I am no environmentalist or zoologist or anything that has to do with nature, animals or living things. I am just a 20-year old studying Information Design at the University of Pretoria and up to now, did not really pay much attention to the environment so intensively. I don’t see myself as a funny person, nor a very serious person. Even when the situation is quite serious I will always try to see the humorous side to it to try to enlighten the mood. But sometimes we, as South Africans (people actually living in South Africa and not the ones who have forsaken us), tend to do this just because we know that it does not even help complaining anymore. You just make a joke about it and try to cope with the problem.
“Humans use language, narrative, imagination and cognitive models to understand, cope and take action” (Holm, 2015: 981). This actually means that people tend to only react to a situation when they can understand it in simpler form or when it is more relatable to them. The solid facts of a situation do not necessarily urge the reader to act immediately. Some tend to just brush it off, trying to let the facts not get to them but as soon as there is a photo or a cartoon about a serious problem people tend to let their minds go and realise that there is actually a bigger problem behind the joke of it.
The media act as a shaper of public opinion, but also represents the opinion of the public. The crucial part is that the media decides on how they will shape the public opinion and/or facts. They decide which facts should be emphasised for a bigger response or whether they should brush some facts off for being too mundane for the reader might not be interested enough to read the paper (Grant & Lawhon, 2014:41). This is the reality we are living in. People want sensational stories and the ‘environment’ and ‘sensational’ does not really fit together. But how can we alter this?
This blog discusses three different articles on the same environmental concern of sewage polluting the environment. The structure of analysis is according to the reading, Humanities for the Environment- A Manifesto for Research and Action, which is written by Poul Holm et al (Holm, 2015). When it comes to the basic human right of sanitation there cannot be any compromises allowed.
(Kempton Express, 2014)
|Who/what are the drivers of change?||Heavy rainfall.||An increase in the population of this specific area, Deneysville caused for two sewerage pumps to break down as they were working 100% above their capacity limit (Kings, 2015).||Water pipes too old to handle the water pressure.|
|What is happening?||A temporary retaining wall at the end of the Menlo Park storm water canal collapsed due to the heavy rains, ripping open a sewage pipe. The raw sewage then started contaminating the exit of the canal which lead to the Bird Sanctuary. Raw sewage had been pouring into a bird sanctuary in Menlo Park for five days before any action was taken.||The two sewerage pumping stations of the town are not working. This causes an overflow of sewage into the town and its communal areas. According to Kings (2015), people are getting sick due to the polluted water. The stench is also horrifying and makes living environments unbearable. The pollutants in the dam can lead to cancer, birth defect, skin problems and brain damage in the long term. Diarrhoea is one of the indications of infection among the people.||A stormwater pipe burst on the corner of Essendon and Eldorado streets and has been left unattended to, for months. This caused for sewage being pushed back into water pipes creating a major health hazard for residents.|
|What can be done?||The Menlo Park storm water canal has been under construction for more than six years and progress is very slow. According to DA Councillor Siobhan Muller, they also started working upstream which now caused the flow of water to increase. Whereas if they started working downstream the process would be much easier and this type of disaster, where temporary walls collapse, could be prevented.||The sewerage pumping stations need to be upgraded to be able to serve the whole community and take the pressure. Liquid chlorine was used as an emergency treatment when spillages occurred, but the municipality could not afford it anymore. Emergency funds need to be implemented to treat the polluted water while the plant is being upgraded.||The storm water pipe needs to get fixed. The whole area’s pipe system is old and damaged and a whole upgrade would solve problems in the future as well.|
|How to get it done?||Funding is needed to speed up the construction process. The final funding for the 2016/7 year has been withdrawn (Bothma, 2016).||The municipality must act upon the sewage problems as people are getting sick and it is not good for the environment. People need to work together to make sure that the municipality reacts to the problem.||That is the million dollar question. The residents are sending their complaints to the municipality, but the problem is clearly not attended to. Funding for repairing is much needed. Money that Zuma is apparently going to pay back.|
|What are the means to do it?||The article does not give a structured plan for solving the problem.||The article does not give a structured plan of how they are going to solve the problem. It is clear that the municipality is not attending to their complaints.||The article doesn’t give any measures that can be taken to solve the problem. The residents are counting on the municipality to do their job, but we all realise that it is almost the same as waiting for rain in the desert.
The three articles discussed in the table above shows the different drivers of change in each situation. The drivers of change definitely relate to the “Great Acceleration” as it is described by Holm (2015). The Great Acceleration consists of the immense development of human technologies, powers, and consumption. In the first article, the driver of change is the heavy rainfall, a consequence of global warming, which is ultimately caused by human activity. “These human advances have come with an alteration of the planet’s carbon and nitrogen cycles…catalysts for adverse weather patterns…” (Holm, 2015: 980). The second article’s driver of change is the increase of population and this can be seen as a societal factor. The political factor is also driving the change as the municipality is not equipped to solve the problem. The third article’s driver of change is also a political factor which consists of a municipality who does not look after the water pipes to prevent leaks or bursts, in this case.
The solutions that are given in the articles does relate to “The New Human Condition” as stated in Holm (2015). “The New Human Condition” is described as a crisis of “how we as a species will cope with the consequences…of being the major driver of planetary change” (Holm 2015:983). This is, therefore, a term used for how we react to changes in the world. Do we retreat or do we react to it? We are used to be able to fix everything with the click of a button, but environmental changes, that we as humans are responsible for, cannot be fixed in such an instant. It needs time and patience; qualities that only a few humans still have. This reaction, which is most common, leads to an ignorant attitude in saying that the problem is impossible to solve.
The proposed solutions also do engage with the business sector. For this specific environmental concern, engineers, plumbers, quantity surveyors and architects will be needed to complete the construction. A lot of different fields will, therefore, need to work together to save the environment and solve the problem. Aurecon, an engineering company, could be suitable to assist with the given concern and construction thereof. This company specialises in construction for the building environment.
This specific environmental concern is not an easy concern to be handled by the public themselves as it has to be managed by professionals. The society can only do their part up to a stage where they don’t have the knowledge of what to do further. Sewage needs to go through a lot of processes before it can be released back into the environment and that is not something you can just do in your own backyard. The only possible thing that can be done to get the public involved is to teach them about what you can or cannot flush down the drain. But the proposed solutions are not practical for the public. It is a basic right for people to have a working sanitation system. The solutions, which require a lot of money, cannot always be invested by the public or residents themselves as they might not be in the financial position to do so. People are paying taxes for these services but the money is clearly sent to the wrong account.
I love being in nature and although I did not pay much attention to any articles about environmental concerns in the past, I will most definitely do so now. I realised that the public tends to shy away from the problems as they believe they cannot solve it and also if the story is not sensational enough. Yes, some of the problems need to be handled by professionals but that does not allow us to accept the problem and just move on. At the end of the day, it is still your environment where you should be able to live life to the fullest. Nature is so much more than we can imagine; it is part of us and all you need to do is: Just breathe.
Bothma, S. 2016. Raw sewage disaster in Menlo Park. Rekord 1 April: 1
Holm, P et al. 2015. Humanities for the Environment- A manifesto for research and action. Humanities 4: 977-992
Residents hope it is the end of sewage spills. 2014. [O]. Available:
Accessed 2 April 2016.
Kings, S. 2015. Sewage in Gauteng’s drinking water. [O]. Available:
Accessed 2 April 2016
Grant, S. & Lawhon, M. 2014. Reporting on Rhinos: Analysis of the Newspaper Coverage of Rhino Poaching. Southern African Journal of Environmental Education 30: 39-52.