Imagine: pineapples, vineyards and millions of trees growing in the desert … and a million litres of effluent and factory wastewater – both purified – irrigating the crops of the future.
These are a few of the wonders I saw on my recent visit to Israel. Deep concern about climate change and the current water crisis in the Western Cape drove me to explore a few examples of Israel’s achievements in the Negev desert. It was mind-blowing.
I last visited Israel 26 years ago when Food & Trees for Africa (FTFA) began. The Jewish National Fund of SA was the first to show interest in FTFA, an organisation created from a vision of a healthier, greener, more food secure and climate resilient South Africa. They arranged a two-week study tour for our founding board members to meet experts in trees and forestry, water management, agriculture and soil. Israel’s solutions-driven innovation and implementation astounded and inspired us then and is even more relevant today.
In a country where land, water, arable soil and fossil fuels are scarce, foresight and clever technology, based on sound research, have created models of sustainability that other countries strive for – enough resources to sustain healthy lifestyles and economies, and, in some instances, abundance.
Israel leads the world with 80% water reuse. Water is successfully produced and harvested through desalination, biofilters and remarkably efficient management of wastewater. Quality water is delivered to all residents, farmers, industry and business, with excess provided to Jordan and the Palestinian Authorities.
The Sderot Resevoir was built (under missile fire) from a pragmatic vision to address drought in the southern Negev. It purifies for reuse all effluent from Sderot, a town of 26 000 inhabitants, and wastewater from their factories and farms.
Besor Research and Development Centre’s work with local farmers is resulting in better crops for export and local use, in healthier soils, using minimal, and often even saline, water.
Charts around the old tower over the forest of Yatir show recorded rainfall rising annually from the first planting – which aimed to combat desertification in the 1960s – and as more trees were planted and grew. This initiative is an inspiration to FTFA’s initial greening and climate-change work, as today, this green forest of over 4 million trees is spectacular.
Be-er Sheva, a model city, shows how nature should be embraced in urban development. It is an example of pioneering urban planning that integrates natural capital. Landscaping for aesthetics and resource management enhance attractive, well-designed suburbs. Trees line the streets, providing much-needed shade and recreation areas. They help to slow and clean water run off, as well as cleaning the air and absorbing greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.
There is much to learn from Israel’s green tech and innovation and they are willing to share. Replicating projects like these few I was privileged to see could greatly improve South African lives. The Western Cape, in drought and predicted to face a seriously dry future, would benefit immensely from these world water leaders. We should have implemented these measures decades ago … but now is the next best time.
By 2050, there will be more plastic in the sea than fish
July is No Plastics Month, Retirementor, Jeunesse Park reminds us.
Let’s consider why:
- The manufacture and destruction of plastic pollutes air and water and exposes workers to toxic chemicals, including carcinogens.
- Synthetic plasticdoes not biodegrade but accumulates in landfills and the sea, polluting the
- Half of the plastic made we use just once and throw out.
- Around 4% of world oil production is used to make plastics, and a similar amount is consumed as energy in the process.
- 1 million plastic bottles are purchased every minute.
- By 2050 there will be more plastic in the sea than fish.
- Almost half of marine mamals have plastic in their gut.
- Even your sea salt is almost certainly contaminated with plastic.
- More than the over 5 trillion pieces of plastic currently litter oceans. The Arctic is clogged with billions of plastic pieces, being now called the dead end for floating plastic.
- There is currently enough plastic to circle the globe four times.
- And what about nappies and wet wipes? The Thames recently recorded the highest concentration of wet wipes ever, 277 found in 1sq metre!
There are alternatives to plastics and increasing research is focussing on it’s manufacture from renewable resources such as hemp, seaweed and other fast growing plants high in cellulose.
A great new innovation is a pool noodle look alike to clean oceans embarking on “the largest clean up in history” – https://www.theoceancleanup.com/
What can WE do?
- Be aware of how much plastic you use and buy. Seek out items not made of plastic.
