We should trust the science, Jody – but all of the science

20 JUN 2021 — 

Today our update is focused on science and pollen. Here’s why …

Jody Aufrichtig, spokesperson for LLPT, the River Club developers, published a recent Right to Reply in the Daily Maverick, dismissing criticisms of the re-development by claiming that we should “trust the science” and “trust the experts”.

But what Jody really means is that the public should only trust their experts and the science that the LLPT pays for. The LLPT did not trust the science of the City’s Environmental Management Department (EMD) who raised 13 scientific grounds, including concerns over biodiversity harm and climate change, in appealing the River Club’s environmental authorisation.  In fact, the developers ignored the EMD.

There are also many other expert scientists who disagree with the re-development of the River Club on scientific grounds. For example, the South African Astronomical Observatory (a National Heritage Site and world renown scientific research entity), also appealed the River Club re-development. Amongst their concerns they noted the need to preserve unique local flora and retain the “green breathing area amidst a highly populated and urban area.”

Interestingly, we received an email of support from a scientist involved in monitoring pollen counts in Cape Town. Their research unit has a pollen spore trap located on top of the SAAO building next to the River Club. The reason they placed the spore trap there is precisely because the Two Rivers Urban Park is an open natural space and the pollen they collect at the filter is representative of the pollens generated in Cape Town – pollens that give rise to asthma and other respiratory disorders affecting many of Cape Town’s residents.

They can use the relatively undisturbed open natural space to get a good indication of what pollens we are exposed to. Their research is able to provide health risk assessments for Cape Town and help to develop a South African National Monitoring programme for pollen exposure.

But with the construction of 150 000 square metres of concrete bulk next door, what their filter will mainly collect is a lot of silica dust. And once the construction is complete, the former undisturbed green strip that is the Two Rivers Urban Park will be forever gone. So even if the filter is still functioning, they will not be able to get the same quality of representative data they need for their work. The scientist’s comment to us was “I fully support your petition to stop the development of the River Club.”

Ironically, Jody refers to the notion that, during COVID-19, it has become a mantra that we should “trust the science.” The spore trap at the SAAO, which will be effectively disabled by the River Club re-development, was the source of data for a global research study that looked at links between COVID-19, pollen and pollutants, published this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. The researchers found that pollen concentrations explained almost half of the variability in COVID-19 infection rates between localities, which has important implications for prevention of COVID-19 infection. Destroying the open nature of the TRUP landscape means such research will no longer be possible in South Africa. The River Club re-development fails on all counts – heritage, environment and scientific opportunities, since it simply does not appreciate the multiple benefits of the green lung that is the Two Rivers Urban Park.

What Jody also does not mention is that the hallmark of good science is that research is subject to peer review from other scientists, such as was the case for the NAS article cited above. For the River Club re-development, that peer review came from, amongst others, scientists working for the City of Cape Town.  But their peer review was ignored. As stated in their Appeal against the Environmental Authorisation (EA): “The City of Cape Town provided comments on both the Draft BAR [Basic Assessment Report] (January 2019) and the Final BAR (January 2020) and the City is of the view that these issues have not been adequately addressed. The City had not seen, or commented on, the version of the Final BAR dated April 2020, referred to in the Environmental Authorisation (EA), and uploaded to the River Club site subsequent to the issuing of the EA. In line with fair administrative process, the City, as the Local Authority, as well as all Interested and Affected Parties (I&APs) should have been afforded the opportunity to comment on the April 2020 BAR. This is particularly so given the extensive comments provided by the City on the preceding BARs.”

As clear as daylight … Extensive comments given by competent professionals who are experts in their fields of science, including biodiversity management, “have not been adequately addressed.”

At the end of the day, it is clear that Jody wants the public to follow only certain experts and the selected science for which the LLPT has paid – not that of independent scientific experts who believe the re-development is bad for science, harmful to the environment, a threat to Sustainable Development and a threat to our future.

It is ironic that the LLPT object to criticism of their re-development as “misinformation” but continue to repeat the falsehood that opposition is from “a small but vocal group of people.” More than 55 000 people have now signed the OCA’s petition against the re-development, and more than 60 First Nation, Civic and Environmental Organisations who have applied for the Two Rivers Urban Park, which includes the River Club Site, to be graded as a Provincial Heritage Resource. There is no science evident here in the miscalculation that enables Jody to describe this as a small group. Rather, it is the LLPT that is spreading misinformation.

The LLPT is also incorrect in characterising criticisms of the approval as an attempt to “discredit the legal process.” Now that the administrative processes run by the City of Cape Town’s planners and the provincial Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning have failed the people of South Africa, we are forced to seek a review of the unfair and manipulated administrative process in the High Court. We do so precisely because we live in a constitutional democracy that affords everyone the right to legal redress and we have full confidence in that legal process.

Anyone wishing to support us financially to seek justice in this matter can do so here.

Make the Liesbeek Matter!