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Creecy, Crisis and the Exponential Curve

Crisis is a persuasive political imaginary. Crisis is used as a socially- and politically-mobilising concept. It has an historical past-to-future axis, which can serve for a powerful future projection. Imaginaries of crisis mean an abrupt and highly transformative moment of vital ‘epochal change[1]’ or indicate ‘a critical transition period after which – if not everything, then much – will be different[2]’.

The imaginary of the COVID-19 crisis seems very strongly attached to the climate crisis in certain media representations and interpretations, amalgamating the present experience of the pandemic with a near future climate crisis. The discourse has centralized ‘human health = economic health’. It is undergirded with seeing climate change as an even greater systemic risk. The past weeks have seen extreme effects on graphs – global rates of increase in COVID-19 infections and deaths, demand for emergency food aid growing exponentially as millions of people lose their jobs and the free-fall of the stock market and crude oil price.There is now greater appreciation for how effects will build quickly, locking in poor outcomes for degrees of impacts.

The precipitous drop in oil demand and prices, caused by the coronavirus epidemic, should apply added pressure to Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy’s, deliberation on the appeal against drilling for oil and gas offshore of the KZN coastline. Her pronouncement is imminent. Oil giants Eni and Sasol have applied for pioneer drilling of 6 exploratory deep-water wells between Richards Bay and Scottburgh. Currently offshore drilling rigs are being cold-stacked in various fleets, and oil and gas platforms are ‘idling’ in many fields globally [3], and cash-strapped Sasol’s output has been slashed due to this price decline

What learnings from COVID will Creecy bring to her thoughts on the appeal? Will she be part of the parliamentary collective shrug about the climate crisis or will she act to protect the future? There is a clear need to move beyond fossil fuels for South Africa’s energy needs and energy security, and Creecy’s post as minister for the environment means that she has a mandated, and a social, duty of care to take climate action. Will she reframe our relations to the more-than-human world, de-industrialising our sea and put more hands to work on renewables instead? Illogically and schizophrenically, as head of Operation Phakisa, she has the strategic objective to grow offshore gas and oil-based development in South Africa. Will Creecy continue to sing from the denialist playbook, embedding her oily signature into the molecular composition of our oceans, sweeping aside the upfront risks and uncertainties, not least of which include the volatility of oil and gas? 

Creecy needs to quantify the effects of the low oil prices and the virus on the expected outcomes of the exploration. Infrastructure, mainly geared for Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) import terminals, transnational pipelines, and delivery networks and conversion systems, is at planning stage of development and at least a decade away from operation. Hunger is banging loudly at the door of many in need of economic development and the ‘oil-and-gas-boom’ narrative won’t be delivering on poverty alleviation anytime soon, or ever, if one considers the ‘resource curse’ associated with extractives.

While oil futures drown in their toxic oversupply, the rapidly closing window for critical climate mitigation demands urgent action. To delay means a goodbye to corals, insects, bees, frogs and arctic environments, and hello to climate refugees, mosquito borne diseases, runaway greenhouse effects and food and water shortages. Will Creecy take a leaf out of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s “go hard and go early” leadership response, to flatten the climate curve? Or will she foresake the antidote of a carbon-free energy regime, promote harmful gas as clean and blindly tow the party line right through climate crisis tipping points?


[1]R. Koselleck, 2006. Crisis. Journal of the History of Ideas, 67(2), 357–400. p. 358

[2]R. Koselleck, 2006. Crisis. Journal of the History of Ideas, 67(2), 357–400. p. 358

[3]Offshore Deepwater News. Available at <https://www.oedigital.com/subsea/deepwater&gt;

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