In 1998, the Mail & Guardian launched this supplement, Greening the Future. This was near the end of a big decade for sustainability, with the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 and the Kyoto Protocol on climate change in 1997. In a newly-free South Africa, there was hope that we could create a better world.
Creating that world would be the work of individuals, groups, government and companies.
The intro to those first awards noted that they “are aimed at recognising these new trends and rewarding those companies, organisations and individuals who, by investing in the environment, are investing in our future”.
Our awards would therefore be a way of encouraging this progress, of celebrating those who wake up every day and work to make this country a better, more sustainable place.
Photo by Paul Botes
In big picture terms, it feels like we have not gone far since then. South Africa remains, per person, the 14th highest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world. Eskom continues to dominate our pollution landscape, both poisoning the communities where coal power plants work and the wider world with greenhouse gasses.
We are still locked into a dangerous level of climate change. The world heating at deadly levels. Ecosystems are collapsing. The natural world is in freefall because we have changed so much, so quickly. That pollution is aided by non-compliant corporations which might have greased the palms of some government officials to continue with business-as-usual. And all of this, has caused numerous types of ailments, while threatening our future well-being.
After Covid-19, it does seem like 2020 is a really bleak time for us, and our planet. But in the midst of the lockdown nature began to breathe again. As we slowed down, the world literally, started shaking less. Pollution decreased. Rivers became healthier. We breathed cleaner air. This came at a vast human cost. It is, all the same, a sign of what we could do.
The projects and individuals that we have awarded for over two decades are all showing us the way. This year’s finalists and winners give us, if we listen to them, a blueprint for a more sustainable world.
That’s something we all want.
Acting editor-in-chief, Mail & Guardian