Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Chief Justice

Chief Justice Ngcobo has always been the epitome of integrity. His action in withdrawing his acceptance of the probably illegal extension of his contract is a further illustration of this.

Will some of our leaders who have become mired in controversy kindly note and resign honorably, rather than brazening things out and hoping it will all blow over? Sadly, that includes our State President, whose apparent involvement in the arms deal is not something that has been brushed under the carpet by his appointment to the high office.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Norwegian Tragedy

Who can fail to be moved by the Norwegian tragedy? An apparently normal person behaves in a totally abnormal way, and takes about a hundred lives, many of them so young that they can have done nothing to affect him.

In all the biographical information that has poured out, I have been surprised that the focus has been on Breivik's school life. The man is 32 years old. What has he been doing since he left school? Joining organisations, trawling the internet, playing digital war games, buying weapons, learning how to make explosives, and renting farms.

But what has allowed him to do all this? Most of us, at the revolutionary stage of our lives, find we have a job to do, to stay alive. Most of our time goes into the sheer slog of earning our daily bread. To be sure, some lucky people of my acquaintance had parents rich enough for them to survive without wasting time working, but in Breivik's case, it seems his parents were estranged and in no position to support him. Apart from scrounging the occasional meal off his mother, he was very much alone.

So was he unemployed, and able to draw enough from the State not only to live, but to mount an attack upon it? From all that we know, this seems to be the case. If so, then surely there can be no greater reason to damn the socialist ethic, than that it carries such seed for its own destruction.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Protect our Public Protector!

Wow! What a breath of fresh air. With every passing day my admiration for our Public Protector, Advocate Thuli Madonsela, increases. She has opened the window of corruption, and some of the foul gas is escaping. Her courage is outstanding.

Her latest report nails the whole bunch behind the Durban police saga. They entered a lease for 10 years at R125/sq metre, not R40 which was the going rate. 'They' are all named - Bheki Cele, the Chief of Police; public works minister Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde; former director general Siviwe Dongwane; and, of course, property tycoon Roux Shabangu, the landlord.

Can we please have a few more like her in Government? It only needs a few, and the whole pack of cards will come tumbling down. The corrupt will finally start to turn each other in.

But the danger of this to the powerful in Government is obvious. Our Public Protector really needs protection.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Any one for taxing carbon?

In Australia, they have just taken a decision to introduce a carbon tax. The scheme was not easy to ram through. It is surrounded by all sorts of gives and takes, to sweeten the pill. However, the mining industry in Australia has now come out with a statement that it will cost millions of dollars.

In South Africa, we don't need industry to tell us the costs of a carbon tax - Treasury does the job for us. Its discussion paper says "The effects on GDP under the different non-closure and closure scenarios demonstrate that GDP declined by 0.5per cent and 13.9per cent respectively" (para 151).

Australia is a developed nation with a GDP per person of $38510 in 2010; we are developing, with a GDP per capita of $10280. We cannot afford a carbon tax. It will stop our development.

We need to create wealth to raise up our people, not to throw it around feeling good that we are doing our bit to save the world. We could stop all use of fossil fuel tomorrow - the economy would die, people would starve, and the world would not notice the difference our sacrifice had made.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Agricultural mania

The UN is at it again! "A solid shift to green technologies in world farming is vital if endemic food crises are to be overcome and production boosted to support the global population." "Food security must now be attained through green technology so as to reduce the use of chemical inputs – fertilizers and pesticides – and to make more efficient use of energy, water and natural resources." "A sharp move away from large-scale, intensive systems of agriculture is essential if growing environmental and land degradation is to be halted." "The main policy focus should be promotion and development of sustainable agriculture, with an emphasis on small farm holders in developing countries." Quotes from a report just released from the U.N's Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

230 years ago, Ned Ludd broke a spinning jenny which, he believed, was impoverishing the rural workers. He gave his name to the Luddites, who, in the early 1800's were bent on smashing every new-fangled machine they could find. What they failed to realize was that the whole nature of work was changing. The invention of the steam engine had put power into the hands of Man. Suddenly, productivity was not a matter of brawn but of brains. The machine had set people free of drudgery.

