The Earth Organization is an international, independent, non-profit group which seeks to reverse the dwindling spiral of the plant and animal kingdoms and our environment through education and action.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Namibia Our Motherland

PROUDLY NAMIBIANWorkers at the Village Café in Swakopmund proudly display their national colours in celebration of 23 years of Namibian Independence on 21 March 2013.

"Namibia Our Motherland"
Published in the Namib Times, 22 March 2013.
By Marcia Stanton

Let each one of us think today about what it means to have pride in our country- to have love for and devotion to the welfare of our nation.  A country is made up of people and the environment which sustains those people.  We need air, water and food for our survival.  Without the environment, we cannot have a nation because without the environment we cannot live.  The environment cuts across all cultures and is essential to us all. The welfare of our country depends on our environment. Let this thought unify us.

Our flag embodies the values of our nation to which we salute. Pride for our environment is captured in symbolism. Green represents vegetation and agricultural resources. Blue is a symbol of the clean Namibian sky, the Atlantic Ocean, the country's precious water resources and rain. The gold sun embodies life and energy.  Red stands for people and their heroism and resolve to build a future of equal opportunity for all. White signifies peace and unity.

Even our Constitution recognises our dependence on the environment for our survival and our need to protect it. Article 95(l) states that the government of Namibia must maintain "…ecosystems, essential ecological processes and biological diversity of Namibia and utilization of living natural resources on a sustainable basis for the benefit of all Namibians, both present and future.”  The living Constitution is the supreme law of the land which governs the creation of all laws and the interpretation of those laws.  Our elected government officials take an oath to uphold protect and defend all provisions in the Constitution.  It is our duty to honour the supreme law of our nation. 

Yet, we are now being asked to compromise the integrity of our supreme law by promoting industry that will directly and dramatically decrease the sustainability of the living resources, leaving behind a poisoned environment that cannot provide for future generations.  The late honourable Chief Justice, Justice Mahomed described the Constitution as "...a mirror reflecting the national soul/the identification of the ideals and aspirations of a nation, the articulation of the values bonding its people and disciplining its government."  Echoing his words, in essence going against our Constitution by failing to maintain Namibia’s environment for current and future generations is equivalent to losing the soul of our nation.  Compromising our environment for short term monetary gain means we have lost the values upon which our great nation was formed.

Today more than ever we need to echo the words of our national anthem. Let us have pride in our country, land of the brave, land of unity, contrasting beautiful Namibia. Namibia our country is the beloved land of savannahs, a breathtaking coastline - heaven on earth. It's time for us to hold high the banner of liberty and stand for freedom from being enslaved by money. Let us stand for what is timeless, true and just. Take pride in the environment you call home. Namibia our Country, Namibia Motherland, we love thee. 

Our Endangered Dirt

"Our Endangered Dirt"
Published in the Namib Times, 15 March 2013.
By Marcia Stanton

Our soil is endangered. Some 40% of soil used for agriculture around the world is classified as either degraded or seriously degraded – meaning that it is nearly impossible for plants to grow on that land.  The World Economic Forum has demonstrated that if current rate of soil damage continues, we have only about 60 years of topsoil left in the entire world.

What does it matter?  In short, soil produces food and we cannot live without food for more than 3 weeks.  Soil is a critical building block to all life on land and it enables plants to grow. We and other species depend on plants for food, oxygen, habitat, medicine, and regulation of the water cycle and climate.

Although we need soil for our survival, we do things to the soil which make it unusable and damage our health. We pollute and damage soil by mining, using pesticides and chemical fertilisers (phosphate and nitrate), and disposing of oil, fuel, coal ash, industrial wastes, and garbage.  This pollution causes food to be tainted with toxic substances, resulting in health problems. Long term health effects include cancer as well as brain, skin, nervous system, and gastrointestinal tract damage amongst others.  

Soil pollution also causes depletion in soil health, resulting in long term health impacts on people and the environment. The same pollutants that harm people also damage animals, plants and micro-organisms in the soil.  Statistics have shown that land pollution alone results in a loss of 6 million hectares of land and 24 billion tons of topsoil per year.  This is a direct loss in soil that can be cultivated to produce food.

Industrialized food production has also lead to additional soil loss.  Although food production initially increases with the use of industrial techniques, this practice is unsustainable and causes long term damage to soil. Heavy reliance on pesticides and fertilizers such as chemical phosphate and nitrate has contaminated the soil, diminished soil quality and weakened the land. 

 As a result, soil is being lost at 10 to 40 times the rate at which it can be naturally replenished.  Because soil is a complex mixture of eroded rock, mineral nutrients, decaying organic matter, water, air, and billions of living organisms, it cannot be easily recreated.   In the last 50 years of using industrial farming techniques that use chemical fertilisers, 1/3 of once arable land is now unusable.  Industrial agriculture also takes jobs away from small farmers which accounts for 79% of the employment in Namibia. The United Nations has declared that food security in Africa will only be increased by using organic agriculture (which does not use chemical fertilisers).  According to the United Nations, “simply applying the ‘industrial’ agricultural models of the twentieth century into the twenty-first as a single, global solution will not serve us well.”

