Slow Violence : The story of The Little Combustion

Have you ever wondered what happens to the water in our drain, the gasses in our air, the cellphone radiation from our packet, the effects of nuclear weapons. There are in some cases an immediate reaction, the nuclear bomb was an actual bomb. By 1998, 2048 nuclear bombs were recorded. Interesting, allegedly South Africa and Israel conducted a joint test in the Indan Ocean in 1979, South Africa dismantled its weapons in 1989 and to date remains the only country in history to surrender its weapons for peace (2011). But, there are still, 40 years later the after effects of these immediate actions. Effects such as babies born without limbs, deformed or missing organs and much more. This ‘after effect’ is called Slow Violence. Violence against animals, against humans, against the earth.

This blog will demonstrate and portray Nikon’s idea of slow violence (2011) through a series of images as well as his definition thereof. His article Slow violence and the environmentalism of the poor as well as other sources for the story of The Little Combustion will be used.

Nixon’s notion of ‘slow violence’

Nixon (2011) describes slow violence to be violence that occurs gradually and out of sight,a violence of delayed destruction that is dispersed across time and space, an attritional violence that is typically not viewed as violence at all. The idea that violence occurs only days, weeks, or even decades after the initial attack is a new concept for most people. The violence is rather incremental and accretive. He says these kinds of violences are climate change, toxic drift, biomagnification, deforestation, the radioactive aftermaths of wars, acidifying oceans, and a host of other slowly unfolding environmental catastrophes. He terms these actions ‘the long – dyings’ which are both a human and ecological result of damage towards the earth.

The story of The Little Combustion

Figure 1: A little Combustion. Image available from auto

When walking to university every morning, I am faced with the dull, but ever present smell of a cars exhaust. Living in Pretoria, I boarder Johannesburg, which is rated the city with the most polluted air in Africa (2015). Although South Africa’s population mainly uses public transport, in the urban areas families have an average of three cars (2014).

The story of one little combustion from your own car seems a larger story now, as it involves your neighbours, uncle, aunts and your whole city’s little combustion too.

images-19 5.39.48 PM.jpeg
Figure 2: Look familiar? Image available from

The combustion from a car reminds me of that from a cigarette. Both share the same ———— smoke, both are blown unapologetically into ones face and both are bad for the human physique as well as the environment. What more with this little cigarette butt is that it is also responsible for most of the Eastern Cape’s veld fires. One small butt that was not extinguished properly has cost the lives of animals and precious farming land.


As we can see, our little combustion that started off with only our own city’s combustion, has now got a relative, one that involves 1 billion people around the world(2010).

Figure 3: A little more combustion… Image available from

Figure 3 relates to to the others as it is also combustion, possibly caused by a cigarette butt. This veld fire also relates to the previous two images because all three contribute to the damage in the ozone layer, air pollution and adding to the fossil fuel count. In 2014, there were 1679 fires between June and August 2014 recoded in South Africa(2014). This statistic is 40% more than the previous years statistics. In many instances these fires have been linked to prolonged periods of little or no rain, coupled with warm, dry winds. Another major factor has been the expansion of urban areas into natural veld and forest areas, thereby exposing lives and homes to fires in the neighboring veld, and simultaneously increasing the chance of veldfires being started. Yet, global warming which is caused by the increasing amount of toxins related into the air, is the main reason that the air is abnormally dry.


Figure 4: This will start looking familiar too… 

Lastly, figure 4, is an image of a pair of lungs without and with cancer. Lung cancer is often caused by smoking, over exposure to too much air pollution and other dangerous toxins entering the lungs. This image reminds me of the previous images regarding the colours as well as the cause of the damager. What all the images also have in common is that they can be caused by one person or action yet affect thousands of people and lives around them. Even lung cancer, may only be contracted by one person yet, their whole family and community may be affected by their absence.

In conclusion, there are billions of kinds of slow violence that everyone in the modern world/anthropocene is doing, consciously and subconsciously. Some that affect only ourselves and others that affect millions of people around us and then even more that we will only see the affects of in a couple thousand years time. The idea is to raise awareness and conciseness. Together we can begin to correct and deal with this issue. Together we can help save and create a cleaner and safer planet.

For more articles regarding Slow Violence as well as DigEcoAction, please search the hashtag and follow other environmental blogs.




Nixon, R. 2011. Slow violence and the environmentalism of the poor. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

News24. 2015. South Africa’s Air Pollution Hotspots. [Online] Available from – [Accessed : 1/04/2016].

