Swansong first year lecture by Professor Mike Meadows

23 Apr 2019 - 13:00

Professor Michael Meadows, who has lectured first year students in the Department of Environmental & Geographical Science at UCT since he joined UCT in 1986, presented his swan-song lecture on the Physical Geography of the Anthropocene last Friday.  The packed lecture theatre was the recipient not only of his last first year lecture, but also many spot prizes, for among other things, attending every single one of his lectures this year, having a birthday, being in the lecture despite not being signed up for the course. 

The lecture started with an image of a Supertramp record cover with the words “Crisis what Crisis”.  Meadows then explored various indicators of change, the human impact on geomorphology and on coastlines.   Professor Meadows gave a whistle-stop tour of the many issues facing our planet through increasing global temperatures and climates, the massive global production of plastic and cement, illegal sand mining, shrinking of river delta’s and rise of sea level.  Meadows challenged the students to look at our global footprint and suggested that we have exceed our planetary boundaries and that the planet is no longer able to sustain the way we are living.

A classroom of future environmentalists

Meadows did not end the lecture in doom and gloom about the state of our planet but challenged the students as future environmentalists, to develop their skills and tools to turn this ship around.   and asked them to consider how Geography can help in the way forward.  He commented that the integration of human and physical Geography presents the greatest strength and opportunity and that we need to integrate the earth system with our society and economy.  He stressed that we cannot afford to focus on only one of these aspects, because then we will destroy our planet and said that the Human-Environmental relationship is at the core of this discipline.

He challenged the students to counter the culture of fear/ doom and gloom which makes people feel helpless and to start with ourselves and take responsibility for our own actions – at which point he pointed to the student sitting right in front and said, “Don’t use plastic bottles”!  Meadows said it was encouraging to see scholars across the globe embarking on climate protests and strikes, such as the recent one, where youngsters are putting pressure on the governments across the world to take responsibility.

Dr Pippin Anderson, A/ Professor Frank Eckardt and Alison Meadows were there to witness the last lecture

Professor Meadows ended his lecture by saying that thirty-three years had passed since he started lecturing at UCT and just to gain some perspective, he showed that in 1986:

  • A litre of fuel cost 37c
  • A Castle lager cost 25c
  • A loaf of bread cost 53c
  • A cup of coffee cost 45c
  • A new car could be bought for R20 000
  • A house cost R45 000

Students saying their goodbyes

Meadows said he had enjoyed interacting with first year students and he encouraged the students to understand the elements that make up the landscapes and the processes that shape them; to develop a greater appreciation of the complexity, vulnerability and beauty of the system – to drink in the extra-ordinary beauty of our surroundings here in Cape Town and to be the custodians of the future.

A first-year EGS student from Mike's class 33 years ago Katherine Wilson - was there to witness his last lecture