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  • Bronwyn Egan


Updated: Mar 3, 2023

The feeling of fear is visceral. It’s a clenched ball in one’s throat; hostile and prehistoric. It rules our limbic systems and powers our adrenal glands. It fights, flees and freezes – even when entirely inappropriate, because it also shuts down our rational, prefrontal cortex. Fear stalks us from the news every day and although vital for life and death moments, it is not, in the long term, helpful.

This overwhelming, involuntary response could be what has driven our species to the brink of disaster, dragging the planet with us. Our evolutionarily-tuned response to danger is fear. Fear causes us to want to get away or to vanquish the danger. This makes complete sense. Our primordial forebears were the cautious ones, peering carefully around the bush, instead of barging right in with bright-eyed curiosity, only to be eaten by lions and annihilated by natural selection.

Over millennia, ancestral mistrust created a negativity bias within us, giving us a jaundiced view of the future and prodding us to prepare for the worst. Throughout the aeons, and to our own benefit; we did. Building bigger, better shelters; growing bigger, better and more plentiful crops; cosseting our livestock and clearing spaces for their proliferation. Creating safety, creating wealth, creating capitalism! Not because some all-powerful ‘other’ wanted to run our lives and ruin the planet, but because we are all, deep in our reptilian brains, fearful of the future and so, instinctively, wish to make it safe.

Tragically, we are only now waking up to the fact that in trying to secure ourselves, we have destroyed many of the links in the web of life that holds and protects us, keeping us safe.

In Magoebaskloof, we are blessed to have abundant water; soils that are rich and generous; and wildlife that moves through forests and grasslands dispersing seeds, oxygenating soils and enriching the earth with beauty, as well as with the by-products of detritus and waste that power the living. We are privileged to be able to step out of our doorways and into a living factory. Our kloofs and mountains, with their rocky outcrops overlooking fertile valleys, produce air and water, as well as food and shelter, in an exquisite interplay between living and non-living, which nurtures countless intertwined organisms, including us.

The magic of watching it all can distract us into forgetting the vital functions that each food-chain performs to keep us alive. How the solidly ubiquitous soils host billions upon trillions of soil microorganisms upon which our entire food industry is based. How the high grasslands and treelines that clothe our escarpment, catch storm clouds to replenish wetlands, so that rivers are revitalised and dams refilled. How every single countless leaf and lichen and bewitching ferny tendril pumps oxygen-enriched air back into our lungs. These life-giving mechanisms can only happen if the cycles that support the trees and the microbes, the flowers and the bees, are not broken.

The more links, the stronger the web, the more variety, the more robust the rescue kit. Saving biodiversity is not a privilege, it is a necessity. We know this, but fear can freeze us. Worse, feelings of isolation feed the fear until we become paralysed. We may wish to do something but we believe that nothing can help, and furthermore, we feel alone and powerless. Katherine Hayhoe, a leading atmospheric scientist with a mission to change perceptions and actions around Climate Change, believes we are not isolated and that there is hope. Her research indicates that roughly 70 % of people regard Climate Change as real and they also believe that it is our actions that have accelerated it and that therefore we can do something about it by modifying our behaviour.

Here, however, we can stumble into a pothole of apathy. Apparently, because we believe we are alone in our beliefs, we often do not put into action even the simplest of changes. We believe they are too small a drop in too big an ocean. Our incredible civilisations, however, have grown because we are a social species, in which individuals have worked efficiently together to build technologies so powerful that they have reframed our planet. We have shown that we can work together, however, our world is now about to collapse because we are pushing one another apart using fingers of blame. Figuring out who, if anyone, was to blame for it all is pointless. No matter how it came about, the crisis remains. If we can recognise that it is in our genes to want to be safe, and that being safe involves saving our ecosystems, then perhaps we can put aside our surface differences and work together to address our shared, core vulnerabilities.

Doing something now is essential. We have enough information to act, and our arena should be our homes, where we are most in control of our deeds. The Magoebaskloof mountain catchment provides countless opportunities in a stunning setting. Climate work can be fun! We can’t do it all, perhaps we can’t even do some, but even doing one will be helpful. So here are some old and new and off-the-wall ideas to kick start us into action:

  • Buy and grow organic and local.

  • Eat fresh and not processed food.

  • Link up indigenous bush patches to create reserves and conservancies.

  • Plant indigenous trees on forest margins – don’t nurture weeds.

  • Clear exotic vegetation on river edges and verges.

  • Buy roadside mielies, buy kanga fish, buy braaied chicken-feet!

  • Try not to accept the takeaway packaging.

  • Use paper or reusable bags for your shopping.

  • Use lift clubs.

  • Use bicycles.

  • Use feet or use skateboards!

  • Be aware of and understand environmental laws.

  • Hike a trail and then chop out exotics and weeds.

  • Create corridors so that creatures can migrate around fences.

  • Try donkey carts, trail biking, backpacking, kloofing; or running and rock climbing, yachting and rowing – less 4x4 fuel, fewer exhausts and less heating.

  • Walk out your back door into mountains and streams, instead of booking flights to the Alps, or a sea cruise.

  • Talk to others - talk to everyone, about solutions, not problems.

  • Take action together.

  • Learn from each other.

  • Take the kids to the bush.

  • List wildlife and plant life with iNat and FroHg

  • Use turbines and water and sunshine, not Eskom.

  • And don’t ever think something is never worth doing!

If you have a secret sacred space on your land that you’d like to protect, or know of a wild area that you believe should be cherished, please call Bronwyn Egan (University of Limpopo) on 081 402 0417.

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