Environmental Humanities and the Media

Table representing the main points of each news article respectively:

Articles Alberton Record Mail & Guardian News 24
Who and what are the drivers of change?  El Niño


Greenhouse warming Water wastage
What is happening? – SA is experiencing the worst draught in years.
– The El Niño phenomenon is one of the instigators.
– Human activities led to the emission of pollutants affecting the climate system.
– Increased temperatures.
– Due to the mishandling water and poor infrastructure water is wasted.
– Water quality is dropping.
What can be done? – La Niña
– Water saving, government and organisational fund and water raising initiatives (not in Alberton).
– Adapt to the changing climate.
– Mitigate by reducing the manifestation of climate change.
– Water waste systems must be rectified.
How to get it done? – Natural occurrence thus not plausible as solution.
– Label the drought as natural disaster, saving water starts at home, fundraisers (not in Alberton).
– Building sustainable housing and planting drought resistant crops.
– Reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
– Improve the handling of drinkable water and improve the water infrastructure.
What are the means to do it? – Natural occurrence cannot be encouraged.
– Realisation, individual action and fundraising initiatives such as concerts (not in Alberton).
– Materials that are ‘green’ and practical skill (not in M&G).
-Environment conscious transport, less pollution, alternative electricity and less industrial pollution (not in M&G).
– Sanitation and transport of water should be improved by the government of South Africa.
– Installing water tanks in communities


 Introductory ideas

The media acts as a communicative channel between the government and the citizens of South Africa and is vital for providing awareness with regards to environmental concerns as these have an impact on the welfare of humanities. Public awareness does not necessarily result in action dominantly because the media portrays these issues negatively rather than focusing on the solutions (Grant & Lawhon 2014:43). Thus there is a need to scrutinize the media in reporting environmental concerns. A recent environmental issue in the country of South Africa is drought. The African continent is known to have a dry climate but Southern Africa is experiencing a more severe drought than it has in years, going back to as much as 34 years ago (Mojapelo 2016). Both the natural phenomenon known as El Niño and global warming are considered to be main causes of the drought however a factor that enhances the severity of this environmental issue is water wastage. These points of thought are explored and commented on by the media and the articles doing so should therefore be analysed and critiqued in terms of if the drivers for change relate to the “Great Acceleration”, how solutions relate to “The New Human Condition”, do the solutions engage with the corporate sector, do the solutions stem from collaborative processes of research, stakeholder engagement and public participation and finally whether or not solutions are practical is being taken into consideration. Furthermore the effect of the drought will be briefly considered in terms of agriculture as well as nature preservation by taking a look at the Kruger National Park in the Mpumalanga region of South Africa.


– El Niño, a natural phenomenon leading to natural disaster

El Niño is a natural phenomenon that occurs every two to seven years which impacts on the weather patterns of the eastern tropical Pacific (Henson 2014). The term is associated with oceanic warming and as a result brings about warm and dry weather. This natural occurrence is not new but global warming, which is mainly caused by the humanities, has by implication heightened the year-to-year weather patterns and is also considered as an influential factor that led to the change of where these weather patterns occur (Henson, 2014). Thereupon it can be derived that this driver for change does relate to the “Great Acceleration” of human technologies, powers and consumption (Holm 2015:981). Politics is a major influencer of action but is not necessarily used to send messages regarding global warming until the impact threatens human life and demands action, institutionally with reference to booming businesses and infrastructure, the pollution caused that is mainly the emission of carbon dioxide has resulted in the acceleration of global warming and its impact and by reducing these emissions the modern industry can allow for the ozone layer that is currently tarnished, to heal. Cultural barriers impede on the ability to communicate and to bring about change also “civic behaviour” (Holm 2015:982) differentiates within each culture and challenges the possible solution of human action because this too will differ. Therefor societies are implored by scientists, politicians and other important figures to bring about change within their own communities. The ‘New Human Condition’ refers to the way in which humans tend to identify, respond to and cope with global warming. As the dominant species we have learned to trust in our capabilities and know-how to survive making the concept of extinction surreal (Holm 2015:984). Solutions exist; such as drastically reducing emissions and creating “safe operating space[s]” (Holm 2015:984). For this solution to be effective taking in consideration that time is of the essence, it should be an individual, industrial and global effort to bring about change as fast as possible and it is such drastic lifestyle and corporate changes to which the humanities do not respond in action but rather denial, ignorance and despair. Alarmism is used by media in attempt to change this response. The New Human Condition is therefore both an obstacle and a leap way to affect change.
Specifically in context to the drought crisis that South Africa is experiencing there are organisations that intervene in attempt to bring relief. One such organisation is a small trucking business, JD Stemmet Vervoer in Montagu.

