While Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs Buyelwa Sonjica is flying the South African flag at the forthcoming 16th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Convention of the Parties (UNFCCC COP) in Cancun, Mexico, what can we as South Africans do to help arrest the effects of climate change and reduce the country’s carbon emissions, which are way too high?
Although the government is instituting laws and programmes designed to make us all more “green”, simple steps can be taken on a daily basis to reduce our individual carbon footprint and ease the pressure on our country and our planet.
Car pools, for example, are a great way to reduce carbon emissions. Instead of entire office blocks commuting in individual cars each day, try to share the load and work out a rota system for getting to and from work.
If you live close to where you work, consider walking or cycling, or even using a moped, which uses far less fossil fuel than a car. Or take advantage of public transport, if that’s available. Fewer cars on the road equals less exhaust emissions. In this modern age of technological wonders the need to fly to business meetings is also becoming an unnecessary and expensive option.
Tele -or video-conferencing is the perfect substitute for criss-crossing the country, or globe, to talk to a business associate. But if you absolutely must fly, subscribe to a carbon-offset
programme to neutralise your carbon footprint.
At home, and in the office or workplace, use fluorescent, energy-saving light bulbs. You’re not just taking a load off Eskom, but helping the planet to breathe a little easier.
Recycling is becoming more popular and is an excellent way to make a difference at grassroots level. Anything made from paper, glass, metal and plastic can be recycled, reducing carbon emissions in the process as using them again prevents them having to be made from scratch. This is especially important in this country, as most of us are fans of cold drinks and the odd beer or two.
Think about how many plastic bottles, glass bottles and cans you throw away each week, multiply that by the vast majority of our roughly 50-million population and you’ll get the picture of how much waste we produce every day.
A useful tip for motorists is to make sure that you inflate your tyres properly. Fully inflated tyres have less resistance on road surfaces so lead to better fuel efficiency. Less fuel translates into lower emissions. Simple and effective. You’ll save about 130kg of carbon for every 16 000km you travel.
Planting indigenous trees is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint and help conserve valuable water resources. Alien and exotic species often leech water, whereas native plants and trees have evolved to cope with our climate and use less water.
And, of course, more trees means more oxygen and less carbon dioxide. In our often sweltering summer heat we have got used to the pleasant chill of air conditioners, both at home, at work and in our cars. Turning the air-con down, or off, can halve the energy used in summer.
Going solar can also help reduce our dependency on coal and make us more energy efficient in the process. Using the sun to heat air and water is becoming more affordable and can shave huge amounts off monthly utility bills.In some cases you could even consider going off the national grid altogether.
You can make a difference when you go shopping, too. By choosing local brands and locally produced items, you slash the carbon emissions it takes to transport food, for example, which sometimes comes from the other side of the world.
Local farmers’ markets are great and give you the added bonus of knowing that the produce you buy is fresh and healthy. When you go on holiday, make a conscious decision to choose a destination that is demonstrably committed to responsible environmental ethics.
Go local. It’s sometimes more lekker and the conservation levies, national and provincial park fees you pay are used to conserve and protect the environments you visit. Choose destinations that reduce the amount of travelling you need to do once you have arrived, for example, a camp site within walking distance of the beach.
Take your bicycles with you when you go caravanning and use them when and where you can. Be water wise. Don’t leave the tap running while you are cleaning your teeth, place a house brick in your cistern to reduce the amount of water used when flushing, or invest in a dual flushing system that offers a “half flush” option.
Water softeners and reverse osmosis systems are nice, but they use water constantly to flush the filters. Catch rainwater in large containers and use it to water your garden or fill your pool. And opt for a salt-water chlorination system in your pool to reduce the amount of harmful chemicals you use.
All of these tips are small steps, but if we take them together, they become major allies in the battle to arrest the effects of climate change.