A Demon in Paradise

(Image: Brenton Geach) A smart demon wouldn't gatecrash Paradise. It would get itself invited in. And once in, the changes would be so slow, and so subtle, no-one would notice. But in time, Paradise would be forever changed. Forever corrupted.

Its pretext for securing an invitation would be entirely plausible. Perhaps a research mission: "Hell gets such a bad press, but really, all we want to do is give our residents a sense of meaning. Of belonging. To be honest, we're terrible at that. We can learn from you. I just want to see how it's done. It will make such a difference to millions of damned souls. You'd want to be part of that, wouldn't you?"

If gas is found, there is the promise of jobs and a solution to the country's energy crisis. That's what the Seismic Survey is about. "And bye the way, gas has half the carbon footprint of coal."

True. But the world is in a different place since the permit was granted in 2014. Shell is acting as if there is no Climate Change crisis.

Unless humans do something radical, and fast, we on this third rock from the sun are all headed to hell in a hand-basket, and a quick rewind to Paradise is off the cards. This is a one-way ride.

"It's hardly a Paradise if the people living there are poor. Have you seen them? Their houses are all off-grid. And they hardly ever go to the shops. They live such basic lives. We can change all that."

I lived among those 'poor' people for awhile. They hosted me in their homesteads. They don't go to the shops because they are surrounded by everything they need. Goats, sheep, cows, chickens, fish and beans provide protein. Maize, madumbis, spinach, tomatoes, onions, beans and fruit provide carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Each homestead is entirely self-sufficient.

Lives may be basic by western consumerist standards, but no-one goes hungry. Yes, it would be nice if every home had plumbed water and electricity, but solar cells and cellphones are already making it easier to communicate and learn. It's arrogant and culturally condescending to assume you know what the people living there need.

If you took the time to meet them, you will find the people who live on the Wild Coast are culturally rich, with a deep mythology, an intricate connectedness to nature, and a unique knowledge of the fauna and flora that make up South Africa's second-most biodiverse area. "Exploring for oil in our ocean is a direct attack on our human rights," says Mpondo Environmentalist Sinegugu Zukulu. "We have made a choice for ecotourism and sustainable agriculture. We are already witnessing in our area, the impacts of climate change. Our politicians have just come out of COP26, where they committed to cutting down carbon emissions, and now all of a sudden, as a country, we are giving permission to Shell to come and explore? We cannot allow a situation where we are speaking on the right but walking on the left. We cannot allow for our ocean to be seen as a source of oil, because that is going to render our livelihoods null and void."

Sinegugu Zukulu

The Wild Coast is not just where the people live, or even how they live. It's who they are. It defines them.

"Ah, but you see, your country is in the grips of an energy crisis. Imagine turbines dotted along the Wild Coast, running on gas piped from under the sea. Megawatts to spare, and with, did we mention it, half the carbon footprint of coal." True. But the last thing a sick person needs is more poison, regardless of the dose. Shell is still smarting from International Court decision in the Hague in May this year, ordering it to cut its CO2 emissions by 45% by 2030.

It should using its substantial resources to find ways to produce energy without CO2, not exploring pristine wilderness areas to find more of it.

Oh, and remember the Oceanos?

In 1991, en route to Durban, the Oceanos encountered 40knot winds and 30m swells. And rogue waves. They happen with unsettling frequency off the Wild Coast, caused by a combination of underwater topography and the Aguhlas current, which rips through the area at speeds of up to 8 knots. Divers tried to salvage the Oceanos. She lies at a depth of 92m, 5km offshore. Pretty much exactly where they're looking for gas. Experienced, commercial divers find the waters almost impossible to work in.

The Oceanos was not the only victim of the notorious Wild Coast seas. It's joined on the sea-bed by the Grosvenor (1782), the Waratah (1909), the Jacaranda (1971), the Nagos (1993), the Aster (1995), the China (2004), the Kiperousa (2005) and the Kiani Satu (2013).

And Shell tells us not to worry, they know what they're doing.

They are going to punch holes in the floor of the sea in one of Africa's last pristine wilderness areas, surrounded by fragile Marine Protected Areas, in those conditions.

This is the thing with Europeans. They constantly under-estimate Africa. They don't begin to understand its ferocity. The Wild Coast is called wild for a reason.

"Look, let's not be hasty about this. Let's just have a look-see, alright? A quick survey, bit of research. There may not be anything there at all. What's the harm? The tree-huggers have it all wrong. No harm to sea life has ever actually been proved. It's all just a coincidence."

Yes. It's an astounding coincidence that in 2016 there were record numbers of cetacean beachings exactly at the same time undersea seismic surveys were happening in the area where the beachings occurred. It's an even more amazing coincidence that cetaceans were found to have died from baro-trauma.

Wait. Back up. What the fuck is baro-trauma?

Whales feed deep. Some dive as deep as 2,000m to find their food. At that depth , it's pitch black. The only way they know where they are is by sound.

Scientist are only beginning to learn how this is done, but they do know that echo-location is way more important than sight for cetaceans, not only in finding prey, but in building relationships, communicating, and at the most basic level, knowing where the fuck you are in the Ocean. Now imagine, at 2000m, where its darker than the insides of Jacob's brain: your lungs have collapsed to liquid. The only means of orientation is by sound. Then you get hit by a barrage of 250Db explosions every ten seconds.

Suddenly you're blind. You have no idea how deep you are, where is up, where is down. And you're an air-breather. So you head up. (Hopefully, you're swimming in the right direction.)

But the closer you get to the surface, the louder the explosions become. You're swimming straight towards the gates of hell. So you swim faster. You panic.

No time for you lungs to slowly solidify, for your blood to slowly purge itself of nitrogen. So your blood turns to Alka-Selzer and your stomach explodes out your mouth. Not a good way to die.

Shell says there's no evidence to connect this to Seismic Surveys. The whale died in its own back-yard. It knows where to dive, and for how long. It navigates these waters habitually. It talks to its buddies, its partner, its children. It does this day in, day out. By sound.

Baro-trauma only happens when you blind it, deafen it and scare the shit out of it so bad, its insides blow up.

Demons always work by stealth. It's the frog-in-the-pot-of-water strategy. But once they're in, the cancer spreads. Irrevocably. Incurably.

And Paradise begins its inexorable downward journey to Hell.

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