Professor Lesley Green statement made on 2Aug17 to the Standing Committee on Agri, Tourism and Economic Development
AUGUST 8 · CUSTOM
“My name is Lesley Green I am a Professor in social sciences at the University of Cape Town.

I teach social science research methods, I also direct a program called Environmental Humanities at UCT and I also teach a graduate course called “Science, Nature, Democracy”. And I want to put on record to the committee that from a contemporary social science perspective, the kind of social science that is being proposed in a consultancy framework, is not acceptable.

It’s not acceptable for a number of reasons, the one is that in respect of questions of climate change, social science research has shifted completely.

And the kind of social science that is being proposed here this morning does not take account of contemporary international shifts in the social sciences to recognise that you cannot just consult stakeholders, as defined by property owners in respect of an area that is the commons.

We live on a planet that is in a crisis because we are not paying attention to the commons. And the definition of the commons is that it is something that affects not only property owners. But the idea of private property is directly informing the kind of social sciences that is mentioned this morning, and that affects also the way of thinking of space and spatiality. But that approach means not paying attention to the flows of ecology. We are living here an ecology [of the PHA] that can’t be divided up into little pockets.

On that map over there you can see all the bodies of water. If you take aerial photographs back to the 1920’s when the first aerial photographs were taken of this area, you see a substantially much larger number of bodies of water that were feeding this aquifer. You cannot feed an aquifer on little parcels of land here and there that has been carved up. The water that runs off streets is dirty.

The flows of ecology are critical. It affects water, it affects soil, it affects birds and it affects people — regardless of property ownership lines. The health of the soil affects the life of the people.

Contemporary social science will make a direct connection between gut biomes and soil health here in the Cape Flats and Khayelitsha, and in turn to epigenetics, which affects present and future generations. It’s that kind of integrated social science that looks at health, that looks at ecology, together. That understands that healthy soil builds healthy bodies. That does not just submit to the idea that social science consists of stakeholder meetings with property owners, value chains, retailers, markets and so on. That is not acceptable. The proposed research approach also doesn’t take account the critical responsibility of social science at this time, which is to consider not only where people are at, in this economised world that we live in — but to consider what kind of future is this economised world we building? Getting opinions from stakeholders is not adequate to providing the democratic task of framing leadership in this situation.

How do we bring ecology into a democracy that over the years has made so many decisions only on the economy? Economy depends on ecology. The two words even have the same root: “oikos”, which means home. Ecology and economy are both essential if a city is to be a home. But in the city of Cape Town, economy has come to shape just about every planning decision. If the PHA goes, then the ecology of the city is destroyed. You will be left only with the ecology managed by SANParks for the wealthy, and for tourists, with the illusion that we have a city with ecology.

But the city itself will be vulnerable to drought, and its food system will be vulnerable to fuel costs and transport costs. Because the ecological functioning of the city will have been destroyed. This is not only bad natural science, it is bad social science. And it is in contrast with city greening projects that are being celebrated as world leaders elsewhere.

Leadership is what is needed here, and for this I am appealing to the committee. I respect and admire your meeting here on this site today – thank you for coming. I want to say that leadership in this instance requires looking at much more than short-term financial cycles or five-year electoral cycles or one-year balance sheets. We need to be looking at future generations. In cities around the world, you’ve got generations that are suing government, younger generations that are suing government who are not taking account of their futures.

And in this situation, you know, one of the problems is the way consultancies are done. Development studies at university level will tell you this. There are so many books that have been published on the problem of the role of experts who are not based on the ground where the issue is that is needing to be addressed. I can offer you a bibliography on the problem of the role of experts. And the issue is when the democratic debate is outsourced, when ecology is not taken into account, when the flows of ecology are overridden by property boundaries, when the commons is not considered, when climate change is not considered, the kind of social science produced by experts will be generating evidence, but it will be evidence based on the wrong questions. You will get evidence, but it will not be useful evidence.”

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