- Stop using bottled water; often, it’s no safer than tap water and costs 3 times as much oil and 1 000 times more than tap water
- Buy products rather packaged in glass and cardboard
- Take reusable bags for grocery shopping
- Use refillable dispensers for soaps and cleaning materials
- Use reusable containers not sandwich bags and plastic wrap
- Take your own mug to the coffee shop
- Don’t use straws, one of the top 10 items found on beaches
- Look for bamboo tooth brushes
- Wear clothing made from natural (not synthetic) materials. Polyester clothing is made of plastic and microplastic found in oceans around the world have been traced to such synthetic fabrics
- Avoid disposable tableware, or use the compostable kind
- Don’t just discard electronics. Try to repair, sell or recycle them instead
- Bring your own container for takeout and leftovers.
- Use cloth nappies and wash cloths instead of wet wipes
- Use matches instead of lighters
- Upcycle finding new uses for old items rather than discarding them or buying new ones
- Join the Avaaz call to the UN – Click to save our oceans!
- Become an #OceanHero with Sky News’ https://skyoceanrescue.com/ and look at reports like this one – https://youtu.be/D35YnZ7_WxM
If you have any bright ideas, enter the $2million New Plastics Innovation Prize which encourages the world’s brightest minds to devise ideas to end marine litter – https://newplasticseconomy.org/innovation-prize
To learn more watch Addicted to Plastic, a feature-length documentary about solutions to plastic pollution. http://www.sprword.com/videos/addictedtoplastic/
We who are more privileged devour nearly a ton of food a year. Satisfying our collective voracious appetite is putting tremendous strain on the planet, our health and the planet.
We use poisonous agrochemicals that adversely affect our bodies and leach into our soils and potable water; we overfish; we cause mass dying-off of bees (that we rely on to fertilise foods) and habitat loss. The changing climate (20% of carbon impacts on climate change are from agriculture) and intensifying extreme climate events like droughts, fires and floods, threaten our food security and are greatly increasing food prices.
A billion on the planet go to bed hungry every night. One third of all food produced is wasted. Another billion rely on our disappearing fish stocks as their primary protein. The excessive amount of meat consumed is perhaps most damaging with one third of world grain production feeding livestock, and using massive amounts of pesticides and fertilisers. Obesity (which 40% of women in this country suffer from) has become one of the biggest killers in our society, but millions of children are severely underweight.
Clearly something is wrong with the way we interact with food. It is time for us to be more aware of our eating habits, from farm to fork, and what can be done to modify these for our own health, for the planet we call home, and our budgets.
- Read labels! First choice should be healthy and sustainable food that is produced, transported, processed, bought or sold and eaten in ways that provide benefit for the planet and people, and contribute to thriving local economies, protect natural resources and respond to climate change.
- There are easily accessible sources of locally grown seasonal food (not exotic fruit and veg flown in out of season), organic and free range poultry, meat, eggs and dairy raised and run in a humane way is increasingly easy to source with more markets, online and home delivery of weekly boxes – see some links below.
- A small vegetable and herb garden can provide more than enough for a family. There is no greater joy than eating and gifting what you grow. If you live in an apartment, veg and herbs do well in pots on balconies and windowsills.
- Think ahead, plan a week’s meals and purchase only what you need.
- If you eat meat, eat less of it. Meat-free Mondays is catching on worldwide. The latest study suggests we eat 10 portions of fruit and veg a day for better health.
- The brilliant SMS Fish and App you find on http://wwfsassi.co.za/ allows you to instantly check if the fish you are ordering or buying is sustainable.
- Avoid buying food in exessive packaging that rack up carbon and natural resource costs and can lead to ingestion of chemicals, such as formaldehyde linked to cancer risk, and others that disrupt hormone balance.
- Compost bins are great for gardeners.
- Distributing left overs and unused food to the ever growing number of poor on our streets and at traffic lights is easy.
Let us know what “green” info you would like to hear more about for future blogs: environmental, climate, recycling, food, resources, biodiversity or other.
When we understand that water does not come from a tap, and that there is only a finite amount of useable water on this planet, we know that every drop is precious.
We are one of the driest country in the world and suffer droughts. South Africa’s water needs will exceed supply by 2030. Until this last week, we had been living with restrictions and water shedding remains a possibility for the still-dry Cape Province. And though things look better in Gauteng momentarily, this is a precursor of many more droughts to come.
We are thus not entitled to be careless with this limited resource of water. Now, and always, there is a need for awareness and action. The risk that we switch on the tap and nothing comes out remains a current and future prospect. Cape Town beware!
What can you do in the garden?
Make sure you have no leaking or dripping taps and washers are working.
A water tank to catch rainwater (when it comes) should be installed with every dwelling.
