The Bare Necessities of Life

Which way does a tree fall? A tree falls the way it leans. Be careful which way you lean.” – The Lorax

 This week’s concept

 Nixon (2011:2) refers to long term casualties caused by human activities as “slow violence”. The term refers to another sort of violence that is not immediate in eruption but rather gradual and fairly invisible. Deforestation and climate change are examples of this violence (Nixon 2011:2). The impeding deaths of humans and ecologies are slow and not instantaneous as with the popular understanding of violence. Nixon (2011:4) states that apart from ecologies, the poor, mainly those in the global South, are the principle casualties of slow violence. Nixon (2011:6-7) addresses humanity’s inattention to slow and long lasting calamities, catastrophes caused by the hands of the humanities.

Film strip representing the imaginings of a forest’s aesthetic. Photographs courtesy of Unsplash.

The change in colours, shown in the film strip, represent a deceleration of the natural state of the forests of the world.


The slow violence that is deforestation will be explored in terms of the consequences both humans and ecologies face in South Africa, in a photo essay. Further, deforestation’s impact on climate change will also be considered as this influences humans and ecologies nationally and globally.

Rob Nixon’s concept of slow violence can be linked to Waters’ (2016) idea of the Anthropocene epoch discussed in the theme 2 blog post. The latest epoch driven by human activity inhibits various concerns which include the slow violence of deforestation and climate change.

The impact of deforestation in Africa is radical; countless ecosystems are harmed and even eradicated, poor communities are left to suffer and its contribution to climate change is staggering.

 The Jungle

Winter Winds, Hougaard Malan 02
Figure 1: Winter Winds, Limpopo, [Sa]. Photograph by Hougaard Malan.

When imagining the scene depicted in “Winter Winds” (figure 1) I can feel a blanket of leaves beneath my feet, see the luminescence of the sunrays through the trees and hear exotic sounds in the background. Unfortunately, the reality is not quite so utopian.

 One is more likely to be surrounded by a barren land of soil and tree stumps. The main reason for logging is provision of wood for making fire and paper (Deforestation… [sa]:[sp]). Ecologically, some fauna species that are threatened in the South African region include the samango monkey “Cercopithecus mitis erythrarchus” and the blue duiker “Philatomba monticola monticola” (M, J Lawes et al 2007:1255) and a threatened flora species is the Large-leaved Onionwood “Cassipourea gummiflua Tul. var. verticillata) (SANBI 2016).

Timber 02
Figure 2: Timber, [Sl], 2015. Photograph by Aleksandar Radovanovic.

Figure 2 represents “timber” however, the truth behind the photograph opposes our childhood memory of Disney’s Donald Duck cutting down trees. In actuality logging has consequences such as deforestation unlike in cartoons.

The “long dyings” (Nixon 2011:2) of these species is due to the damage that deforestation does to their natural habitats. Deforestation consequently decreases their natural habitats and pollutes the air and water to the extent of threatening various ecologies and inhibiting species.

 The Man Village

Clouds, Jesse Gardner 02
Figure 3: Clouds, [Sl], 2015. Photograph by Jesse Gardner.

I feel a velvety smooth fluff between my toes and smell a fresh, cool breeze. I am surrounded by the essence of life: air and in that oxygen. A shocking realisation is that all of this that is represented by “Clouds” (figure 3), is only a dream for many poor individuals in the global South (Nixon 2011:4).

The slow violence of deforestation on rural communities is an intricate issue (Nixon 2011:4) as these humans contribute towards the devastation. Lori Hunter (2013:402) states that many rural households use natural resources as a strategy to meet their basic needs including the use of wood for making fires and cooking.

Intensive logging, Rex 02
Figure 4: Intensive logging, Amazon, 2014. Photograph by Rex.

This contribution to “intensive logging” as portrayed in figure 4 pollutes water resources and the air resulting in a damaged ozone layer and climate change.

Africa is a dry continent and water should be regarded as a precious commodity but the act of deforestation intoxicates the water. If intoxicated water is consumed it could have a drastic effect on human life.

Deforestation also acts as a driver for climate change (Deforestation… [sa]) which holds consequences for both Africa and the rest of the globe. The soil of a forest is damp, without the overhead protection of trees the soil dries out. Trees are a vital part of the water cycle by returning water vapour back to the air. The disruption of these functions leads to extreme temperatures. Trees also absorb greenhouse gasses which cause global warming. Therefore the decreasing amount of trees fuel climate change.

In conclusion

In this Anthropocene epoch human activity has lead to the vast destruction of the environment and continues to do so. The slow violence (Nixon 2011:2) that is deforestation impacts greatly on humans and ecologies. Moreover, deforestation enhances climate change which is considered a slow violence independently. Through the exploration of this topic it has become evident that if deforestation is not decreased globally, the human and ecology casualties will continue to reach staggering heights. Therefore, let us take The Lorax’s advice and lean towards creating awareness and making a change (Bolton, D 2016).

Total words: 749

Sources consulted

Hunter L. M, Nawrotzki, R, Leyk, S, Maclaurin G. J, Twine, W, Collinson, M & Erasmus, B. 2013. Rural Outmigration, Natural Capital, and Livelihoods in South Africa. Population, Space and Place 20(5), July:402-420.

Lawes, M, Eeley, H, Findlay, N, & Forbes, D. 2007. Resilient forest faunal communities in South Africa: a legacy of palaeoclimatic change and extinction filtering? Journal of Biogeography 34(7):1246-1264.

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

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

South Africa National Biodiversity Institute. Red List of South African Plants. 2016. [O]. Available:
Accessed 23 April 2016.

Bolton, D. 2016. Earth Day 2016: Five simple things you can do to help make our planet greener. Independent, 22 April. [O]. Available: things-you-can-do-to-help-the-environment-a6995486.html
Accessed 24 April 2016.

Deforestation. Here’s what you need to know about the warming planet, how it’s affecting us, and what’s at stake. [Sa]. National Geographic. [O]. Available: Accessed 24 April 2016.

Gardner, J. 2015. Clouds. [Sl]. [O]. Available:
Accessed 24 April 2016.

Malan, H. [Sa]. Winter Winds. Limpopo. [O]. Available:
Accessed 24 April 2016.

Radovanovic, A. 2015. Timber. [Sl]. [O]. Available:
Accessed 24 April 2016.

Rex. 2015. Intensive logging. Amazon. [O]. Available:
Accessed 24 April 2016.

Renaud, C, Balda, K (dir) & Daurio, K, Geisel, A (prod). 2012. The Lorax. [Film]. Universal Pictures.



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