​Greening the Future 2017: How you can help save the world

We all have to play a part in saving the environment

We all have to play a part in saving the environment

It is easy to get demoralised when looking at the scale of climate change and global environmental problems. Each of the last three years has been the hottest on record. Natural disasters are increasing in severity. Every country in the world is struggling with some combination of flooding or drought.

South Africa is no different. What were almost imperceptible changes — with the rains falling a few weeks later than farmers expected — are now becoming increasingly more profound. It hardly rained in the Western Cape this year, meaning the province has to survive until next winter on dams that are only a quarter full. Much of the rest of the country went through the same thing last year, and the year before.

But, instead of solving this, countries continue to pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Locally, the department of energy has approved new coal-fired power stations. The 2015 Paris Agreement, which sought to move countries in the opposite direction, was a symbolic victory but has achieved little, because countries can still do what they want.

Carbon Tracker, a group which crunches the numbers on what each country is doing to lower carbon emissions, says of South Africa: “If most other countries were to follow South Africa’s approach, global warming would exceed 3°C to 4°C.” Paris was intended for countries to aim to keep emissions below 2°C.

This makes individual action seem pointless. What can one person or group do in the face of such massive regional and global problems?

Our Greening the Future winners answer that question. In each of eight key sectors, from energy efficiency to getting young people working on climate change, the groups here are working each day to make South Africa a better, greener country.

Our winners and special mention projects range from the mini — saving a frog species — to a project that wants to save Gauteng’s endangered grasslands. What all of these have in common is the driving force of a person, or a group of people. They have found partnerships and sponsorship so they can do the work that they love.

In every single case, this is improving lives. Many of these projects are also finding willing partners in local and national government, connecting the people working for the state who want to improve South Africa as a whole.

Each project shows that you really can help save the world. Start at home by saving water and electricity. Plant a veggie garden or grow herbs on the windowsill. Seal the cracks in your wall to stop heat escaping. Even the cheapest actions can be profound, if everyone does them.

Never before has the need been so great for action, and never before have people had so many tools to do something about it. 

Greening the Future awards categories

Sudley Adams Memorial Award:

This award was created in memory of Sudley Adams, the former Mail & Guardian brand manager who convened the Greening of the Future Awards and made them a success. The winner should best embody and represent Adams’s forward-thinking vision and team spirit. The winner must be a holistic project — one that brings various elements into a whole that works for a better future.

Energy efficiency and carbon management:

This category showcases organisations and companies that demonstrate best practice in reducing their energy use and their carbon emissions. In a country where electricity was cheap and emissions not taxed, industry has developed to be wasteful.

Innovative climate financing:

Access to funding for climate-friendly projects is tough because financial institutions see things such as renewable projects as risky. This is changing, thanks to institutions providing innovative loaning mechanisms. Unlocking new financial models will help change the world.

Youth leadership:

The current generation of leaders and decision-makers are handing over a polluted world with rising carbon levels. This is both a challenge and an opportunity for the youth, who need to stand up and become the climate leaders of tomorrow.

Job creation for climate:

The argument used against climate initiatives is that they come at the expense of jobs. Local projects such as wind turbine factories are showing that saving the green world can also create sustainable jobs.

Water efficiency and management:

South Africa’s biggest climate issue is with water; as the drought illustrated, there is little of the precious liquid and it needs to be conserved. Any project that saves water is ensuring water that can be used for development and consumption.

Women in climate:

Climate change disproportionately affects women, who have to spend more time on dangerous tasks such as collecting water from rivers. This category recognises projects that help women become more resilient, and play more of a role in shaping their own, sustainable, future.

Innovation in construction:

Most projects merely pay lip service to sustainability and climate issues, creating pseudo-green communities that do little to actually improve the environment. But a few nodes of excellence show other developers how projects can be done.

Community conservation and resilience:

The changing climate, with ever-increasing temperatures, means that it is becoming increasingly difficult for communities to continue with business as usual. This means all sorts of changes in how humanity works, from farmers changing how they irrigate to villages sharing resources to grow sustainably. This category looks at communities that are thinking out of the box to ensure their own survival.

Species conservation:

Climate change and an ever-growing human footprint are having devastating impacts on species, with the world hurtling towards another mass extinction event. This category recognises groups that are making huge sacrifices to ensure the survival of species in the face of relentless poaching and encroachment.

Sipho Kings