In Namibia, our Constitution calls on us to maintain a sustainable environment for current and future generations for a reason.  Without the environment, including the dirt beneath our feet, we cannot live.

Monday, 11 March 2013

We Live By the Grace of Water

A ship sails across the junction of the polluted Yangtze River and Jialin River in China
"We Live By the Grace of Water"
Published in the Namib Times, 8 March 2013.
By Marcia Stanton

No life can exist without water.  It is a major component in the bodies of all living organisms. In fact, 60% of our human bodies are water and we cannot live without freshwater for more than 3 days. Over 71% of the earth’s surface is water but less than 1% of our planet contains water that we can drink.  Certainly we should care about what happens to that 1% of our planet that holds the water essential for the survival of every living organism on this planet, including ourselves. Do we?

According to the UN, humans release 2 million tons of industrial, agricultural and sewage waste into the world’s water every day. In developing countries alone, 70 percent of industrial wastes are released untreated into fresh waters supplies.  In the U.S., water pollution alone causes 1 million illnesses per year.  Worldwide, water pollution directly kills 14,000 people every day. 

Clean fresh water provides more than US$75 billion in benefits, goods and ecosystem services to people, but we still choose to pollute.  In the U.S. alone, it will cost over US$20 billion for water pollution cleanup after 500,000 mines were abandoned. In Germany, the public has already paid US$3.2 billion in taxes to clean up the groundwater contamination from uranium mines alone but estimates show it will cost at least US$5.2 billion. 

What will mining pollution cost us in Namibia? We are now even inviting Chinese mining companies to operate in our country with no proof of a clean environmental record.  China is ranked 14th in the world as having the most fresh water pollution. According to a recent report, “up to 40 percent of China’s rivers were seriously polluted” and “20 percent were so polluted their water quality was rated too toxic even to come into contact with.”  

There are 60,000 premature deaths every year in China due to water pollution alone.  This is equivalent to the entire population of Walvis Bay dying every year due to hazardous and toxic pollutants in water supplies.  Our neighbour South Africa has done even worse and is ranked as the 11th most polluted country in terms of water pollution.  The fresh water there contains 4.74 tons of industrial pollutants per/cubic km of fresh water. 

For millennia our ancestors warned us about polluting our water. Religious texts including the Bible said that polluting the water would lead to our own death.  Instead of taking the warning, we polluted our water incessantly until rivers started catching on fire from chemicals, half of our world’s rivers became polluted, 20% of all freshwater species went extinct, 40% of all living species on Earth were at risk of going extinct, and 5 million people died per year.   Do we need something more serious to happen for us to stop recklessly destroying the 1% of our planet that holds our shared water supply?

We live by the grace of water and we will die by our lack of wisdom and ethics.

Monday, 4 March 2013

What's In the Wind

Published in the Namib Times, 1 March 2013.
By Marcia Stanton

Stop. Breathe. Think about what it is that is going through your nose- the life force that is air.  The air provides a critical balance of what we all need to survive- humans, plants and animals alike. There’s nothing like a refreshing sea breeze on a hot summer’s day... but what happens when that breeze is tainted with something that makes us sick? This is what we call air pollution.

Air pollution is often invisible or without a trace of scent. The presence of chemicals in the atmosphere in quantities that are harmful to human health or the environment is what we call air pollution. It is caused by mining, waste, manufacturing and using chemicals, and burning fossil fuels for energy (coal, petroleum), among others. 

Air pollution is not good for us.  It causes cancer, asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, allergies, birth defects, heart and respiratory disease, brain and kidney damage, and heavy metal poisoning.  The World Health Organization estimates that air pollution causes 2.3 million premature deaths worldwide per year. 

Animals and plants also face disease and death along with the inability to reproduce.  Air pollution leads to pollution of the water and land. A very clear example of air pollution comes from Germany, where it took less than 10 years for air pollution to cause over half of the trees in western Germany to die in the 1980s.

For those that are concerned with the economy, let’s look at the example of the United States.  It’s estimated that in the United States alone, health care and lost work productivity costs US$150 billion per year directly due to air pollution. The damage to crops from air pollution causes a loss to agriculture of US$5.4 billion per year.  Damage to materials such as cars and buildings is estimated at US$5 billion per year.  This is just one country. In China, it’s estimated that air pollution alone causes US$112 billion in GDP loss. Yet we are inviting this country to do business in Namibia. 

Simply because Namibia has a low population and plenty of open space doesn’t make it less susceptible to pollution. Our neighbour Botswana is similar in many ways and has ranked as the second most polluted country in the world in terms of air pollution according to the World Health Organization – mining being the main source of pollution there. 

It’s time to rethink what we are doing to the air- that invisible substance which we cannot live without for more than 3 minutes.  Air pollution is not something which we can sustainably live with.  Today, air pollution is one of the top ten causes of premature death worldwide. Surely this should be enough to wake us up to take a different course away from that which causes pollution.  Let us be responsible and not taint the air we share or leave poison in the wind for the next generation to breathe.  Let us look for ways to sustainably live with the earth.