Talk wfs 6 may 2010 presentation final notes

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Sustainability in its shortest definition is the capacity to endure. To endure one does not only need material goods, but also a mental and spiritual resilience and set of skills on how to cope. When the quality and quantity of our material goods and biophysical environment starts to change, when our fellow South Africans are sick and dying prematurely and when our economy does not deliver the needed health and wealth to all of us, our hope for a better future is severely tested. It is the integrity of our hope that could and should be playing a fundamental role in a possible transition towards sustainability.

In this talk ladies and gentleman, the question of South Africa’s sustainability is under scrutiny. I will first show you that from an ecological, from a human well-being, and even from an economic perspective there are several warning lights on the biophysical and material sustainability of this country. I will also show the remarkable optimism we have as South Africans and highlight the importance of hope. Third, and finally I will argue that we as humans have an ethical responsibility in the individual and collective choices we make. It is our attitudes and behaviours that sustain or destroy.

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Talk wfs 6 may 2010 presentation final notes

  1. 1. Factoring sustainability into South Africaʼs future MP de Wit1 Introduction [Slide 2] Sustainability in its shortest definition is the capacity to endure. To endure one does not only need material goods, but also a mental and spiritual resilience and set of skills on how to cope. When the quality and quantity of our material goods and biophysical environment starts to change, when our fellow South Africans are sick and dying prematurely and when our economy does not deliver the needed health and wealth to all of us, our hope for a better future is severely tested. It is the integrity of our hope that could and should be playing a fundamental role in a possible transition towards sustainability. In this talk ladies and gentleman, the question of South Africaʼs sustainability is under scrutiny. I will first show you that from an ecological, from a human well-being, and even from an economic perspective there are several warning lights on the biophysical and material sustainability of this country. I will also show the remarkable optimism we have as South Africans and highlight the importance of hope. Third, and finally I will argue that we as humans have an ethical responsibility in the individual and collective choices we make. It is our attitudes and behaviours that sustain or destroy. The method I use comes closest to environmental scanning and trend analysis, techniques often employed in futures studies. There is no attempt to be comprehensive and in this sense what I present to you today can best be seen and interpreted as the start of a futures project. First, letʼs look at some biophysical and economic signals and trends. [Slide 3] Biophysical and material stress Biophysical indicators Let us first look at what sustainability indicators on SA reveals to us. There are many different indicators and none of them is perfect. Together, however, they paint a picture of the state of sustainability in SA. Starting with our ecological systems, let us recall that according to the Ecological Footprint indicator, South Africa is in a heavy ecological deficit and ranked 91st out of 134 countries. South Africans need 2.8 ha/pp/yr, that is 1 ha/pp/yr more than what is considered to be a sustainable level. It is especially our carbon and land use footprints that are relatively high compared to the rest of the world. Another indicator, the Environmental Performance Index ranks South Africa as 115th out of 163 countries, mainly driven by a high burden of disease, high carbon emissions and local air pollution effects on ecosystems. 1 Invited address delivered to World Future Society, 6 May 2010, BMW Pavillion, Cape Town.
  2. 2. Table I: Biophysical indicators of sustainability Indicator Result for SA Key aspects Outcome Ecological Footprint 2.8 ha/pp/yr vs. target of Carbon Ecologically unsustainable 1.8 ha/pp/yr Crop land Grazing land 91st out of 134 countries (2009) Environmental 0.508/1.0 Environmental burden of Environmentally Performance Index disease unsustainable 115th of 163 countries Climate change (2010) Air pollution on ecosystems The relatively high carbon emissions in South Africa is a cause for concern. South Africa emits 9.4 tons of CO2 per person per yr, compared to Brazil and Costa Ricaʼs 1.9 and Turkeyʼs 3.8 t of CO2/pp, to cite three countries which have a comparable level of income. South Africa produces 1.15 kg of CO2 for every dollar of GDP (adjusted for purchasing power parity), which is one of the highest in the world. In comparison, the United States produces 0.5 kg and China just over 1 kg of CO2 for every dollar of GDP (PPP adjusted) produced. Agricultural land comprises 82% of total land area, comparable to two countries with similar incomes, namely Uruguay (85%) and Kazakhstan (77%), but much higher than Brazil (31%) and Costa Rica (57%). Only 6.5% of the female labour force and 11% of the male labour force are employed in agriculture in South Africa, a trend comparable to other Latin American countries in the same income category as South Africa (i.e., Uruguay 4.8% and 16%; Costa Rica 4.8% and 18%). South Africa has only access to around 1000m3 of renewable water per person (920m3 internally), down from around 2700m3 in 1962. This is comparable to the situation in other water-scarce countries in northern Africa and the Middle East. The little bit of water we have is also not managed very well. According to a newly released Green Drop report, 55% of the sewage treatment plants that were measured “require drastic intervention soon, because they are grossly mismanaged, are dumping raw sewage into waterways or simply don't monitor or report data on their operations at all”. [Slide 4] Human wellbeing indicators South Africa suffers from persistently high levels of unemployment and a very high burden of disease. This is clear in low relative scores on the Human Development Index, the Quality of Life Index and the Happy Planet Index - 129 out of 182, 92 out of 111, and 118 out of 143 countries respectively, indicating a humanely and politically unsustainable situation. South Africa scores an average 55 out of 180 countries on the Corruption Perceptions Index, but an increase in corruption has been perceived in the last few years (Table II).
