Hannah Simon, a UCT student studying biological and environmental and geographical sciences, broke rare ground when she had an article about the tension between social and environmental justice published in the acclaimed South African Journal of Science in November last year.
All the more impressive is the fact that Simon was a third-year undergraduate student when the paper was published.
The paper is titled “Understanding the polarisation of environmental and social activism in South Africa”.
In countries like Bolivia, policies that simultaneously uplift the people and the planet are put in place. Simon's paper argues that this is often not the case in South Africa, where there is a clear disconnect between social and environmental activism. But it should be possible, in theory.
“Given the turbulent socio-economic past in our country, social upliftment is often pursued at the expense of the environment,” she says.
She offers three main reasons for this: “Firstly, social change can operate more quickly than environmental intervention can. Secondly, environmental issues are often more obscure than social solutions, and lastly, elements of South African culture may oppose environmental conservation.”
In a political economy like South Africa's, Simon writes, “economic desperation” does not allow for risk-taking and money-wasting.
Simon hopes that her paper will encourage scientists and policymakers to design innovative solutions to the country's “unique” socio-ecological challenges. In the meantime, she's spending 2017 completing her honours degree in biological sciences and also aims to be involved in some urban ecology research.
“As for papers in the pipeline, I am in the process of brainstorming one big, relevant and exciting idea.”
Being published in the South African Journal of Science (SAJS) was “humbling” yet “incredibly encouraging”, she said.
“The world of academia is daunting for young scientists but I have learned that there are spaces out there, like SAJS, that welcome our works and our opinions,” she said.
“Spaces like these can and should be utilised by everyone – student, layperson and academic alike.”
Story Yusuf Omar. Photo Robyn Walker.
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