NOW THAT THE SEASON OF FEASTING, REVELRY AND POPPING CHAMPAGNE CORKS HAS COME TO AN END, 2020 IS A GOOD TIME TO RE-INTRODUCE A NOTE OF SOBRIETY AND TO REIMAGINE HOW FAMILIES CAN LIGHTEN OUR IMPACT ON THE ENVIRONMENT AROUND US, WRITES TONY CARNIE
There is no easy 10-step guide to saving the world, but here are some ideas to start recognising the damage we cause to the vanishing world of nature. Reimagine your garden: Many suburban gardens look “green”. However, look a little closer and most are ecologically-sterile deserts with neatly-mowed lawns and brick- paving, roses and other alien plants which provide very little food or benefit to local birds, small animals and insect-life.
A good place to start is to buy a copy of Charles and Julia Botha’s book Bring Nature Back To Your Garden. (To order, contact Marylynn Grant on 082 663 8266 or email firstname.lastname@example.org)
Some of the ideas in this book may challenge your comfort zone, but you don’t have to change everything overnight. Start slowly, gradually replacing exotic plants with indigenous varieties that will provide edible fruit, nectar, seeds and berries during different seasons.
Africa is beautiful, so do we really need neat and pretty English gardens? Are you willing to rewild and share some of your “private” space with other species of life? Does the entire lawn have to be mowed every week before it can produce edible seeds? Do we need to poison our gardens with pesticides and toxic sprays? Should we be wasting energy on convenience appliances like electric leaf-blowers?
Reduce your electricity footprint: This is not just about saving money. Most of South Africa’s electricity comes from burning coal in Eskom power stations which produce greenhouse gas emissions that heat up the world and change the climate. Consider installing a solar-powered-geyser the next time your electric geyser bursts. Solar systems are getting cheaper, and will continue to get cheaper as more people make the choice to switch over to greener power.
Reduce water waste: The biggest water- guzzler in your home is the toilet. In most households, 35% of the water bill gets flushed down the loo daily. No one wants smelly toilets, but do they have to be flushed after every visit? Can we redesign our homes to harvest rainwater for flushing?
Don’t waste expensive tap water on topping up your pool. Rather buy a detachable length of PVC gutter pipe and hook this up to a gutter down-pipe to catch rain water off your roof. You’ll be amazed how quickly the pool fills up after a heavy downpour. You can also install a JoJo tank to catch more rain to water the garden during dry months, but also select local, water-wise plants that are adapted to survive in dry weather.
For starters, ditch the air-conditioner and open the doors and windows when it gets hot. We have survived quite well without air-con for centuries, even in Durban. Also consider taking expert advice from an electrician and plumber on smarter ways to reduce your power bills and your climate-change footprint.
Reuse, recycle and refurbish: Whenever possible, try to repair or refurbish your household appliances and fixtures instead of replacing them with new products. This is not always easy, because manufacturers design products to wear out quickly and force you to replace them. But, if you ask around, there are still some skilled handymen who can fix things professionally.
Rather than hauling bags of leaves and grass cuttings to the nearest garden refuse dump, build a small compost heap at home and start producing your own fertiliser. All you need are a few gum poles, wooden slats and some nails to bang together a simple storage area.
Refuse single use: The world is full of throw-away products designed for the convenience of consumers and suppliers – but it all comes at a cost.
Fruit and vegetables are packaged in thick layers of polystyrene and plastic. Electric bulbs, chocolates and other products arrive in blister packs that eventually end up in landfill sites or polluting rivers and the sea. Can this be changed? Use your voice and your spending power to put pressure on supermarket and store managers to supply products in a way that generates less throw-away waste.
Recognise your personal impact: Almost everything you buy or do has a direct or indirect impact on the environment.
It is not just the luxury stuff or the exotic timber furniture chopped from a tropical rainforest. Look closely at every item in your home – including the “invisible” stuff like the paint on your walls or the bricks, cement, tiles and aluminium or steel window frames. Then ask yourself: Where did all this stuff come from? How was it made and at what environmental cost? Start to join the dots linking them to the giant mining pits, razed forests or polluted oceans across the globe.
This might not solve anything immediately, but it may prompt us to think more deeply and become less smug. Recognising our impacts may inspire more awareness and a responsibility to assume a personal role in influencing our friends, families and elected political representatives to change some of the bigger problems we can’t tackle on our own.
Rethink your choices: It’s fantastic to “do our little bit”, but quick, cosmetic solutions won’t make any measurable difference in reversing the current scale of rampant environmental destruction across the world.
Our public transport system is pretty hopeless, but you do have a choice between driving a flashy, fuel-guzzling 4×4 or downgrading to a smaller, fuel-efficient vehicle to reduce climate gas emissions. You also have a choice between jetting off to Mauritius or Switzerland on holiday – or reducing your carbon footprint by spending your holidays exploring the many natural and cultural wonders of South Africa.
The inconvenient truth is that we have to find ways to fly less, drive less and buy less while we navigate a very difficult path back to a less glamorous but more environmentally- sustainable future.