OFM. 2014. Worst Fires in 7 Years. [Online]. Available from – [Accessed on 21/04/2016].

YouTube. 2011. Nuclear Weapons: A Time-Lapse History. The Daily Conversation. [Online]. Available from – [Accessed on 18/04/2016].

Feature Image: The Age. 2007. Boys will be Boys; add a fast car and Tragedy Awaits. [Online]. Available from – [Accessed on 21/04/2016].

Figure1: Auto Guide. 2013. What does the Smoke from my Exhaust Mean? [Online]. Available from – [Accessed on 21/04/2016].

Figure 2: Hello WEBZ. 2015. What’s in a cigarette smoke? Is it harmful? [Online]. Available from – [Accessed on 21/04/2016].

Figure 3: News Day. 2015. Veld Fire Season: The Country is Literally Burning. [Online]. Available from – [Accessed one 21/04/2016].

Figure 4: Stage Four Cancer. 2015. Lung Cancer Treatments. [Online]. Available from – [Accessed on 21/04/2016].


Is your dog your sibling too?


This blog will be a little different from the last ones, as this one will be a photo blog about the relationship that exists between humans and their pets. As stated in the previous blog about Anthopocenes that humans are now the leading forces behind changing the world, humans now also have control over what species will live and survive and which ones will become extinct. Not only do humans use certain animals for what they are worth, such as cattle, they also elevate some animals to an almost human level. Some pets are even treated like children, I’m sure we all know one or two people who do have children pets.

This blog will investigate the relationships between companion species/pets and humans with regards to D. Haraway’s reading The Companions Species Manifesto (2007), as well as give a photo journal of some of my family and friends companion species relationships. Namely; Sandisile and his dog Sparky, Heather and her dog Cino, Maggie and her dog Jesse and  Amy and her horse Colour.

Haraway’s notion of the ‘companion species’

The concept of companion species was first brought to into use by Donna Haraway. She used the term as an exploration into the historical emergence of animals who are not meat, lab, wilderness, war dogs, vermin or pariah dogs, but who are part of a very particular historical relationship. The historical relationship of dogs or horse and human beings. The relationship is not nice anymore because of it is full of waste, cruelty, ignorance and loss that is now involved. The joy, inventions, labour, intelligence and play is fading away (Haraway, 2007).

Master or rather slave relationship dynamic is a basis to all and each owes the other more respect. It is also a misplaced love, dogs are about the inescapable, contradictory story of relationships- co-constitutive relationships in which none of the partners pre-exist the relating and the relating never done done once and for all (Haraway, 2007). In her Companion Species Manifesto, Haraway considers “dogs as the most significant example of companion species, the cyborg being but a toddler in our world of inter-species relations”. Cell phones, for example, could be considered a companion species (Boulanger, 2004).

They cry, and must be picked up. They must be plugged into a wall at night to be fed. They must be upgraded, protected, and cared for. In return, they provide information, connectivity, love, compassion and entertainment. Living with animals, inhabiting their stories, trying to tell the truth about relationship and beginning a relationship in its own records is a wonderful and special thing to have.  (Haraway, 2007).

Jesse and Maggie

Jesse is love squeezed by her Mama

Maggie is 28 years old and has been single for most of those years. Thought the years she has watched her friends get married, have children and have many girlfriends and boyfriends. So in order to fill that gap in her life she has six dogs. Each of her ‘children’ mean the world to her. All of them celebrate birthdays, come with on holiday with her and are missed everyday when she came to school to teach me Afrikaans. Around her friends she is known as a fun and caring person beasue of her many pets and their special and close relationship. In this photo she is with Jesse. Jesse was at the time her latest baby to the collection. Maggie had found her at the Animal Shelter when Jesse was six weeks old. Jesse came from an abusive household that had no interest in raising the pups or caring for them. Instantly Maggie’s heart went out to Jesse and they have become companions ever since.

Recently all Maggie’s ‘children’ have had to take a second step as Maggie has met a man who may love her as much as her dogs do. What was very important for Maggie was they the dogs liked him, in order not to make later disappointments, Maggie invited them onto their first date.

Colour and Amy

Amy posing with Colour

Amy was dealing with anorexia for a while before Colour came into her life. Without him she had no one to console in, her friends had rejected her because they did not understand what she was going though. When her relationship with Colour started her confidence and body language with herself became healthy. She also managed to gain weight as she gained muscle. Not only did she realise that she has to take on the responsibility of looking after Colour but simultaneously start looking after herself too. She began realising that she needed to eat more and healthier so that she is able to ride Colour, her responsibility of caring for herself came from caring about Colour.

