Volume II of the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4), released on 23 November, 2018 by the U.S Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) focused on climate change impacts, risks and adaptations occurring in the U.S. It found that without substantial and sustained global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, climate change is expected to threaten American health, wellness, ecosystems and the U.S. economy. The report noted that societal efforts to respond to climate change have expanded in the last five years, but not at the scale needed to avoid substantial damages over the coming decades. Although the U.S. was the focus of the report, we cannot ignore the wider implications of yet another damning scientific report on our environment at a global level.

We also sit with the problem of pollution and in particular the unprecedented proliferation of plastic in our oceans. Right now there are more than 51 trillion pieces of micro-plastic in our oceans and up to 80% of all litter in our oceans is plastic. Scientists estimate that by 2050 we will have more plastic in our ocean than fish.

We can ignore scientific report after scientific report and write it off to some conspiracy theory or a future concern. Worse than that is relying on our governments to take a stand. Politicians can never be a guardians of the earth. We are. I don’t have children but I am still worried about the future of the earth and would like to do what I can.

For those of us who are in a position to actually do better, because there is an inherent privilege in being able to worry about these types of issues, what can we do? I have listed some practical suggestions for an eco-friendly existence. You don’t have to become a “green warrior”, or board a Green Peace ship to protest against the killing of whales or walk around in tie-dyed clothing handing out free hugs to care about these issues and make an impact. Rather make small and sustainable changes to the way that you live your life. Discuss these with your friends, family and your community. We can all do better.

1. Cut-down on meat or become plant-based/vegan

This is possibly the most controversial point but actually the single biggest step you can personally take to make a positive impact on the environment. So, it must be addressed. There is no real debate that meat eating is not environmentally sustainable because of the impact of livestock on use of land, water and generating carbon gas emissions. Arguably if you consider yourself an eco-conscious person then you can’t really explain eating meat. Notwithstanding the other ethical issues of animals being bred for food production in factory farms. I have only recently switched to a plant-based diet for personal health reasons. But I also feel like it’s the only long-term dietary choice for me as a person who tries to be live an ethical life and eating meat, dairy or eggs is becoming increasingly harder to justify.

2. Cut-down on single use plastic items

Single-use plastic is self-explanatory. It is plastic that is only used once then discarded and cannot be recycled. Don’t use these items or find alternatives.

  • Use a glass/tin water bottle instead of a plastic bottle.
  • Use a travel coffee mug for take-away coffees.
  • Re-use plastic bags or bring a reusable bag for your groceries.
  • Don’t put fruit/veggies in those small plastic bags.
  • Give up chewing gum (which is essentially plastic).
  • Stop using plastic straws at restaurants or if it is a must bring your own.
  • Try using cloth diapers for your baby instead of disposable diapers. My mom used cloth diapers when we were babies but I am not a mom and I know this one is a push. This is actually possibly the most controversial point. Please don’t kill me mom friends.
  • Use a razor with disposable blades instead of a disposable one.
  • Consider using bamboo toothbrushes or electronic toothbrushes as opposed to disposable toothbrushes.
  • Use matches instead of disposable plastic lighters or invest in a refillable metal lighter.
  • Also those coffee pods for those expensive home expresso machines are not disposable either. Now all the coffee drinkers will hate me too.

3. Recycle

  • Buy products that have been made from recycled materials or products that can be recycled such as cardboard, glass and tin cans.
  • Cut down on plastic.
  • Read the recycling guidelines carefully and recycle things that can actually be recycled. We have a separate recycling bag that goes out every week.

4. Dispose of batteries carefully

  • Don’t dispose of large amounts of alkaline batteries in household waste in one go.
  • Do try and opt for recycling of a battery, even if the battery is suitable for household waste.
  • Don’t dispose of rechargeable batteries like the ones found in cameras, phones, laptops in household waste.
  • Do find a recycling or collection service for your batteries.

5. Trade-in and buy second-hand electronics

Do not be consumed with the need to have the latest and greatest electronic devices from watches, to tablets, to laptops to mobile phones. But if you do buy a new one, trade your current device in or re-sell it or at worst case dispose of it carefully.

6. Save electricity

In South Africa, we have become used to the increasing demands on our limited electricity supply and have experienced regular rolling electricity blackouts for hours at a time. We do not take electricity for granted.

  • We use energy efficient lightbulbs.
  • We turn off lights and appliances that aren’t being used.
  • We use small appliances instead of the stove.

Windmill models on a meeting table

7. Save water

Water is a finite resource. In Cape Town my relationship with water has been profoundly impacted by our recent 3-year drought and water restrictions. Read some tips on saving water here.

8. Make your own compost bins

If you are in a position to use compost for your own garden, try to re-use your biodegradable wet waste such as grass cuttings, leaves, veggies and food scraps and create a compost bin. I know many people who are big fans of “worm farms” or the fancier term of “vermiculture” where you use worms to help assist in the compost process.

9. Create Eco bricks

I only recently heard about the concept of an “eco brick” from a friend of mine.  It is a plastic bottle (usually 2L) packed tightly with non-biodegradable waste. These bottles are then used as building materials to create sustainable homes, schools and furniture. Making Eco Bricks is not about encouraging the production of plastic, but rather a temporary means of protecting the environment while people figure out a way to cut plastic out of our lives altogether. There are a number of drop-off locations across South Africa where you can take your completed Eco Bricks. In Cape Town, for example, there is the Greenpop nursery (Woodstock), Hanger 18 (Milnerton), Faithful-to-Nature (Muizenburg).

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