By Roger Diamond

When will we ever know enough? If the scientists are to be believed, never. Politicians love this — it means real action and real change can be forever delayed on the grounds of not really being actually, totally, quite utterly certain! So we can just plop a few million into research and blame the scientists for the delays. Real action costs real money and takes real guts, none of which is needed if we are pottering around figuring out the subtleties of sun spots, solar flares and Milankovitch cycles.

Science is great and I am by no means suggesting an end to research, but surely there must come a point where you have to ask yourself “What am I going to do with my dollar?” Buy a fancy instrument that can measure some microscopic quantities of hexavalent chromium or enforce legislation that makes polluters pay? At what point are we certain enough of the facts that we can start putting money and time into action and let the research go into the background? I believe that for most environmental crises we know enough to tackle them and we should be focusing on that, rather than tinkering away with formulae and models to endlessly postulate further climate change scenarios or more groundwater pollution movements.

Besides, most people just don’t understand the science. Scientists included, unless it is their specialist field. Atmospheric physics is not a pre-school subject, nor is epidemiology and the fate of a toxicant as it moves through the ecosystem. This is complex stuff. But do you really need to know exactly where the mercury is going to go? We know it’s going to cause harm along the way, so let’s focus on catching it and getting it OUT of the ecosystem, rather than fussing over which species of frog will die sooner because its diet includes more of the critters that absorb mercury faster, because … due to … as a consequence of … and so on. Mercury is not good — let’s clean it up, recycle what we do use, reduce how much we need or best of all, find a way of not needing it at all.

We often even know enough to know which battles to pick. Some species have no viable habitat left. Sure, it’s not nice to let go of something, but like a patient with terminal cancer, how many resources do you want to pour into a certain failure. Some rivers are canalised and nothing more than open air drains — sure, it would be NICE to fix them up, but we can spend the same amount of time and effort and get a far greater impact by tackling an invasive alien infestation that is in its infancy and will in 10 years become “unfixable”. We are smart and we can choose the battles that we will win.

When they find diamonds, they just start digging. Spades, shovels, gunpowder, farmers, shopkeepers, migrants, there is no plan, but one takes shape. Not decades of endless research into block cave mining of kimberlite pipes, dense media separation and X-ray sorting machines. Action. Why, with environmental crises all around us, can we not just grab a tool and start digging now? Get a worm farm, install a solar panel, ride a scooter, car pool. Now.

Science is interesting, but only action will secure us a place in the future.


  • POP believes that the problem posed by the imminent peaking of global oil production is something warranting serious attention. The group is made up of a small yet diverse group that brings together theoretical skills on geology, economics and strategy, with practical application of alternative lifestyle choices. POP is dedicated to raising awareness of "peak oil", its likely impacts on South African society and the possible solutions to living in an energy reduced future. The contributors are all members of ASPO-SA


Peak Oil Perspectives

POP believes that the problem posed by the imminent peaking of global oil production is something warranting serious attention. The group is made up of a small yet diverse group that brings together...

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