Gauteng Smallholder Gauteng Smallholder November 2011 - Page 51

THE BACK PAGE What a mess we’ve made of it! I f you were to sail due westwards from an Angolan port ~ say Lobito ~ towards South America, you would, in the middle of the ocean, sail slap-bang into a large patch of floating plastic rubbish. The same would happen if you were to sail from a port on the bulge of Africa towards the Caribbean, or from either of the west coasts of North or South America across the Pacific. Or from Australia to Madagascar. For you would have sailed into one of five mid-oceanic gyres, or gentle whirlpools, which have quietly been attracting and concentrating floating plastic garbage over the past few decades. Out of sight and out of mind, because not many people go there, the largest of these floating rubbish dumps are thousands of square kilometres in extent, and scientists are starting to believe the Pacific ones at least are having an effect on the temperature of the ocean surface, and therefore, by virtue of the El Nino/La Nina effect, on the climate of the southern and northern hemispheres, ours included. Meanwhile, in London and large old cities around the world, a truly disgusting phenomenon is amassing itself: that of the “fatberg.” A fatberg is a congealed, hardened mass of old cooking oil, fat and solid waste in the form of disposable nappies and other unmentionables that slowly, like plaque in an artery, blocks up a sewer line, eventually sealing it off so that spectacular fountains of raw sewage explode into the bath- rooms and kitchens of unsuspecting victims upstream. In the US oil companies have destroyed thousands of hectares of rural landscape, not to mention rural economies and communities while chasing up a few billions barrels of oil through fracking. The same fate hangs over our Karroo. Down Under they have their own problems. The Great Barrier Reef, the only living organism visible from space (it being many hundreds of kilometres long and made up of living coral) is dying. In fact it's almost dead, as a result of high ocean tempera- tures and acidification in the water. The oceans generally were a fruitful source of food for millions (and South Africa had one of the most fruitful fishing industries in the world). Nowadays, fish has become a luxury, unless you enjoy the less-and-less appealing species now being touted as delicious (and which previously were turned into fishmeal). Up in Russia, the Aral Sea, previously one of the world's biggest fresh water lakes, is dry. Gone. And Lake Baikal, the world's deepest fresh water lake (as deep as Johannesburg is high above sea level) is drying up, with revolting killer algal blooms causing the extinction of the lake's most iconic (and unique) salmon. In Germany, an entymological study has revealed a dramatic drop in the number of free-flying insects, and we all know the crisis facing bee populations worldwide. Right on your doorstep you may have noticed changes too. You may have picked up new species of insects and plants creeping in to your environment. On our plot, for example, there were no lizards here 25 years ago: it was too cold for them. Neither were there snails. Now both are plentiful. In our skies we never saw grey loeries. Now they are all over the place. Think of the changes out in the veld. For decades the most prevalent highveld roadside weeds were Cosmos, blackjack and khakibos, kindly introduced to the country by the British Army at the time of the Anglo- Boer War. Then, when this magazine started 18 years ago, pom-pom weed was first to be seen on the roadside verges of the West Rand. Now, pom-pom weed is a national scourge, joined by the bright orange Mexican poppy which, too, has spread from west to east in the ensuing years. As a youngster growing up in Pretoria I remember our parents talking about the “civil servants' storm”, a violent thunder and lightning storm, accompanied by a quick, heavy downpour which would occur, with metronomous regularly, every summer afternoon at precisely 4pm ~ just the time when civil servants wer