  3. 3. Table II: Indicators of human wellbeing Indicator Result for SA Key aspects Outcome Corruption 4.7/10 Increase in perceived corruption in Moderately sustainable Perceptions last 2 years Index 55th out of 180 countries (2008) Subjective Well 41st out of 79 Happiness, life satisfaction Moderately sustainable Being countries Human 0.683/1.0 Life expectancy Humanely Unsustainable Development Literacy index 129th out of 182 Education countries (2007) Quality of Life 5.245/10 Material well-being, life expectancy, Humanely and politically Index political stability, divorce rate, unsustainable 92nd out of 111 community life, climates, countries (2005) unemployment, political freedom, gender equality Happy Planet 118th out of 143 Human well-being and Humanely Unsustainable Index countries (2009) environmental impact Life expectancy has fallen from 62 in 1992 to 49 in 2007. Countries who have a comparable GDP PPP per capita to that of South Africa generally have much higher life expectancies, e.g., Costa Rica (79), Uruguay (76) and Kazakhstan (67). Life expectancy in South Africa is more or less the same than those in other poor African countries such as Burundi, Somalia and Chad. The reported number of new infectious cases of tuberculosis in South Africa is one of the highest in the world (280 per 100 000), compared to just 20 per 100 000 in Brazil, and is more than twice as much as reported in struggling Cambodia (134 per 100 000). Apart from Swaziland (26%), Botswana (24%) and Lesotho (23%), South Africa has the fourth highest HIV infection rate in the world (18%) (measured as % of adults from 15-49), although rates have started to decline marginally since around 2004/5. Whether South Africans are happy or not is not such an easy trend to spot. Subjective measures of happiness, i.e. asking people directly how happy they are, tend to portray South Africans as happier as what other aggregated indicators tend to portray. Measures of subjective well-being for Brazil and Uruguay are still far above South Africa, with a surprisingly high level of subjective well-being in Nigeria. Maybe this is a message of hope. Despite unsustainable trends in our society, South Africans tend to hope for a better future. [Slide 5] Material wellbeing indicators It may appear as if South Africaʼs relatively good economic performance will be able to circumvent these depressing environmental and human wellbeing trends. This is not the case. We may be ranked 24th in the world in terms of GDP (Table III), but on a real basis South African have been earning less and less Rands per capita from 1980 to around 2005 (Figure 1). It is only recently that real Rands per capita have started to increase
  4. 4. again. When expressed in terms of what these Rands can buy in terms of dollars, we are still almost $500 per person per year worse off than in 1981 (Figure 2). Table III: Indicators of material well-being Indicator Result for SA Key aspects Outcome GDP (PPP) 24th out of 178 countries Material well-being Relatively high ranking but (2008) unsustainable Figure 1: Gross National Income per capita (constant 2005 prices, Rand per annum) Source: SA Reserve Bank
  5. 5. Figure 2: GDP per capita (PPP, constant, 2000$) $10500 $9900 $9300 $8700 $8100 $7500 1972 1974 1976 1978 1980 1982 1984 1986 1988 1990 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 Source: Nationmaster.com based on World Development Indicators Unemployment rates in SA are also still among the highest in the world. What is particularly worrisome is that only 16% of all males aged between 15 and 24 are employed, one of the lowest rates in the world and on par with the Balkan countries Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia. Brazil, for example, employs 63% and Ethiopia a whopping 79% of their young males. [Slide 6] Another disconcerting trend is that this steady drop in per capita income was also associated with very low savings. Since 1976 South Africans have saved an average of around 18% of gross national income, while consuming 15% in fixed capital (depreciation) per annum. That left an average of 3% per year in net national savings. Adding to savings, over this same period South Africa has spend an average of 6% of gross national income (GNI) per year on education. When accounting for ecological costs, South Africa depleted 3.8% of GNI in energy, 3.4% of minerals, 0.2% of forest and damaged the worldʼs climate system to a cost of 1.4% of GNI per year through CO2 emissions. Not counting for any other environmental and social costs of economic growth, this means that the average adjusted net savings for South Africa since 1976 has been -0.1% of GNI per annum (see Figure 3). The implicit strategy was to invest in human capital to counter for this depletion in man- made and natural capital. With a matric pass rate off just over 60% in 2009 this seems to be a gamble that has not paid of very well. South Africa is also steadily eroding its international competitiveness. Despite a rise in the adjusted net national savings rate since