In many ways, Amy thanks Colour for saving her life, making her gain weight again, learning to remake friends as well as beginning to care for her body.

Sparky and Sandisile

Sparky’s favourite pose

Sparky has lived with Sandisile for 12 years now. His connection started the day he chose spike from the SPCA. Sandi was then allowed to name his dog too. The name came from a tv series that 12 year old Sandi was into at the time, Sparky was his favourite character. Although there are four other dogs in the house now, Sandi has the best relation to Sparky. He explains this because he thinks that Spike thinks that the other dogs are idiots, Snadi and Soarky share a sense of humour. Basically Sparky is older and more mature than the rest of the dogs and sees things from a wiser level. Because of this Sandi and Sparky connect more on an emotional and intellectual level. German shepherds are supposedly also a very inelegant breed.

When going on holiday the whole family needs to take less luggage so that all the dogs and their toys may fit into the car. This is because the idea of doing something fun without the extended family does not appeal to anyone as fun.

Cino and Heather

Jarred and Cino having a nap

Heather was out at a cafe with her two sons, Ryan(8 years old at the time) and Jaryd (8months old at the time). They met a man next to them who had just had baby Labradors. What had also happened is that Ryan wanted a dog very badly and Heather had already decided that she wanted a dog that was low maintenance in exercise, could socialise, was good with children and was not very hairy, she had already decided that she wanted a Labrador Retriever. It was then on this cafe day, while having a cappuccino that the three of them found and took home Cino.

Heather was very happy to have another female in the house as well as someone who could be intuitive and be compassionate and emphasise with human emotions. Heather almost considers Cino as one of her children because Cino demands love, attention, respect, gratitude and care. These qualities, she believes are then expressed onto others, just as they do with her own children. Cino also expresses her own emotions, when she needs to exercise and Heather has not walked her in a few days, Cino will let her know by rubbing onto her legs.

For Ryan, Cino is a playmate, someone who can play ball games with her and swim in the pool. For Jaryd, as they are a similar age, Cino is a sibling rival, they constantly need to fight each other for their mothers attention.Cino also only listens to Jaryd when he’s calling Cino for food. When Heather’s husband is away on a business trip, Cino takes on the role as protector and becomes more alert around the h0use.

Heather believes that Cino holds incredible healing qualities, when Heather is down she can always come to Cino be be consoled and feel revived.


Animals have in many cases saved many peoples egos, self respect and ability to love. Haraway is correct in saying that there is a special connection between companion species and human beings. By analysing the relationships between Amy and Colour, Sandisile and Sparky, Heather and Cino as well as Frank and G, one can clearly see that these companion species are more than just animals. They are family.

For other articles on Companion Species as well as other environmental issues, search the hashtag #DigEcoAction.


Boulanger, J. 2004. Bookslut Review of the The Companion Species Manifesto by Donna Haraway. Nonfiction. Available from- (Assesed on: 14/04/2016)

Haraway, D. 2007. The Companion Species Manifesto: dogs, people, and significant otherness. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.

Shelton, D. 2001. Pioneer pets: the dogs of territorial Tucson: a photo essay. The journal of Arisona History 42(4): 445-472.

Featured image: That Cute Site. 2014. [Online] Available from – [Accessed on 15/04/2016].

Jesse and Maggie: image provided from Maggie

Amy and Colour: Image provided from Amy

Heather and Cino: Image provided form Heather

Saudi and Sparky: Image provided form Sandi

Anthropocene?! What world are we living in?


Figure 1: The Universal Map of Doom. Available from

Up until Tuesday this week, I had no idea what an Anthropocene is. Never mind that I, along with you, create, shape and model it. According to the Anthropocene defines Earth’s most recent geologic time period as being human-influenced, or anthropogenic, based on overwhelming global evidence that atmospheric, geologic, hydrologic, biospheric and other earth system processes are now altered by humans. The term is currently used informally to encompass different geologi- cal, ecological, sociological, and anthropo- logical changes in recent Earth history.  The Anthropocene can be due to accelerated technological development, rapid growth of the human population, and increased consumption of resources. (Walters, 2015)

The aim of this blog is to introduce the theories of the Anthropocene by providing key propositions by Gisli et al(2013) from their article ‘Reconceptualizing the ‘Anthropos’ in the Anthropocene: integrating the social sciences and humanities in global environmental change research‘ and Steffen et al (2011)in their article ‘The Anthropocene: conceptual and historical perspectives’  as well as Walters et al (2016) in their article ‘The Anthropocene is functionally and stratigraphically distinct from the Holocene’. This blog will also make reference to the article, ‘Listening to birds in the Anthropocene: the anxious semiotics of sound in a human-dominated world’ by Whitehouse (2015) as well as other website sources such as EspaziumIndustry Tap and Sociology in the Anthropocene.

