I want to grapple with the complex concept of hope.
The world increasingly continues to overwhelm, with mining operations threatening to destroy hundreds of kilometres of pristine coastline on our West Coast, to Shell utilising seismic surveys on our Wild Coast, which will cause severe stress and injury to our marine animals and damage to our precious ecosystems, in the search for more minerals and fossil fuels.
I have found myself over the past few weeks being drawn into discussions with people who deny the science around the climate crisis, and who believe the rhetoric of companies like Shell and Mineral Sands Resources who put profit before the planet, and who, despite the widespread societal agreement that climate change is an existential threat to humanity, continue to operate with a “business as usual” mindset, engaging with climate change and the destruction of biodiversity in ways that do not challenge the economic system’s commitment to never-ending growth.
To quote Vandana Shiva, “The mechanical mind of extraction has created the illusion of humans as separate from nature, and nature as dead, inert raw material to be exploited. But, in fact, we are part of the biome.” When we wage war on our oceans, on our ecosystems, we wage war on ourselves.
It is this illusion that humans are separate from nature that needs to be shattered. Humans are not the apex species they think they are. Trees and plants make the air, and eat sunlight. Without them, we would not exist.
But as I learned from the stirring novel by Richard Powers, The Overstory, “The best arguments in the world won't change a person's mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story”.
So let me tell you a story.
In May this year, a boy called Charles walked into our Parley Ocean School for the first time. His father works as a carpenter next to the graveyard in the township of Imizamo Yethu in Hout Bay. His mother looks after him and his three siblings, and they share a small one-roomed shack with a communal outhouse (toilet). When Charles walks to the bus that collects him for Ocean School, he walks past a number of overflowing dump sites filled with discarded plastic, and the Disa River that flows past this township is often polluted with solid waste and effluent. All of this eventually ends up in the ocean, which is only about 1km away.
Charles is a studious boy. He is quiet and serious, and always contemplates deeply every question asked of him before answering. His parents are very proud of their son, and nothing is more important to them than his schooling. Charles has taken this to heart, and applies himself with dedication to every new bit of knowledge presented to him, soaking it all in like a sponge.
He was fascinated by the fact that we are all connected to the oceans, no matter where on the planet you live. He has recounted with enthusiasm on a number of occasions that “every second breath we take is generated by the oceans”, and that “the oceans are the lungs of our planet”.
We saw Charles truly light up when we introduced him to the ocean through our Turn The Tide Ocean Immersion programme, where a big component of this programme is practicing mindfulness. Through mindfulness breathing practices, we breathe in all the love that the oceans give us, and we offer to the oceans all of our fears, sadness and anxiety. To watch him dive under the waves and connect with the ocean on a spiritual level, delighting in the oceans that offer us so much, is a humbling experience. It takes so little for a child to understand how intimately connected all beings on this planet are to one another. How we are all an integral part of the ecosystem, a delicate web of organisms, with the human species precariously close to self-destruction.
And this is where I want to talk about hope. Hope is what encourages us to bring about that which might not have been possible before.
Jacques Cousteau famously said, “We can only protect what we love, and we can only love what we know.” Through our programmes, Charles and the other participants have been given an opportunity to reflect on the beauty of an abalone shell, and the majesty of the Great African Sea Forest. Those experiences are helping to erase that feeling of disconnection between humans and nature; they are sparking the imagination and inspiring our children to care about something they had a deep fear of before.
Even though he has already graduated, Charles continues to find his way back to our Ocean School, and sits through classes and lessons that he has already been taught. He tells me that he wants to be an ocean activist. He wants to talk for the oceans, for the voiceless beings that help sustain our planet.
And this is what helps me to remain relentlessly hopeful. When more people start to see nature as our teacher, and as a living, nurturing organism that we are an integral part of, we will no longer be able to exploit it, to try to conquer or subdue it.
Human potential and imagination is infinite, and through witnessing the determination of children like Charles, I am hopeful that this young generation will rewrite this story and change our current trajectory of exploitation and destruction, to regeneration and renewal.
- Marguerite Hofmeyr