Free State Drought
Figure 1: Drought South Africa, Free State, 2015. Photograph from drone near Verkeerdevlei toll gate.

Farmers from the Overberg area contracted Stemmet to transport much needed feed to Zastron farmers (Du Toit 2015). Figure 1 shows the severity of the drought in South Africa in the Free State region. Farmers and upcoming farmers are left without grazing for their surviving livestock and maize and sunflowers are perishing under the heated and dry circumstances not only threatening the sustainability of South Africa’s main food sources such as bread and mealies but also economically as the agriculture industry is plunging. (Du Toit 2015). Proposed solutions and means stem from collaborative processes of research, stakeholder engagement and public participation however the devastation caused by El Niño has been predicted and expected a year before now due to collaborative research and little government initiative has been taken to avoid or reduce the severe impact on South Africa which is questionable. Therefor excluding government actions to support farmers during this drought stakeholders such as JD Stemmet has taken it upon himself to contribute by relieving the repercussions. The public such as the Overberg farmers also intervened to do the same. An idealistic solution, called so as it does not fall within human capability and can therefore not be guaranteed, is the occurrence of La Niña; a natural phenomenon which in plain terms brings about opposite weather changes in comparison to El Niño. Long term solutions like reducing carbon emissions as well as short term solutions such as the provision of feed and water both call for action by the humanities. These solutions are practical and doable but not necessarily easy or convenient from an individual’s perspective and this as well as other factors obstruct the effectivity and rate at which action is taken.


 Global “Greenhouse” Warming, sound familiar?

The second causative factor of the drought in South Africa is global warming. The term is familiar as it has been publicised through the media since human beings noticed its impact and it has been declared a global issue. Based on the fact that global warming is due to pollution that taints the Earth’s ozone layer it can be concluded that it will likely play a role in most natural changes and disasters therefor it can then be assumed that global warming also has an impact on the gradual weather changes in South Africa and environmental issues that is faces (Wright 2015). Greenhouse warming also increases the frequency of extreme El Niño and La Niña (Wenju Cai 2014). This driver of change, touched upon previously, is dominantly if not solely caused by human activity in terms of the “Great Acceleration” of technology, power and consumption (Holm 2015:980). Institutional attributes include industrial pollution expanding to the air, water as well as the earth itself. One notion in attempt to solve the global challenge that is greenhouse warming is to reduce industrial pollution by decreasing carbon dioxide emissions and other industrial waste (Holm 2015:984). Political ventures and government initiative remain influential of action and cultural pathways are vital to gain human participation in solving the issue. Reducing carbon emission is one solution that the humanities respond to however slow. Years of publicity still has not managed to influence enough global participation to achieve this goal and therefor the concept of “The New Human Condition” is once again considered, the knowledge of global warming does not guarantee action towards change because not all human response is dynamic and different (Holm 2015:981). Various businesses do take steps to be sustainable. Woolworths South Africa adopts is one such company that adopts sustainable business practices some of which include reducing carbon footprint, electricity consumption, water use and using sustainable food packaging (Dos Santos 2013:106). Woolworths also partakes in the ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ initiative and encourages its clientele to do the same. The proposed solutions do stem from collaborative processes of research, stakeholder engagement and public participation as can be seen by government regulations for sustainable business practices, stakeholder adaptions and public contribution. Based Stemmet’s-, the Overberg farmer’s- and Woolworths’ actions the solutions are translated into practical means to change the situation in South Africa.