This blog post will as an analyse the following questions; what are the key propositions of the Anthropocene? What sounds are constant? Can these dominant sounds be regarded as a soundscape of the Anthropocene? What is it like to listen to birds in the Anthropocene? How are responses to what is heard influenced by the understanding that the Anthropocene brings that humans have profoundly influenced the mix of sounds that can be heard? Regarding and interview with my parents and grandparents; How do the interviews draw attention to the disappearing ecosystems and dwindling biodiversity of our present day? How do they call attention to the ways in which humans have altered the environment? From your own school days to present, can you witness a loss of biodiversity as well as the degradation of ecosystems?

Key Propositions of the Anthropocene

The Anthropocene is a process in which the earth is geologically changed through human interaction at an alarming rate. Not only geographically but the changes are also evident in the sediment and ice, compared to the thousands of years before humans were on the earth. Rates of sea-level rise and the extent of human perturbation of the climate system exceed Late Holocene changes.

The start of the Anthropocene may thus be defined on 16 July 1945 when the first nuclear testing began. The testing left a clear and global signature, concentrated in the mid-latitudes and highest in the Northern Hemisphere, where most of the testing occurred. The ‘signature’ is read in the fauna and fora of our earth today.

Figure 2: July 16, 1945, at 5:30am at the Trinity Site in New Mexico. Image available from industry

The environment and ecosystem has undeniably suffered greatly as a result of human induced hazardous contributions such as rapidly expanding human populations, technologies of extraction and exploitation of natural resources in accordance with the nearby collapse of ecosystems (Gisli et al 2013:9). According to Waters et al (2016:2622-1) human activities such as increased consumption has led to increase in the use of “…metals and minerals, fossil fuels and agricultural fertilisers.” The Anthropocene is also defined by the fact that the fauna and flora as well as animals are determined by the use they have towards humans. Species that are useful will survive and be protected such as barley crops and cattle herds but other species such as the quagga and the soon to be extent fynbos plant will not and have not survived because they are not useful to the human race.

A Soundscape of the Anthropodcene

Below I have provided a soundscape list of the sounds that I have recorded over two days. On both days similar sounds were heard and therefore added into the same time slots.

6:20am in bed Thursday 7 April

  • rush of cars (constant sound of the ocean, crashing of  waves, occasional vrum drum sound, loud raining sounds occasionally) most frequent and constant noise
  • birds (chattering, 2 sounds and calling, one dove calling(round repeating kind of purring) )
  • sound of breath on blanket (smooth scratch)
  • 6:30 constant ringing in my ears (I am deaf in my left ear it could be that, very soft. When I zoom in on it, it’s actually very loud)
  • tapping of laptop keys (actually quite loud, despite that I have a Mac which should be the softest)
  • 7:00 alarm

9:20am walk to varsity

  • leaves rattling
  • shoes on concrete
  • cars
  • turn cells
  • lawnmower (loud)
  • someone else keys rattling
  • people talking by Oom Gerts (the campus pub)

14:30pm Gautrain Home

  • Rolling of train tracks
  • Steam sound of engine
  • male voiceover on microphone
  • small chit chat of people speaking on their phones
  • typing on phones
  • wheels scratching

What is most evident in my soundscape is that almost all of my sounds are humanly generated or caused because of human technology. Constant sounds include that of cars travelling, generators and light bulbs. These constant sounds are the ones that have created my soundscape. As Whitehouse says, ‘human activities cause ecological and sonic disruptions that really are rendering the world silent or discordant, submerging the “animal orchestra” beneath noise’ and I totally agree as the first noise I always heard was that of human machinery.

Birds; What do they actually sound like?

Listening to birds in the Anthropocene is more difficult done than said. Whitehouse (2015) argues that it is necessary to listen to birds as it creates a sense of harmony in ones life. She adds that by listening to them one can relate to the natural cycle of the seasons and nature. Even Whitehouse says that she has to train herself to listen to them, as an ecologist, implying that it is difficult. The first time that she went out into the forest she had trained to listen to birds by a recoding made on the internet.