Growing herbs and vegetables is a good idea as food prices always increase during extended drought conditions.
Water restrictions limit gardeners to watering only with buckets in many areas of the country. Those who try to cheat the system with late night hosepipes (you know who you are) deprive us all of much-needed water.
Replacing plants with water-wise indigenous species is first prize. These are plants adapted to our harsh conditions and that work well for birds and other fauna. There are nurseries focusing only on these plants and we can share info on them.
Grey water (from baths, showers and sinks) is essential to feed into the garden but not so easy to retrofit grey water harvesting systems – some companies offer this. We catch our shower water in buckets and in a plastic basin in the sink, and from handwashing, to irrigate our garden in Cape Town, where the situation is now dire.
Watering in the evening after sunset is best to lessen evaporation. Mulch, a carpet of dry grass, leaves, bark, stones and even newspaper or cardboard is essential to limit evaporation.
And in the office?
Make all aware with signs and information and instruct cleaning staff to be conservative with water usage.
Install water filters to do away with plastic drinking water bottles. It takes seven bottles of water to make the plastic bottle, so you are in effect drinking eight bottles of water with each one! Rather install filters on the taps for drinking water or use Brita or other filter jugs and then in turn pour this into jugs to place on the tables at meetings.
Catch all washing up water in plastic tubs in basins to go to plants and gardens. I am amazed at how water much I capture this way and have started a trend amongst family and friends. My grandmother used to do this and I have started a family and friends trend doing this. A bit of dishwashing soap is ok for plants.
Do not leave water running whilst washing hands. Wet, switch off to soap and then rinse. Do not switch taps on full pressure. This wastes a lot!
WATER IN THE HOME
South Africa is an extremely water-scarce and semi-arid country with increasingly limited annual rainfall. Add to this population growth and climate change and the financial, human and ecological impacts are serious.
Did you know that 19% of our rural population lacks access to reliable water supplies and 33% don’t have basic sanitation? Over 26% of all schools and 45% of clinics in South Africa have no water access whatsoever.
We are currently facing the worst drought of 40 years. We all suffer the consequences: paying higher prices for this precious resource and living with water restrictions and the potential fines for abuse.
Cutting water use and saving on water and energy bills doesn’t have to affect your quality of life … small and simple changes can make a huge difference.
At home, about 93% of our overall water usage is indoors, including toilets, personal washing, kitchen and washing clothes, with the rest in the garden. These tips wil help you to save water, and money, at home.
Firstly, make sure that no taps, toilets or showers are dripping or leaking. A dripping tap can waste 60 litres of water a week.
In the bathroom
Fit low-flow shower heads and dual flush toilets which use 4-6 litres of water where the old style flush systems use a massive 13 litres per flush. Additional flushing of cotton balls or tissues, instead of throwing them in a bin, is unecessary.
Switch off water whilst brushing your teeth.
A bath typically uses about 80 litres of water, while a short shower can use as little as a third of that amount. If you must bath, don’t fill it up! You can reuse your bathwater to water your houseplants or garden.
I switch off the shower between soaping and rinsing.
In the kitchen
The kitchen tap and dishwasher account for 8-14% of water used in the home so fill the dishwasher before switching it on. Avoid pre-rinsing dishes as detergents are highly effective so all you need to do is scrape and load.
Experiment with different settings on your dishwasher. The ‘Eco’ or ‘Economy’ settings use less water and energy. These can even be more efficient than hand washing.
Taps vary in flow volume from 2-25 litres per minute. Do you need to twist the tap on full and leave it running? Adding a tap aerator can help to reduce the flow, similar to the shower.
Don’t run a tap waiting for hot water and waste it. A washing up bowl or plug in the sink catches excess and can reduce water wastage by 50%, and the water can be used to wash food, hands or water plants.
Fill the kettle with only as much water as you need to save not only water but loads of energy too.
Using the lid on saucepans reduces the amount of water lost, so you don’t have to put as much in. It also helps vegetables cook quicker and saves on energy.
Clothes washing now accounts for 15% of water we use in our homes.
A full load in the washing machine uses less water than two half-loads.
When buying a washing machine, check the Waterwise ranking. The best models will typically use less than 7.5 litres per kg and front loaders use less water. Also read the manual to find out which cycles are the most water efficient. Surveys show that a typical load of washing is usually much less than the maximum capacity of the model, so stuff in a few extra shirts to make the most of your loads.