Since then, life expectancy has soared, hunger has been essentially banished, and we can take human rights almost for granted. The difference in the opportunities for men and, in particular, for women, are incalculable. It is only the small farm holder in developing countries that can experience anything like the horrors of much of 19th century life.

Yet this is the grail the New Luddites are holding up, as if it were something sacred. Keep the folk on the lands, let them grind away, toil to feed themselves and, if anything is left over, let them sell the surplus. What a recipe for a stultifying life! The day ruled by the weather and the seasons, the night by the absolute need to rest the muscles to be ready for the fight which starts at dawn.

The evidence of the Green Revolution is clear. Let us have fertilizers, insecticides, improved seed, machinery to prepare the soil and to harvest the crop. Then, a few workers can feed a hundred, so freeing the hundred for more productive work.

For the past 30 years, the developing nations have been growing their food output faster than their population, by creating large, efficient farms that are able to afford the capital needed to grow food without excessive toil. It is only in lands where this development has not taken place that starvation is a continual threat. Sadly, Africa has too many countries still reliant on peasant farmers. The UN would condemn them to ongoing starvation.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Putting the cart before the horse

Today's climate idiocy concerns plans to set up an African agency to manage the hundreds of millions of dollars that some expect to come our way. The money is supposed to come from developed nations who feel guilty about having polluted our atmosphere. We Africans may have made a small contribution to the pollution, but it is as nothing to what the developed have done.

Of course it would be nice to have lots of lovely lolly to throw around - but the chances of us actually getting any seem vanishingly small. The developed nations are going through a financial crisis of their own making. They are certainly not in a position to start sending us cash to build our infrastructure or offset any damage caused by their emissions or any excuse for being generous. Right now they face citizens most unhappy with the loss of unaffordable entitlements, but they are having to bite the bullet because the money is just not there - they threw it away, and have no more to throw.

So setting up a new agency is just another example of wasting money on pipe dreams - first make certain you have the money in your paw, then agree on how you are going to administer it (and make certain it gets spent wisely).

Incidentally, the Copenhagen Accord was predicated on money flowing. It isn't going to, so the Accord is as dead as the late (un)lamented Kyoto Protocol.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The low carbon economy

As we move towards COP 17, the noises become more and more hysterical. Today's collection is all about the move to the low carbon economy. "We need to radically change our economic models and ensure a transition to a low-carbon economy,” say Imbewu Sustainability Legal Specialists. "World Wide Fund (WWF) climate change programme manager Richard Worthington says he hopes to see the South African government work hard over the next four months and present a coherent low-carbon action plan for the country."

Such pious hopes! So far from reality. The average country gets 87% of its primary energy from fossil fuels. South Africa is a little worse because it has no hydro power and very little nuclear power, so 96% of its primary energy is fossil.

Fossil fuels produce carbon dioxide in the course of providing energy. So this low-carbon pipe dream means low fossil fuel.

It should be obvious to the proponents of the dream, that you can't drop around 90% of your primary energy source overnight. Sure, renewable energy is growing - but off a very low base. Last year, renewable energy (other than hydro) more than doubled - but the fossil fuel energy grew 25 times more than the renewable energy.

But the biggest stumbling block is not the sheer impracticality of an overnight change. It is the fact that fossil fuel use is one of the biggest, and in many cases, THE biggest contributor to the exchequer. Go low carbon, and you lose your tax base. As propositions go, its chances of success are really low.

This, surely, is the reason why ideas like the Kyoto Protocol have been such spectacular failures. Governments have quietly worked out for themselves that reducing your national carbon burden might be a Good Thing for the world but a very poor thing for your own pocket. That is why Kyoto will not be renewed at COP 17. That is why such formulae for saving the world will die a sudden death.

So let us hope that COP 17 finally forces the pious believers into facing harsh reality - fossil fuels are going to be around for quite a while. Adapt or die!