‘Bird’ sounds of today

It seems that the ‘normal’ sounds of today are so very different from the sounds of 1000 years ago. The buzzing of bees has been replaced with the buzzing of a generator. The roaring of the ocean have been replaced with the roaring of the traffic. The sound of leaves rattling through the wind with rattling of house keys. And chattering of birds with the tapping of keyboard typing. Humans have profoundly influenced the mix of sounds that can be heard, the question is how and how has it affected the human race?

The Anthropocene represents the public death of the modern understanding of Nature removed from society (2015). Listening to birds, is no longer something conceivable as straight forward or inevitable. Listening to birds is something one has to go out and try hard to do.

The sound of the Anthropocene to me and definitely millions of other people around the world do not associate the sound of the world with ‘natural’ animal sounds. The most constant sound in my soundscape of the Anthropocene is defiantly the sound of traffic, cars moving and generators. The sounds of birds, insects and wind through leaves are a rare and special occurrence.

Figure 3: Traffic in Johannesburg. Image available from

As Whitehouse says (2015), ‘Krause divides up sound into three categories. First is the geophony, sounds made by the physical environment such as waves, wind or rain. Second is the biophony, which consists of sounds made by animals, plants and other organisms. Finally is the anthrophony or human- generated sound.’ While this may have been true a thousand years ago, the geophony seems to be the last in our soundscape of today.

Dwindling Biodiversity in the Anthropocene

Within my own soundscape that I recorded over the past week, I found it very difficult to listen to the birds. I found it easier to see them fly or dead on the road. The birds that I did hear, I found that they were only chattering in the mornings at around 6 and 7am. The sounds were also only heard from inside my bed. When I left my flat and walked to varsity on the road, or throughout my whole day, I hardly heard any more birds. There were also only two different kinds of bird sounds. As I am not a very good bird sound interpreter, but I think that I only heard doves and one type of other bird.

This observation relates clearly to the dwindling biodiversity evident in the Anthropocene. The proof lies in the fact that I have not successfully managed to listen to more than at most three different species of birds in Pretoria, South Africa. Also in the fact that I saw more birds killed on the road than flying around in the gardens surrounding us.

The Anthropocene According to Older People

Figure 4: Sounds of the Anthropocene. Image avail be from

From my own school days to present, I have also witnessed a loss of biodiversity as well as the degradation of ecosystems. This realisation came when I remembered that I used to catch butterflies and make fairy gardens with worms and moss in Nursery School. In Primary School, I used to have a box of silk worms in shoe boxes and trade them with my friends. I realise that my sister, who is seven years younger than I am, never had silk worms. I babysat a family a few weeks ago and made a fairy garden with one of the children, it was his first fairy garden that he had ever made. We did not have any moss to make the floors like I used to, there were also no insects that I came across in the garden. This for me is a true sign of a biodiversity that has disappeared or dramatically diminished. What I also grew up with is the sounds of chickens roosting in the mornings as we had chickens and rabbits in our garden.

Upon interviewing my mother for her childhood soundscape, who grew up in the same house as I did said that on a architectural point of view, the house looked different. In her day, all the windows and doors had mosquito nets to keep all insects out the house. It was also not strange for her to take snakes out of her room every now and then. The property is quite large, but in her day used to be surrounded by other farms and therefore it attracted more birds and insects into the house. She also said that there were more public sounds such as a milk man, who came very morning and had a lorry sound track attached to his car, much like that of the ice-cream man. The ice-cream man also came more often than he does in my day. My Mom pointed out that there was also a lot more radio, she noticed that in her days everyone did not have headphones, therefore one often had more then one noise form a room as two siblings were playing different radio stations at a time. As opposed to today where people plug in their earphones and do not disturb anyone around them. In the afternoons, much as I used to hear, she also heard the sound of ambulances and police sirens as we live close to a police and fire station.

My Gran on the other hand, whom I also interviewed said contradicting statements. She grew up in the same area as my mother and myself. She said that there are more birds in the city then there used to be. She says this is because all the birds such as Indian miners and plovers used to be in the velt surrounding the cities. Now because of that velt area being turned into residential areas the birds have adapted into the cities and are flourishing. She also said that the soundscape of today is way louder because of human interaction, yet people are not phased by it at all. Because these are now ‘normal’ sounds for us now, we selectively block out the ‘annoying’/constant sounds of traffic.

Humans have definitely changed the soundscape in the last three generations of my family. These sounds have been caused mainly by building new buildings around Randburg, Johannesburg, South Africa. According to my Gran, there are more birds in the city now, my Mom says there are less snakes and mosquitos than there were and in my own account, I think there less butterflies and silkworms.