One place not to save is on the amount of water you drink. Get a filter jug and keep drinking water in your fridge so you do not run water too long waiting for it to cool.
… And plants love to have a drink of any leftover water in glasses.
In the media last week, Minister of Water and Sanitation, Nomvula Mokonyane, says her department is monitoring the decrease in one of country’s main water supplies, the Vaal Dam, 34% full. “We are going to apply restrictions to the communities in Gauteng because there has been less appreciation of the water situation in Gauteng,” she says.
In light of the call to increase awareness of the scarcity of our natural resources, Retirementor, Jeunesse Park, reminds us of our connection with the earth and our need to be caring custodians. This is the first of a series of articles that will provide practical tips going forward.
I have always felt a close connection to planet Earth, our home. Apparently as soon as I could walk I chose to be outdoors as much as possible. My grandmother and mother were ardent gardeners and I am told I spent many hours teaching flowers to dance and talking to the birds.
When I finished school, I took to the road and journeyed through many countries, visiting some of the most awe inspiring natural landscapes, the highest mountains, old forests, beautiful islands, pristine beaches, great clear rivers and vast deserts. Travelling back to these places, some a few years later and other decades on, I was horrified to find that most were shockingly altered, diminished, polluted or destroyed.
This disturbed me greatly so when I started a family, I sought to understand what we are doing to this planet in the hopes of sustaining and regenerating environments. I wanted my children to witness the beauty and enjoy a quality of life that I had been privileged to experience.
I thus decided to live a greener life and have spent the last three decades implementing environmental, climate change and food security programmes, and communicating to encourage others to be green. This has been an amazing journey. While not so long ago being green was considered the domain of hippies and tree huggers, it is now mainstream. More businesses, governments and communities recognise that these issues are crucial to our survival and wellbeing.
So, what does it mean to be green? Being green we pay close attention to how we impact our environment and life on Earth. Living a greener life means understanding that everything is connected and that every thing we do every day has an impact on the planet, good or bad. It means opting for a more sustainable and renewable way, focusing on lightening our footprint, the way we affect the balance of nature and our imprint on the planet. It means reducing, reusing and recycling, but it also means using less and being conscious of where the food we eat and the products we buy and use come from and go to. The great thing is that as individuals we have the power to control our choices, and thus our effect.
In the next blogs we will explore how to put this into practice. We will look at how making small, and sometimes significant changes, lead to a greener lifestyle that can make us feel better about ourselves, save money, leave less damage and a healthier life and environment for our children, grandchildren and the future.
Researchers say that the only way to guarantee food security – that is, enough food for everyone in 2050 – is if the world turns vegan. See what evidence they have for this assertion by reading the article: http://ecowatch.com/2016/04/24/world-turn-vegan/
At a lunch with John and Kim at Chartered Wealth a few months ago, I raised the topic of fossil fuel divestment.
We have heard of divestment before – it was used to fight against apartheid in South Africa, when countries and companies disengaged as a protest. It is the opposite of investment and is thus about removing investment capital from stocks, bonds or funds. In this instance, it is related to oil, coal and gas companies (amongst the richest businesses in the world) to reduce the major cause of climate change, carbon emissions.
The fossil fuel divestment movement started with calls by students at top USA universities for the removal of their assets in fossil fuel companies. It has grown rapidly and is gaining ground, with more than 220 institutions now signed up. This includes heirs to the Rockefeller oil fortune, San Francisco, Seattle and Oslo, the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global, The Church of England, the World Council of Churches (representing half a billion Christians worldwide) and the Lutheran World Federation of churches, with more joining all the time.
There are many other clear signs that the end is nigh for coal and other fossil fuels.
The G7 recently announced an end to fossil fuels by the end of this century – a bold call, though according to most scientists this will be too little too late to keep temperatures from rising more than the “safe” cap of 2 degrees centigrade.
Standard and Chartered pulled out of a major coal mining development in Australia recently that will threaten the Great Barrier Reef and blow a hole in the global carbon budget.
Obama’s Clean Power Plan aimed at reducing CO2 emissions from the power sector sees a move away from fossil fuels; “I am convinced that no challenge poses a greater threat to our future and future generations than a changing climate.”
