A recent Econometrix Karoo Shale Gas Report estimates that the commercial exploitation of Shale Gas Resources in the Karoo in South Africa, will add hundreds of billions of rands in value to the South African economy and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs (around 700 000 to be exact) by the conclusion of the first phase in 2035. However, concerns over the environmental effect of fracking, which is the technique used to remove the gas, have overshadowed the whole project. Environmentalists are sceptical about the sustainability of fracking and whether its benefits could be good for SA, citing the “knock-on” costs of large-scale “exploitation” as a major concern. The US Energy Information Administration says that according to its estimates, the shale gas reserves of the southern Karoo area in SA, is the fifth-largest in the world. The Econometrix report says that if the shale gas below the Karoo area is confirmed, it could solve all of South Africa’s energy problems as it would provide the equivalent of 400 years worth of energy consumption in SA, as well as addressing the “energy poverty” experienced by at least 10 million South Africans. The Commercial General Manager of Shell South Africa, Bonang Mohale, has stated that, “this would be bigger than the discovery of gold in Gauteng.” All of this raises a few pertinent questions which are not merely applicable to South Africa alone, but to the continent as a whole. In our quest for economic growth, development and industrialisation, how much weight should we give to environmental concerns? Should economics and economic factors, always have the primacy, in terms of affecting our decisions and impacting on the choices we make, as we seek to improve the standards of living and the quality of life of all Africans? What’s more important: creating jobs, providing services and improving the lives of all Africans, or looking after the environment? Is it possible to pursue the twin goals of development as well as environmental responsibility? These are all questions that we as Africans are going to increasingly have to answer as we seek to utilise the many natural resources that we possess as a continent, in order to better the lives of all our people. Can we afford to discard the one issue whilst focussing on the other? Unlike the West, can we come up with creative development models that don’t lead to us completely destroying and sabotaging our beautiful natural environment? Africa needs to take the lead in this discussion as it directly affects us, in our quest to modernise. How much of this environmental awareness is of primary concern to the average African, who’s still stuck at Maslow Level 1, struggling for food and shelter? How do we build communities that are environmentally responsible whilst trying to stave of crippling poverty levels as well as underdevelopment? These are critical issues that demand our attention and our considered thought. I’m not sure yet where I stand on the fracking debate, which has received much press here in South Africa, but one thing it has shown me, is that we cannot afford to take a backseat on these issues as a continent. We need to find ways to develop in a different manner to the way most Western countries did, ways that are friendly to our beautiful environment as a continent and that will preserve the great natural heritage that we have inherited, for future African generations. Let Africa lead on environmental and developmental issues in the 21st century. The time for taking a backseat and allowing others to set the agenda for us is over.
- Give me Rest!
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