Final Thoughts

Our soundscape reveals that we are living in the Anthropocene because the constant sounds that we hear are human generated or caused by humans.The key propositions of the Anthropocene were discussed. Constant sounds of the Anthropocene were defined as generated by human activities. Listening to birds in the Anthropocene is difficult to do and requires a well trained ear to block out the constant sounds of the Anthropocene. The understanding of the ‘new’ constant sounds are reacted by with realising that we as humans are controlling the natural cycle of the earths evolution. Regarding the interview with my mother an grandmother, the ecosystems of today have changed in the last three generations as seen in the various differences in soundscapes as well as in the geology of the garden and even the architecture of the house.

For more articles relating to the Anthropocene as well as other environmental studies on various topics follow the conversation with #DigEcoAction.



Gisli, P et al. 2013. Reconceptualizing the ‘Anthropos’ in the Anthropocene: integrating the social sciences and humanities in global environmental change research. Environmental Science & Policy 28:3-13.

Steffen, W et al. 2011. The Anthropocene: conceptual and historical perspectives. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 369:842-867.

Waters, CN et al. 2016. The Anthropocene is functionally and stratigraphically distinct from the Holocene. Science 351(6269):[sp].

Whitehouse, A. 2015. Listening to birds in the Anthropocene: the anxious semiotics of sound in a human-dominated world. Environmental Humanities 6:53-71.

Feature image: The Englert Theatre. 2015. Beyond the Anthropocene. [Online]. Available from – [Accessed on 10/04/2016].

Figure 1: Espazium. 2016. Traces. [Online]. Available from – [Accessed on 10/04/2016].

Figure 2: Industry Tap. 2013. Nuclear Warheads Diluted for Use in Nuclear Power Plants. [Online]. Available from – [Accessed on 10/04/2016].

Figure 3: Times Live. Fifth Worst City for Traffic Pains. [Online]. Available from – [Accessed on 10/04/2016].

Figure 4: Sociology in the Anthropocene. I’m sorry I couldn’t hear you over the sound of the noise pollution. [Online]. Available from – [Accessed on 10/04/2016].

The Situation with Air Pollution


Who and what are the drivers of change?
  •  Coal-fire power stations
  • Koeberg Nuclear Power station
 What is happening?
  • 4000 people die annually in South Africa due to Air Pollution
  • 2 Million die worldwide
  • causes major diseases
 What can be done?
  •  support the growth of renewable energy solutions
  • home solutions
  • Rooftop Gardens
 How to get it done
  •  Awareness through social media
  • starting trends of making rooftop gardens
 What are the means to do it?
  • Awareness
  • a budget behind the right ideas…


Figure 1: Emphasising the seriousness of the situation

Air pollution has claimed over two million lives prematurely worldwide. In South Africa alone, approximately 4000 people are killed annually due to air pollution(2011). What is also shocking is that in the whole of South Africa, Johannesburg is rated as the most polluted air. The World Health Organisation (WHO) based their statistics on 91 countries and 1600 cities worldwide to conclude that South Africa is ranked 30th in the world for bad air quality and Johannesburg is the 99th most polluted in the world. As author Vikrant Parsai said, “Many people will never be bothered by air pollution because they don’t stop taking a long enough to take a deep breath.” Thusly this blog post will hopefully clear the air and allow readers to comfortably take a deep, reassuring breath of air.”

This blog aims to use the theories given by Poul Holm et al. in their article, ‘Humanities for the Environment—A manifesto for research and action’ (2015) as well as the supporting theories of Shelby Grant and Mary Lawhon in their article, ‘Reporting on rhinos: analysis of the newspaper coverage of rhino paoching’ (2014) to provide an environmental humanities analysis and critique of three media articles written about the pollution in the air, specifically to Johannesburg. This blog will also be using various other articles to support information and arguments given; the main articles used are from ‘South Africa’s impressive Solar power plant’, ‘Urban Population’ as well as ‘SA Air Pollution ‘an environmental threat’.

The blog post will ask and analyse the following questions: who and what are the drivers of change? Do the drivers for change relate to the “Great Acceleration”of human technologies, powers and consumption? What are the political, institutional, cultural and societal factors that drive the change? How does the absence or presence of solutions relate to “The New Human Condition”? Do the proposed solutions engage with the business / corporate sector? Do the proposed solutions and means to do it stem from collaborative processes of research, stakeholder engagement and public participation?Are the solutions translated into practical means that can easily be achieved by the public?

