For millennia we in the West have not done any such thing as was so clearly perceived by an Amerindian, Chief Seattle [1786-1866] of the Squamish, when he said with respect to the European settlers in Washington State USA:

--- What is the white man without beasts? If all the beasts were gone, men would die from a great loneliness of spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts soon happens to man. All things are connected.

You must teach your children that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of our grandfathers. So that they will respect the land, tell your children that the earth is rich with the lives of our kin. Teach your children what we have taught our children, that the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth.

If men spit on the ground, they spit on themselves.

This we know: The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth.

This we know: All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected.

Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. --

Saturday, June 14, 2008



The Western way of living with the rest of creation has, for millennia probably, been basically exploitative. Before the industrial revolution, for example, Europeans had used up much of Europe’s tree cover. The Dutch continued this exploitative tradition when they arrived at the Cape. Hout bay was called that by them because of the indigenous forests on its shores, now only the name remains. As we found ways to use things to our advantage we have simply set about doing so with never a thought for the consequences of our actions, if any, for the rest of creation. We have basically seen it as our God given right to do so and we have exercised it. Perhaps because of our brain power we have seen ourselves as Lords over the rest of creation. This is a delusion of grandeur. We are just a part of creation like everything else that has been created and we need to recognise this and to work cooperatively rather than exploitatively with the rest of creation.

An exploitative way of relating to the other often appears to yield gains for the exploiter. The time span during which this can occur depends on the situation. An exploitative relationship with another person might appear to work to the exploiter’s advantage but this will only last until the exploited cottons on to what is happening to them then the relationship will collapse. When we are considering the consequences of the West’s exploitative relationship with the rest of creation we are dealing with much longer time spans during which there appear to be gains for the exploiter.

The industrial revolution was based on the exploitation of fossil fuels, namely coal, to supply energy. The revolution started in England in the mid-eighteenth century but it was only toward the end of the 20th century that we in the West began to become aware of the very serious environmental damage that our use of fossil fuels was causing. During those two hundred years however, on the back of the use of coal for energy, England rose to world dominance only to be superseded in its turn during the 20th century by oil burning America.

The rest of the world in the form of China and India have now woken up to the apparent advantages of a fossil fuel based economy and are pursuing such economies whilst the environmental damage is growing exponentially and the limited supplies of crude oil are being ever more rapidly depleted. The environmental chickens of the West’s exploitative relationship with the rest of creation are rapidly coming home to roost but sadly not soon enough to prevent others from taking up this same disastrous road in search of the apparent benefits that it has to offer.


As I see it the only way out of the environmental mess that we have and are creating is a path grounded in a full acceptance of ourselves as just part of creation and consequently desirous of working cooperatively in every way with the rest of creation, rather than exploitatively.

What does this mean in practice?

I will try to answer this question from my Quaker understanding and experience.

Traditionally, through their individual experience, Quakers have been able to teach with confidence, from one generation to the next, that the there is that of God within every person, also called the ’Light within’ or the ‘Spirit within’ or the ‘Light of Christ within’ and that by consciously seeking to subject oneself to its guidance on how to conduct one’s life one will then be better able to lead a spiritually rewarding life.

So Quakers, and I would guess all spiritually oriented people, are used to seeking to bring the conduct of their lives under the guidance of the Spirit. The trouble is that, up until now, along with the rest of humanity, Quakers in general have not really allowed much space in their consciousness for guidance on environmental matters. This can change of course and given our current environmental situation needs to do so.

Historically Quakers as individuals, and as a community, have been gripped by various social concerns which have then manifested in considered actions to address the issues of concern. What is now needed is that in our seeking for spiritual guidance from the ‘Light within’ we recognise that the rest of nature and how we relate to it is also of vital spiritual concern to us. With this scenario we would actively seek guidance on decision-making for matters environmental.


Because we were born into the midst of a culture which is founded upon an exploitative attitude toward the rest of creation there are many aspects, of conducting what could be regarded as just plain ordinary daily life, which are actually environmentally harmful, so from an environmental perspective by just living we are living in sin.

