Go green to be proud of our planet

IT IS hard to believe that Steve Biko would have become a mere 63 years old on Friday.

IT IS hard to believe that Steve Biko would have become a mere 63 years old on Friday.

Such was his stature and influence that it is easy to forget how young he was at the time apartheid police lived up to his prophecy that those who failed to earn respect resorted to extracting fear.

I wish we had another Biko. But unlike the 1960s and 1970s hero, I wish the new Biko would champion the Green Consciousness Movement.

This movement would work in the same way that Biko's did to ignite a spirit of black pride, but this time encourage all of us to care about our environment; to make each of us say it out loud that "I'm green and I am proud".

The new Biko would correct the erroneous thinking that environmental concerns are white people's issues.

There are those who think that black people, many of whom are poor, are already settled with enough earthly difficulties to worry about the ozone layer, the plantation in some South American forests or melting snowcaps in the mountains of countries they have never heard of.

According to this brigade, whatever happens or fails to happen at the Copenhagen climate change meeting cannot be of black people's business because they don't own factories that emit the gases said to be the new evil.

Here is why black people should care. The struggle against apartheid was a struggle for, among other things, the right to reclaim and control our land, our rivers and our seas.

Allowing any fool to pollute our air and water and to scorch our earth means that our struggle was no more than a civil rights campaign to allow us to swim in the same contaminated waters as those who had previously excluded us.

We struggled because unlike some of our compatriots we could not just pack up and claim another passport by virtue of some ancestral connection. Africa was and still is all we have.

Furthermore, unlike apartheid, the effects of climate change does care about colour or class.

It was black people who were affected by the torrential rains that swept Soweto just a year ago, leaving in their wake death and destruction, just as the season of downpours in KwaZulu-Natal effectively rendered the province's construction redundant. There are those who say the fires on the Cape mountainsides owe their increased ferocity to the changes in the earth's atmosphere.

I accept that it is not certain that these incidents are as a result of climate change.

I am also aware that there are scientists who dispute the climate change theory and are not convinced that human beings are responsible for the ills attributed to it.

But if the climate change "denialists" are right, it will cost us little to keep our world as good as we found it and preserve it for the generations to come. It is scary to imagine what would happen if they are wrong. I'd rather we erred on the side of caution.

Unlike with Biko, nobody need die before the point is made. The Green Power movement does not need a martyr, it behoves us to change our attitude or we all perish.

The aboriginal people of North America, the Cree people, warned us many years ago. "Only when the last tree has died, the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught, will we realise that we cannot eat money."

If we are as smart as we claim, we should not need to learn this obvious fact the hard way.