Grassroots Vol 20 No 3 | Page 4

CONGRESS 55 Presidential Address: 55 th Annual Congress of the Grassland Society of Southern Africa 30 June – 2 July 2020 Dr Debbie Jewitt Current Address: Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife E-mail Address: [email protected] Never waste the opportunity offered by a good crisis! And what a crisis we have had! The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly presented itself as a global crisis, turning our normal world upside down, yet at the same time offering opportunities to change and innovate. It is major events such as these that push us over a threshold into a new paradigm, analogous to the state and transition models so well known in ecological theory, where an abrupt change in a feature occurs due to a variable thought to drive it, in this case, human health and well-being, and a virus. It is good that humans have been given pause for thought. The pandemic has broken basic assumptions about our lives. It has illustrated that our destructive behaviour towards nature is endangering our health – a reality that we have been ignoring for a long time. Diseases such as COVID, Zika, Aids, SARS and Ebola have all originated from animal populations under severe environmental conditions. We are forced to ask: have we really been managing our world in a sustainable manner? Are we working with or against nature? The pandemic has served to demonstrate how connected we are and yet how fragile our earth is. And how reliant we are on natural systems for our health and well-being. On December 24, 1968, astronaut William Anders took this iconic photograph of Earth from the moon's orbit during the Apollo 8 mission. It is considered one of the most influential photographs ever taken. This photograph bred new thinking. For the first time, we could see our home in its entirety. A beautiful planet - the only known oasis for life for light-years around. For the first time, we could see that earth was not limitless and indestructible. Indeed, it is small and fragile. Earth’s resources are finite and there are natural limits to human expansion. For the first time, we saw ourselves as global citizens. Whilst this pandemic has rapidly manifested itself across our world and brought our normal lives to a halt, forcing us to rethink, other threats are not as immediately apparent. Their impacts may take years to manifest, with shifting baselines creating new but lower standards. But if not addressed, these threats could lead to a collapse of society as we know it. Jared Diamond in his book “Elements of collapse. How societies choose to fail or succeed”, defines collapse as a drastic decrease in human population size and/or political/economic/social complexity, over a considerable area, for an extended time”. He ascribes the main causes of societal collapse to environmental changes, the effects of climate change, hostile neighbours, unavailability of trade partners and the society’s response to the foregoing four challenges. The environmental problems he describes, we all know well: deforestation and habitat destruction, soil erosion, salinization and soil fertility losses, water management problems, overhunting, overfishing, alien invasive species, overpopulation, the increased per-capita impact of people, climate change, build-up of toxins in the environment, and energy shortages amongst others such as land degradation, food security and equality. These slow but often cumulative threats are no less deadly in their consequences than the pandemic and yet they are seen as inconvenient truths, and remedies to fix these problems as stumbling blocks to classic economic development. If the future environmental scenarios being put forward were truly listened to, we would all be actively changing things. We would be looking at our vulnerabilities and reducing our risks. Never before has the need been so high or so critical to find solutions to 03 Grassroots Vol 20 No 3 September 2020