Accepting that this is so and having developed as a consequence a firm purpose of amendment we can then investigate our way of living to discover those aspects of our daily living which give rise to environmental crimes. The criminal import of these will differ from person to person so this is where we will each need the ‘Light’ to guide us in our amendment actions.

Examples of areas where some immediate amendment is possible, our use of fossil fuels for example and our generation of waste which ends up in municipal land fills, all these can be reduced if we set our minds to doing it.

Such things are just a start on the road to adopting an ecologically sustainable life style which life style will be the one that is being followed by the humans, in any, who survive into the middle of this century.


On thinking about what I can do in the face of the reality of what humanity, as a whole, is doing to our nest, the world we live in, the following seemed to me to be two actions that I could, nay should, take.

Firstly if we humans want to survive into the foreseeable future as a species on this planet we have simply got to live in an ecologically sound and self sustaining manner and the time to start adapting our lives in this direction is right now. Ultimately those who survive will be living in Ecovillages.

Secondly as the bulk of humanity is not living in this way and without pushing by activists will continue to pursue their environmentally disastrous course those of us who are aware of the approaching environmental catastrophe should never cease in our efforts to try to get our fellows to change their direction.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


Anyone who is even slightly awake will have noticed that it is the social activist element in any society that shapes its evolution. In the nature of things this element is only a small proportion of any society; the remainder of a society only becomes actively concerned when the activities of the activists impact upon them in a way that they experience as negative to their interests.

We here, for example, are living in a society that was brought into being in 1994 by anti-Apartheid activists. This does not mean that these activists were not in evidence before that time; they were of course, but that in 1994 they were finally given legitimate access to our society’s levers of power through an openly conducted democratic election. This would not have happened to them had they not been active long, long before 1994.

But activists are not all the same. I am sure that activists can be categorised in all sorts of ways but the categorisation that I want to draw my readers’ attention to is, the categorisation of activists according to their degree of genuine social concern. As I see it there are basically two categories of interest here.

There are those social activists who are genuinely concerned about the members of the broader society and how they will be impacted upon by what the activists are proposing, and ultimately doing, and how they, these members of the broader society, will experience and feel about this.

Then there is the other category of activists who are not really concerned about anybody outside of themselves, perhaps this might extend out at least to some of their fellow activists but no further.

In the interests of everybody in a society it is members of the first category of activists that the majority, and generally non-activist members, of that society would like to give access to the levers of societal power. They certainly do not want to give this access to members of the other category of activists because they are only self serving.

Unfortunately because of the rewards, potential and actual, available to those who gain access to the levers of social power activists from both these categories seek to win this access. It is incumbent, therefore, on the non-activist members of society to do everything within their means to ensure that the second category of activists is weeded out before they can gain access to the levers of power.

Zimbabwe is a good illustration of what happens to a society when activists belonging to the second category gain ascendancy.

Weeding out second category activists is not easy to do, particularly where they have been involved in a liberation struggle such as here in South Africa and in Zimbabwe. In addition the rhetoric that they use in promoting their causes, but actually their own interests, is much the same as that used by the first category activists. A much greater awareness and understanding of the subtleties of human nature is required if the non-activist members of a society are not to be duped when electing people to positions of power within that society.

Thus over the years it has been recognised that all the members of a state, and thus activists and non-activists alike, need the entrenchment of the separation of powers within that state, i.e. the separation of executive, legislative and judicial powers. This is in order for ordinary citizens to be able to use the legal system to keep activists of the second category in check should they gain access to the levers of state power.

This does not suit second category activists at all so one of the things that they soon strive to do in pursuit of their personal objectives is to endeavour to corrupt and if possible to disable the legal and justice systems in areas where, in execution of their mandates, these systems could adversely effect them. This is what happened in Zimbabwe and it appears to be happening here with the determined efforts of the now ruling clique in the ANC to close down the Scorpions. After this they will probably turn their attention to interfering in the functioning of the judiciary.

The press can also be a thorn in the flesh of second category activists. Thus already the new ruling clique in the ANC is turning its efforts towards increasing government control of the press. The same happened in Zimbabwe.

In essence second category activists assume that their personal interests are indistinguishable from those of the society in which they are personally embedded and thus when their personal interests conflict with the institutions needed to look after the interests of all the citizens then it is not their interests that need to be questioned it is rather these institutions that must be brought under their control or closed.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Submission to NERSA on Eskom price hikes

NERSA's requests for comments are in blue and my responses are in grey type.