Summary of Health with regard to Air Population in South Africa

Air pollution is caused by fossil fuels released by car emissions, burning coal and oil and manufacturing chemicals. Air pollution is also used by filing petrol into your car, painting operations, dry cleaning, even your deodorant releases harmful chemicals. As more people live in cities, there is a concentrated amount of fossil fuels related therefore air pollution is more common in urban areas.  A result of air pollution is also urban smog and toxic compounds which cause serious health issues such as; burning in eyes, an irritated throat and difficulties breathing. In long-term effects it can cause cancer and long-term damage to the immune, neurological, reproductive, and respiratory systems. In extreme cases, it can even cause death.

“The air in South African cities is so bad it is comparable even to the mega-polluted cities of China,” environmental organisations Healthcare Without Harm (HCWH) and groundWork said in a joint statement (2015).The same database reviled that Johannesburg’s air is particularly poor because of coal-fired generation, a system that was created in Apartheid South Africa. In February 2015, South Africa’s power greater, Eskom was granted a ‘postponement’ to comply with the Department of Environmental Affairs laws to only have 14 coal-fire power stations.

Do the drivers for change relate to the “Great Acceleration” of human technologies, powers and consumption?

According to the Anthroposcene (2010), ‘The Great Acceleration’ refers to the human activities starting in the industrial revolution (1750) and continuing to right now and its changes to the environment mainly referring to greenhouse gas levels, ocean acidification, deforestation and biodiversity deterioration. Although as Holm states (2014), ‘Unfortunately, intellectual and cultural enlightenment does not necessarily lead to changes in human behaviour.’ implying that not all responses to the Great Acceleration are positive or evolving solutions.

Figure 2: Graph of the Urban Population. Available from

For further information on carbon dioxide in the air, see-

The drivers of change, mainly the new solar power stations and the Koeburg Nuclear Power station do relate to the Great Acceleration as they create pollution as well as air pollution too. In certain way, they may help clear the air, by providing alternative energy supply but the station require power to be run, the manufacturing that had to be done required power and all these factors add up to create more air pollution.

How does the absence or presence of solutions relate to “The New Human Condition”?

According to Holm (2015) the New Human Condition refers to how humans react and concern about the consequences and impacts on the environment. The idea is that humans learn and evolve with the impacts and make solutions. However, Grant, S & Lawhon, M. (2014) say that, ‘[…]nine years after the review [of the state of environmental affairs] was published, the world seems, if anything, more divided, uncertain and incapable of dealing with the issues of the global environment.’ implying that not all reactions are positive or progressive.Public responses to the idea of the New Human Condition ‘range from denial to despair, and from alarmism to instinctual belief in our ability to cope.’ (Holm: 2015) I will first begin to put solutions forward and then relate them to the `new human condition’.

  1. A solution to air pollution has been given by the Independent Democrats (2011), ‘The only way to achieve (cleaner air) is through increasing our energy efficiency and supporting the growth of renewable energy technologies.’ Despite this abundant solar resource, South Africa has still not built a single solar thermal plant even though it is a mature technology, which has been producing energy in the United States for over twenty years.

SolarReserve (2015) announced on 11 November 2014 that the 96 megawatt (MW) photovoltaic (PV) Jasper solar power project was completed and fully operational. The Sishen Solar Energy Facility came online in December 2014, with an estimated 216GWh per year of electricity generation. In January the Department of Energy announced the construction of two new CSP plants, which will be built in the Northern Cape. These solar power plants complement other large solar installations, including the Kalkbult Solar Park, Lesedi Solar Park, and Letsatsi Solar Park.

Figure 3: Kalkbult Solar Power Park. Available from

The first of its kind on the continent, the Redstone Solar Thermal Power Project features SolarReserve’s molten salt energy storage technology in a tower configuration with the capability to support South Africa’s demand for energy.

With relation to the New Human Condition, South Africa’s population as well as the world has realised that the air pollution is a serious concern, therefore the population has taken into consideration that Solar power might have a positive change on our air. People are reacting with shock at first, at the alarming rate that the air pollution has taken lives and caused diseases. The next human condition is to try change and fix therefore responding by action.

Do the proposed solutions engage with the business / corporate sector?

The solutions that were proposed by the SolarReserve (2015) and implemented were the new solar panels were paid for by the South African tax money, therefore in a round about way, all businesses were involved paying for the new solutions.

