For Earth’s sake, do something!


1. Don’t be overwhelmed
Human beings are incredible creatures. We can survive wherever we are dropped. Our science is ingenious. So, if we want to, we will save the planet and survive. We’re cool.

2. Don’t be complacent
Climate change is the biggest challenge the human race has ever faced.

We are facing massive and systemic changes to all the systems that keep us alive. Survival for anything more than a core of our species will be hard if we do not act. Now.

3. Do something. Anything
Climate change has been portrayed as an overwhelming issue. What is the point in doing my little bit when the big polluters are doing nothing? It is an argument used by South African business all the time. But it is a cop-out.

Any change will help. And grass- roots change will create momentum, changing the global mood. That will force the big players to do something.

4. Disinvest
We are consumers and through that we actually have a great deal of power. The International Energy Agency says, to keep the world below an average 2°C temperature increase, we need to leave 80% of all fossil fuels in the ground.

Your bank, pension fund and all your other investments will probably have a stake in fossil fuels. Putting your money into greener investments will force other investment funds to change their behaviour. Capital can move.

5. Make the environment a political issue
Our political system works on five-year cycles. Politicians, therefore, only care about now, on what will garner them votes, and on what moves will get them a high-paying corporate job when they leave office. They do not care about long-term environment issues. And we have never forced them to, because the environment is not an issue at the ballot box.

Threaten to vote for someone else, and suddenly politicians will care. They are cynical, so play their game. 

6. Link your food to climate change
You don’t have to go the whole vegetarian route, but meat requires huge amounts of land and water. Farm animals are also a big source of methane – one of the worst greenhouse gases.

Food also has to travel. Those English raspberries have to travel 16?000km to get to your local supermarket. Try to buy local, and only when things are in season locally.

Change your cooking. This doesn’t have to be a penance.

7. Plant a tree
Green things make humans happy. Johannesburg has one of the world’s largest artificial forests.

Drop some seeds in your garden. Trees can be windbreaks for your house, provide shade in summer and help to scrub carbon out of the atmosphere. 

8. Relax while you drive
Cars are the world’s second-worst source of carbon emissions. Speed and aggression mean more petrol is burnt. That means more money and more pollution. So, relax. Don’t take the day’s rage out on a taxi driver; rather change songs and breathe.

9. Go for a walk
A major problem today is that we have lost contact with nature.

More than half of the world’s population lives in mostly concrete cities. Nature is curated in parks or zoos. That means we don’t have that almost elemental link with nature and the world around us. We are outside of it.

Taking a walk, breathing slowly and looking at how intensely beautiful nature is will make you feel better and probably make us all do a bit more to preserve that beauty.

10. Live within your means
Our world is where it is because we want more. It is rare to sleep in the same bed your grandparents conceived your mother in, but that was a sustainable way of life. This doesn’t mean we have to suffer. Rather, think of the overall effect of your purchases.

11. Use technology to stop travelling
Have meetings over the phone or through video conferencing. Sure, have that important deal-sealing meeting in person. But travelling is often so unnecessary in an age when technology can bring you face to face with somebody on the other side of the world. We are creatures of habit so think we cannot change the ways of old, but we have to.

12. Change the culture of your company
We are all cogs in some machine. This leaves a feeling of powerlessness. A company, however, is a great place to do your bit to start transforming the world. Start small by switching off lights and recycling. You could end up convincing your company that green is morally right, and often saves money.    

13. Make small, sustainable choices
Morning coffee makes the world bearable. But do we need to have the polystyrene cup? Companies often give a discount when you bring your own mug. Also, don’t use that throwaway stirrer. Swirl the cup about, or add the sugar before the coffee goes in. It is the minute changes in behaviour that will change the whole system.

14. Try going off the grid
The cost of renewable energy and smart household technology is plummeting. Insist on renewable tech – solar geysers, or something as simple as good insulation – in a new house and put this on your mortgage.

Being efficient will pay for itself and then free up money that you can plough back into your bond. 

15. Have fewer kids
Humans have a massive ecological footprint. If everyone alive enjoyed the lifestyle of the average middle-class South African, we would need the equivalent of six planets to sustain our consumption habits.

Sipho Kings
Sipho is the Mail & Guardian's News Editor. He also does investigative environment journalism.

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