  6. 6. 1993, it is lower than the world average and much lower than that achieved in China, India and even Brazil. Figure 3: Adjusted net savings, % 0.40 0.25 0.10 -0.05 -0.20 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 South Africa China Brazil Russia India AVG World Source: Based on World Bank data [Slide 7] If all our main trading partners were also trending in this direction, one could be excused for arguing for relative sustainability. Unfortunately this is not the case as measured through the movements of South Africaʼs exchange rate with its main trading partners. The exchange rate between two currencies specifies how much one currency is worth in terms of another. For South Africa, a country with a free-floating currency, the exchange rate is largely determined by the market forces of supply and demand for the currency. Increased demand is a signal of either real increased business activity in the country or of speculative demand. It is therefore interesting to see whether the long run demand for South Africaʼs currency is increasing or decreasing. The results are shown in Figure 4. Apart from increasing volatility, the nominal effective exchange rate of the rand with 15 trading partners has decreased at an average of 1.32% per quarter since the second quarter of 1990 up to the second quarter of 2009. This means that a South African needs more Rands to buy the same amount of international currency over time, an indication of the slowly eroding longer-term sustainability of South Africa in comparison to its main trading partners.
  7. 7. Figure 4: Nominal effective exchange rate of the rand: Average for 15 trading partners (quarterly % change) 15% 10% 5% 0% -5% -10% -15% -20% 1990/02 1991/01 1991/04 1992/03 1993/02 1994/01 1994/04 1995/03 1996/02 1997/01 1997/04 1998/03 1999/02 2000/01 2000/04 2001/03 2002/02 2003/01 2003/04 2005/02 2006/01 2006/04 2007/03 2008/02 2009/01 2009/04 Source: SA Reserve Bank, Series KB5376Q As a nation, ladies and gentleman, we are depleting our energy and mineral stocks, pumping very high amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere, grazing and cropping most of our land and stressing our ecosystems with air pollutants. In addition, the average South African can expect to live for a mere 49 years, crippled under a heavy burden of disease. Our attempts to stem the tide by investing in education have not provided us with the desired results. One would expect that all this depletion of our natural resources would lead somewhere or to something positive, but our per capita income and our competitive position against our main trading partners has been declining steadily in the last two decades. It is clear that from a biophysical, human well-being, and materialist perspective South Africaʼs sustainability is under threat. South Africans, however are showing a remarkable resilience and optimism about their future. This is a topic to which we turn next. [Slide 8] Continued signs of optimism In a Gallup World Polls survey conduced in April 2009 South Africans show a remarkable degree of optimism relative to the rest of world. Whereas perceptions of life 5 years ago from the date of the poll was ranked 4.6 on a ten point scale (ranked 97th in the world), this has improved to 5.2 in 2009 (81st) and to 7.2 in 5 years from the date of the poll (48th) (Fig 5).
  8. 8. Figure 5: Optimism in sub-Saharan Africa Source: Pew Global Attitudes Project Survey This relative optimism was echoed in surveys run by the Pew Global Attitudes Project Survey in 2007, with more than 43% of South Africans thinking that their lives are better than five years ago. By comparison with people in many other regions of the world, sub-
  9. 9. Saharan Africans in general are much more optimistic that their lives will change for the better. Earlier, in 2004 and 2005, the BBC World Service Polls revealed that South Africans were among the most optimistic people surveyed (Figure 6). In 2004, South Africans were remarkably optimistic about their family (65%) and their country (62%). In 2005, 57% of South Africans believed that their country was getting better (Figure 6). Figure 6: Familyʼs economic condition (% responding better, % responding worse) Source: BBC World Service Poll, 2004. http://www.worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/articles/btglobalizationtradera/ 142.php?lb=btgl&pnt=142&nid=&id= [Slide 9] Although not directly comparable, Ipsor Markinor surveys do point out that this optimism dropped during the recession, but rebounded in 2009. At the end of 2009, 60% of males and 53% of women believed that South Africa was going in the right direction (Table IV).