Grant, S & Lawhon, M. (2014) suggest in their reading that the government, non-government, government and joint effort are the only ones ever mentioned in newspaper articles relating to environmental affairs.  They also say that the public is hardly ever mentioned or involved. regarding the articles I have read, I disagree and think there is equal media suggestion of both parties being suggested and involved in solutions. It could be that their theory only applied to their case study on Rhino poaching and not in general on all environmental issues.

Another solution is to have rooftop gardens. This has become a huge trend in Northern America especially Chicago, where not only do the plants clean the air, they also decrease energy expenses and reduce storm runoff. In Johannesburg CBD, there are a few gardens in Maboneng and Bramfontein, but hardly enough yet to curb the air pollution.

Figure 4: Rooftop garden in Chicago. Available from
Figure 5: Rooftop bar in Maboneng, Johannesburg. Available from


There are many smaller solutions that are practical for the public to become involved in such as using a propane or natural gas barbecue rather than a charcoal one, in your home. But not many companies enforce such rules into a household. There are various NGO’s that are trying to engage with recycling and better waste management, but not many businesses and corporate sectors.

Are the solutions translated into practical means that can easily be achieved by the public?

As previously stated, in the above question, many of the larger/more impactful solutions do not involve the public much. There are smaller more public achievable solutions that are suggested that one can do regarding their car and home. The rooftop garden solution is also an option for someone who is able to create one, providing they have a rooftop. The garden can also be used for growing vegetables, therefore lowering ones consumer traffic simultaneously.

Another solution is to raise awareness. Many bloggers and other social media raise awareness and bring forth concerns as well as solutions that can be implemented by the public. Small solutions regarding the road are for example are; walk, ride or take a bike when possible, take public transport. Solutions at home are for example; turning off lights in vacant rooms, do not use gas stoves, recycling etc. These minor solutions, that have large impacts, if everyone is involved do not engage with the corporate or business sector.

Final thoughts

The air is one of our most significant resources that humans need, unfortunately people have been taking the air for granted since the 1750’s. The consequences of this kind of mentality is that millions of people around the world die from air pollution. The aim of this blog has been to create awareness and raise concern as well as propose solutions to help curb the rate of air pollution. Solutions made by SolarReserve was to make solar energy power plants. Other solutions that were simple to implement at home that decrease fossil fuel emissions as well as creating rooftop gardens. Although many people have acknowledged the issues, many are still in denial and disbelief, as the New Human Condition predicted. Main articles that were used were; ‘South Africa’s impressive Solar power plant’, ‘Urban Population’ as well as ‘SA Air Pollution ‘an environmental threat’. 

There are other relevant and interesting, related articles on environmental humanities, to find them please search the hashtag #DigEcoAction.


California Environmental Protection Agency | AIR RES. 2010. Simple solutions to help reduce air pollution. [Online] Available from – [Accessed on 2/04/2016].

Grant, S & Lawhon, M. 2014. Reporting on rhinos: analysis of the newspaper coverage of rhino paoching. Southern African Journal of Environmental Education 30:39-52.

Holm, P et al. 2015. Humanities for the Environment—A manifesto for research and action. Humanities 4:977–992.

Independent Democrats. 2011. Sustainable Solutions for our Environment. [Online] Available from – [Accessed on 2/04/2016].

Mail&Guardian. 2015. South Africa’s Air Quality is Improving – DEA. [Online] Available from – [Accessed: 1/04/2016].

MyBroadBand. 2015. South Africa’s impressive Solar power plant. [Online]. Available from – [Accessed on: 2/04/2016].

News24. 2015. South Africa’s Air Pollution Hotspots. [Online] Available from – [Accessed : 1/04/2016].

TheCitizen. 2015. SA Air Pollution ‘an environmental threat’. [Online]. Available from – [Accessed on: /04/2016]

U.S Environmental Protection Agency. 2014. Basic Information. [Online] Available from – [Accessed on: 1/04/2016].

Figure 1 : Pintrest. 2016. Beautiful Drawings. [Accessed: 1/04/2016].

Figure 2: Welcome to the Anthroposcene. 2010. Urban Population. [Online]. Available from – [Accessed on 2/04/2016].

Figure 3: MyBroadBand. 2015. South Africa’s impressive Solar power plant. [Online]. Available from – [Accessed on: 2/04/2016].

Figure 4: Emaze. 2015. Amazing Chicago Rooftops. [Online]. Available from – [Accessed on: 3/04/2016].

Figure 5: Airbnb. 2016. Masoning Coburg Rooftop with Garden. [Online]. Available from – [Accessed on 3/04/2016].