And our own Bishop Tutu, spokesperson for FossilFreeSA, says, “People of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change”.
The Pope has added momentum to the movement by big institutions to sell holdings tied to fossil-fuel stocks. His encyclical states: Humanity is called to recognise the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat warming, or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it…The problem is aggravated by a model of development based n the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system.
Even The World Bank has come out in support of the financial argument for divestment with President Jim Yong Kim saying, “Every company, investor and bank that screens new and existing investments for climate risk is simply being pragmatic”.
So, if like me, you are concerned about the quality of life on this planet for your children, grandchildren and beyond, it is time to consider where you are investing, and what the impact of your wealth is on the planet and the future.
Studies have found many reasons trees are vital in our lives:
- Patients in hospital rooms with views of trees and plants made fewer requests for pain medication and experienced a speedier recovery following surgery than did patients with views of streets and buildings from their windows.
- Employee life-enhancement studies show that shady areas during lunch and breaks translate into more stress-free, productive employees. Workers without a view of nature from their desks reported 23% more instances of illnesses than those with a view of greenery. Those with a tree view, that provides some temporary escape, report greater job satisfaction.
- Trees screen out urban noise pollution, offer a restorative environment, and have the ability make heavily populated areas feel less crowded and overpowering.
- Trees provide a calm setting for recreation and promote outdoor activity in safe, community spaces. An Australian study found that we are more likely to reach our recommended daily walking levels if we live near safe, attractive green spaces where we feel inclined to get out and be active. A similar Tokyo University study says the presence of tree-lined streets promotes walking and thus leads to the longevity of senior citizens.
- US studies in several cities have shown a significant decrease in crime rates in areas where communities have come together in greening efforts; for example, there was a 61% decrease in crime rates in Richmond Heights, Florida, over one year of involvement of the community in urban greening projects.
- Poor air quality in urban environments around the world is a serious risk to human health. Recent reports show this phenomenon is killing millions in China. Particulate matter, especially, causes respiratory illnesses and cardiovascular disorders. Research supports the ability of trees to capture these particles and remove them from the air we breathe, thereby reducing health problems resulting from air pollution in urban areas.
- Trees also provide much needed wildlife habitats for many species.
- Trees act as natural water filters and help to slow the movement of storm water, which lowers total runoff volume, soil erosion and flooding, an important factor with water shedding looming in water-scarce South Africa.
Hopefully this compelling evidence will encourage you to plant, care for or donate trees this Arbor (Arbour) Month, September. See www.trees.org.za.
One of the oldest living things on earth, trees, contribute to our health, wellbeing and longevity.
Imagine growing up without trees. No shade to sit under when the sun beats down, no rustling leaves, no birds, nothing to soften the noise of traffic or of your neighbours, no protection from the wind and dust, nothing to stop any remaining top soil from washing away when it rains, no fruit to pick, no branches to climb, swing on and hide in, no privacy.
When we think about the many ways trees benefit our lives, most of us focus on the number of products we derive from trees – energy, shelter, paper, fibre, oils, medicine, fruit and nuts. We may also recognise the aesthetic and visual benefits of trees. However, few of us ever pause and acknowledge that trees provide more than just products and ornamental beauty; many of us continue to take trees for granted, treating them with a familiarity that makes us forget the importance of our inter-connection with them.
Trees, in fact, offer an almost endless list of environmental and economic benefits. Indeed, it is because of trees and plants that humans and other creatures evolved on this planet. Did you know that a large tree can provide enough oxygen for the daily requirements of ten people? In fact, trees are described as earth’s ‘lungs’, integral to the stability of our climate, biodiversity and general health of the environment.
In the most recent scientific study, it was once again found that urban trees are seriously good for you. Scientists precisely quantified the amount of green space in a given residential area, 530 000 trees kept by the city of Toronto, and combined that with health records for over 30,000 Toronto residents. The study reported on not only individual
self-perceptions of health, but also heart conditions, prevalence of cancer, diabetes, mental health problems and much more.
Here are a few of their findings:
- having 10 more trees in a city block improves health perception in ways comparable to an increase in annualpersonal income of $10,000 or being 7 years younger.
- an increase of 11 trees per city block was comparable to an increase in annual personal income of $20,000 or being 1.4 years younger.
September is Arbour (Arbor) Month – plant a tree in your community and pass on all these benefits.