Stakeholder inputs requested:

Stakeholders are requested to please comment on the following:

1. Given that Eskom states that there has been a significant increase on
primary energy costs from the time of planning to now, please comment
on coal price escalation and methods of restricting the price escalation.
What contribution should primary energy suppliers, especially coal mines,
offer in order to achieve efficiency in the supply chain?

Eskom should sign long term contracts with coal miners and stop using the spot market to obtain coal supplies.

2. The Eskom application includes demand side management (DSM) cost of
R2.5bn that must be recovered from customers other than recovering this
cost from the customers, what other funding options for DSM can be

If Eskom’s tariff structure was determined by levels of consumption then the resulting increased prices with increased consumption would naturally give rise to reduced demand.

Apparently 10% of national electricity consumption arises from the theft of electricity. Thieves of electricity have no incentive to reduce their consumption. Eskom should invest in ways and means to minimise electricity theft.

3. The 53% real increase required by ESKOM will result in a R12.7 billion
profit after tax, please comment on the necessity and adequacy of the
above profit after tax.

See my comment under point 6.

4. Government has granted Eskom R60 billion loan to assist in the capital
expansion program, in view of the current electricity emergency what other
forms of assistance should the Government provide or consider?

See my comment under point 6.

5. What commitments should be required from Eskom during the
consideration of the application and after the conclusion of the

No comment.

6. Any other comments that the stakeholders might propose to the Energy

My general comment is that I accept that the generation and supply of electricity to consumers demands expenditure from the electricity supplier. Thus the supplier is entitled to recover these costs and to make a reasonable profit for investments in the future viability of its generating capacity through what it charges customers for the supply of electricity.

However in the interests of all of us this matter needs to be considered in a holistic manner.

The reality is that the use of non-renewable fuels [coal, gas and nuclear] as the primary energy source for electricity generation is simply not possible in the long term because these resources will come to an end.

Also in the light of world wide climate change, being exacerbated by CO2 and other GH gas emissions from fossil fuel powered electric power stations, international pressure on countries emitting excessive amounts of GHG’s is going to increase considerably over the coming years. That is not to ignore the real detrimental damage resulting from climate change that will be taking place all over Southern Africa.

Thus I would be quite happy to accept increases in the electricity tariff if Eskom was clearly and transparently using the extra money to shift the its energy sources, for electricity generation, to renewable ones such as solar, waves, tides, winds and geothermal.

Right now with Eskom’s current plans for increased numbers of fossil fuel and nuclear fuel fired power stations I see myself and other consumers being squeezed to help fund the long term destruction of ourselves and, if not of ourselves, of future generations.

This simply does not make any sense to me when we as a country have available to us an abundance of renewable energy resources, such as listed above, and the technology for utilising solar energy for electricity generation, for example, is already in use in other countries. Not only that, other countries, not so well endowed with sun light as we are, are busy developing the technologies to utilise waves and tides. We should be too.

Yes we are facing a power generation crisis but Eskom’s proposed solutions whilst purporting to relieve the crisis in the short term will seriously exacerbate it in the longer term.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Financial Stability not Profligacy

[Not having] a savings culture, we were tempted into large external imbalances. Although comfortably funded [by outside investment inflows], we became alarmingly concerned about the implied risks, remembering our own 2001. What if the world lost interest in us, turning on us because of our profligate ways and indiscipline?

What price would we pay if capital were to be suddenly withheld, the Rand going into cardiac arrest but instead of inflation exploding (as in 1985, 2002) and abruptly higher interest rates calling us to account? It in fact happened again to Iceland this year.

Such anxieties have already these past two years induced us to make domestic changes, reining back consumption through higher interest rates, fiscal surplus and new national credit act. But instead of an external 'sudden stop' ambushing us, abruptly withholding access to foreign capital, which didn't happen, the global windfalls did carry yet another form of toxicity.

Higher commodity prices became carriers of a virulent inflation virus. The consequences are most unpleasant.

