SA NEEDS to resist the suggestion that environmental issues are not as important as socioeconomic concerns, says the winner of this year’s World Wildlife Fund (WWF) SA’s Living Planet Award, Prof Jackie King.
King, who was speaking in Sandton at the Living Plant Conference, also dismissed the notion that the environment could be fixed at a later stage.
King is a leading South African aquatic ecologist praised for inspiring several generations of scientists, planners and legislators in SA and around the world.
Over the past four decades, she has been part of, and has led, scientific teams working on the river flow management of many of the world’s major river systems, among them the Nile, Mekong, Indus and Okavango.
"We are part of our environment, it supports us and our quality of life in a thousand difference ways. On top of that it costs huge amounts (more) to fix something in the environment than it would to take care of it in the first place, and some of those simply aren’t fixable, they will have disappeared forever," she said.
Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, who also spoke at the event, said along with numerous other challenges SA faced such as unemployment and poor economic growth, the environment was under assault.
SA had lost the sense of anticipation and excitement that existed during the Mandela presidency, said Makgoba. However, he said there was still space for hope and optimism.
"I believe that if we look beyond the politicking of parties, whether during elections season or not … the challenges that I’ve been spelling out … can be addressed by bringing together the forces represented by the young, civil society, including business, labour, religious communities and environmental actions groups," he said.
The archbishop commended environmental nongovernmental organisations for their work.
He emphasised that the optimism he was arguing for was not about pretending that there were no problems but rather was based on the assumption that achieving anything worthwhile involved struggle.