“There is water” – Democratic Alliance (Evans 2015)

Water wastage and the plummeting quality of water enhance the severity of the drought (Evans 2015). The DA claims that the majority of South Africa’s water issues are due to maladministration and poor infrastructure (Evans 2015). Drinking water infrastructure as well as water waste systems are in poor condition which puts further strain on the effective provision of water and even more so in the dry climate. The driver of change or at least of influence relates to the “Great Acceleration” of human consumption predominantly (Holm 2015:980). The poor condition of the water infrastructure and waste systems disallows effective water provision based on the need. Even though water saving measurements are in place and both businesses and the public is forced to adhere to it the basic problem of poor water infrastructure remains. Proposed solutions do stem from collaborative processes and are practical but the government has failed to take action thus far leaving the organisational sector and the public with the responsibility (Evans 2015). Some alternative solutions include organisational and public intervention to provide drinkable water; installing water filters and water reservoirs as well as transporting water to areas in need.


 Other repercussions of the drought

It is not only the farmers and poor communities that suffer because of the drought but the National Wildlife Parks are also suffering great losses. The wildlife in the Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga is affected by the drought. Specifically Hippos and Buffaloes because there is not enough grazing and many dams and water holes are drying up (Bendile 2016) .

Figure 2: Skeleton, Mpumalanga, 2016. Photograph by the author.
Figure 2 represents a Buffalo that died because of dehydration and exhaustion. The same fate is predicted for many more and for Hippos as well. Hippos are at risk because apart from requiring 1 ton of grazing per day it also needs water for thirst and cooling down, with little grazing Hippos are forced to travel further away from water sources resulting in dehydration.


 Conclusive thoughts

The three topics discussed; El Niño, Global “Greenhouse” Warming and “there is water” as well as the repercussions of the drought in the Kruger National Park has been the current focus of the media recently should therefore be analysed and critiqued. These topics of thought not only portray the severity of the drought in South Africa but also shed light on other issues relating to water and the management of water as well as identified possible solutions and whether or not they are practical. While these solutions are in process South Africa continues to pray for water.



For more information search #DigEcoAction

Sources consulted

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.

Maria A.O. Dos Santos et al. 2013. Indicators of sustainable business practices: Woolworths in South Africa. Supply Chain Management: An International Journal 18(1):104-108.
[O]. Available:
Accessed 03 April 2016.

Bendile, D. 2016. The drought is taking its toll on the Kruger National Park. Eyewitness News [sa]:[sp]. [O].
Accessed 03 April 2016.

Cai, W et al. 2014. Increasing frequency of extreme El Niño events due to greenhouse warming. Nature Climate Change 4:111–116. [O]. Available:
Accessed 01 April 2016.

Du Toit, J. 2015. South Africa’s Drought Angels Step Up. SA People News 30 December:[sp]. [O]. Available:
Accessed 03 April 2016.

Photographed by drone. 2015. SA People News website. [O]. Available:
Accessed 03 April 2016.

Evans, J. 2015. SA’s water woes due to poor management, infrastructure – DA. News 24 16 November:[sp]. [O]. Available:
Accessed 01 April 2016.

Henson, B. 2014. El Niño, La Niña & ENSO FAQ. UCAR. [O]. Available: https://www2.ucar.edu/news/backgrounders/el-nino-la-nina-enso-faq
Accessed 01 April 2016.

Mojapelo, L. 2016. South Africa’s drought: Your burning questions answered. Alberton Record 9 February:[sp]. [O]. Available:
Accessed 01 April 2016.

Merten, M. 2016. Report: Fighting the Great South African Drought. Daily Maverick 23 February:[sp]. [O]. Available:
Accessed 03 April 2016.

National Ocean Service. 2016. What are El Niño and La Niña?. [O]. Available:
Accessed 01 April 2016.

Thompson, N. 2016. Skeleton. Mpumalanga.

Wright C.Y. et al. 2015. The three culprits behind South Africa’s weird weather patterns. Mail and Guardian 18 November:[sp]. [O]. Available:
Accessed 01 April 2016.


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