Our CPIX inflation has exploded from 3.5% to 9.5%, with a peak nearer 12.5% imminent. Two-thirds of this rise can be blamed on global oil and food prices. Also, on the weaker Rand (its weakness partly reflecting global risk aversion as banking crises hit, and our own uncontrolled appetites through trade and savings shortfalls).
The other one-third inflation rise is an own goal, mainly electricity linked. Only minimally so far have our labour and businesses sinned.

But such sinning may become problematic. We try defending ourselves against the impoverishment implied by the windfall toxicity, having to pay steeply more for oil, food, imports and electricity, outpacing our current price and salary structures. Thus we stand ready to raise our inflation expectations and wage and price demands.

This compels the SARB to raise interest rates yet again, trying to contain such urges. We should accept that windfall toxicity impoverishes us and that we should adjust our spending and saving, importing and exporting, rather than making greater inflation demands in a forlorn attempt to square the circle.

Wage-price spirals don't solve anything. Indeed they only make things worse. Thus more rather than less discipline.

This quote comes from Cees Bruggemans’ email newsletter; he is Chief Economist at First National Bank. In his most recent letter he puts forward the dangers inherent in high commodity prices for us South Africans because of our particular national weaknesses i.e. high spending and no saving. In other words ‘eat drink and be merry’ but we leave out the ‘and tomorrow we die’ bit because we do not want to die, who does? So when the financial crunch comes in higher interest rates etc we start agitating for higher wages and other inflationary actions without stopping to look at our contribution to the problem.

National financial discipline, rather than financial profligacy, is a cornerstone of a successful society and we all want South Africa to be a successful society. Such discipline must start with the individual and spread out from there to embrace all of society. It must also be evident in the life styles of the leading people in society who set the example for the rest of us. Unfortunately this is far from the case in the South Africa of today where profligate consumption by the cream of society is the order of the day.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Residential Sustainable Communities

I am a retired 68 year old living in Kensington Johannesburg, divorced but with a partner who lectures at the University of Limpopo and visits me when she can.

I was intending to move into a retirement facility in about my mid 70s and on enquiring about availability of accommodation therein I found that in a retirement facility near me there was a twenty year long waiting list for cottages. Their shortest waiting list, first floor one bedroom flats, was three years long. It would seem long waiting lists for retirement facilities are currently the norm. One of the reasons for this of course is that people are living between 10 to 15 years longer than they used to forty or more years ago. This set me thinking. Perhaps this situation actually provides an opportunity for a new life after retitrement. Are there retirees out there who would be interested in working together to form a residential community, I wondered. Hence this blog.

For many years I have been very concerned about the destruction that humankind is wreaking upon our natural environment. As my knowledge of the steadily increasing destruction expanded I became more and more despondent about any kind of long term future for humankind. Over the Easter weekend I spent a fair amount of time surfing the web looking at environmental web sites and I became even more despondent because the bulk of the information contained in them seemed to be predicated on fixing particular issues that arose from what I saw as the real problem which is the West's total way of living which is completely unsustainable and which the rest of humankind seems hell bent on following.

Unless humankind changes to living in a completely sustainable manner our species, and many other species along with us, are doomed. Unfortunately in this matter of changing the way we live, which can be compared to trying to turn a huge ocean liner around, we, as a species, might not make the needed changes fast enough. In this case, which is a definite possibility, what is to be done?

It seems to me that those of us who are aware of this problem are in a similar position to that of Noah before the flood and like Noah it is incumbent upon us to create Arks or pockets of completely sustainable living which mght, just might, God willing, survive the looming environmental catastrophe should it befall humankind. Such Arks will of necessity be comprised of small communities and the more of them that there are the greater our species chances of survival.

This is where the idea of residential communities of retirees came in, residential communities of reirees doing what it takes to live sustainably so that they can serve as exmplars to others seeking to also adopt sustainable life styles.

As I am a long tgime spiritual practioner having been a Quaker since 1963, an Iyengar Yoga practitioner since 1985 and a Vajaryana Buddhist since 1987 my vision is of a residential community of financially independent spiritual practitioners who are also environmental activists. Anybody who is interested or wants to discuss this concept is more than welcome to contact me either by email or telephonically at 011 616 4204.