  10. 10. Table IV: South Africans believe the country is going in the right direction Nov 09 May 09 May 08 Country is going Male 60% 45% 47% in right direction Female 53% 41% 44% Source: IPSOR Markinor, Pulse of the People Public Opinion Series http://ipsos-markinor.co.za/news/views- on-2010-the-year-ahead. Although one can question the validity of using polls and surveys to measure the mood of a nation, the trends are clear enough. Despite unsustainable trends in biophysical and material well-being, it seems as if South Africanʼs belief in their future relative to other nations has not waned, and might have even improved. Optimism have rebounded after the economic recession and this is probably due in part to anticipation of the FIFA World Cup next month. The role of hope Does that mean that South Africans are fooling themselves? Is all this optimism based on a false hope? From a strict physical and material interpretation of reality one would tend to agree. From such a point of view one would expect that it is just a matter of time before the worsening trends in ecological indicators and human well-being would start catching up with the misplaced optimism of South Africans. This may or may not be the case, but one cannot come to such a fatalistic conclusion before exploring the inherent purpose and objectives of South Africans. What are we hoping for? And, how will this hope translate into ethical choices that would set us on the high road towards sustainability? Many materialists, rationalists and atheists despise hope as wishful thinking. Nietzsche even referred to hope as the worst of all evils. One can only sympathize with such a narrow materialist interpretation of reality. However, those who have a broader sense of what reality means, see the central importance of hope in their lives. Hope, without exception is linked to faith in something larger than oneself, things that are not obvious and what one cannot comprehend. Hope is not a subjugation or submission to fate. That is fatalism, which may be either linked to optimism or pessimism. Look at what some others had to say on hope: [Slide 10] Once you choose hope, anything is possible - Christopher Reeve We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars - Oscar Wilde To eat bread without hope is still slowly to starve to death - Pearl S. Buck Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently - Apostle Paul in letter to Romans (Rom 8:24-25, NIV)
  11. 11. From hope towards an ethics of sustainability [Slide 11] Ladies and gentleman, a few final words on what such hope might mean in the ethics of sustainability. Factoring sustainability into South Africaʼs future is in the first place to start acting on the individual and collective hope we have as a nation. This hope is for a better future for ourselves and for our children. This hope can translate into deep changes in attitude and behaviour. [Slide 12] The physical and material trends of the last few decades do paint a bleak picture, no doubt about that. This will require many adjustments, driving in so-called “material wedges” to start bending the trends of material and resource use as well as the generation of pollution and waste. Some commentators from the rich developed world have referred to lifestyle adjustments as fundamental to achieving sustainability. Some lifestyle wedges, such as pressures on conspicuous consumption will also need to be used, but it certainly is not a message to the 20 million or so people eking out an existence in this country and the other 20 million struggling to pay the bills every month. The largest wedge, however, is the most fundamental one and that is to change our attitudes and behaviour. And, this is the wedge closest to ourselves and the one within our own control. Being rich, poor or middle-class does not exclude one from changing attitudes and behaviour towards sustainability. A message of humility and caution in the face of a complex and often uncertain world applies to all of us. Let us take heart from the ecological and economic limits imposed on our often arrogant drive towards more, bigger and better. Let us also work within the limits and opportunities imposed on ourselves by our minds, bodies, and families, and by the communities we are part of. We can only work and do so much. Let us resist over-exploitation of our energy and not demand the impossible from others. Let us not be coerced into activities that rob people of their dignity and rob ecosystems from an ability to heal. South Africa is our endowment and we are responsible for it. In some cases the transition towards sustainability will be painful. In many instances we have been complacent for too long. The electricity crisis for example has already crept up on us. Water may be next. We are losing biodiversity at high rates. Multitudes of our fellow South Africans are sick and dying. On average, we can expect to live not even for 50 years. South Africans do remain optimistic, however, miraculous as that sometimes seems. Time will tell whether that optimism (quoting Václav Havel) is... not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.

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