Environmental Ponderings-15

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”

Chapter 64 of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu

Load shedding reared its ugly head again in the first quarter of 2019, the Department of Water and Sanitation is deeply concerned about where the water is coming from to supply the country’s growing future needs, and at the end of April, we were hit by rain and floods of a magnitude and ferocity that we haven’t seen since 1987.

As a prelude to our procrastination, we can come up with a myriad of reasons and excuses as to why these things have happened: climate change, the government’s ineptitude, lack of planning, the end of the world. Take your pick. The point however, is not why did they happen but what are we going to do about them?

Reflecting on these events, it becomes clear that we must take a greater responsibility for our lifestyles and our basic requirements. Simplistically, Maslow’s hierarchy demonstrates that once we are past the “food, shelter, survival, procreation” stage, we have spare energy and resources to do things that we want to do. That’s often the start of wastage. Perhaps the time has come to reflect on what we really need and how we can manage our lives in a more sustainable manner.

Let’s take the topics that I have mentioned above. Our solar panels and batteries at home get us around the two hour load shedding windows that occur and don’t occur, depending upon how you view the promises of ESKOM. At least, we are not scrabbling for torches and trying to watch DStv movies on tiny smart phone screens. If the load shedding periods start to extend to 5 hours, we will be in trouble but for the time being, we’ve managed our power consumption, marshalled our reserves and yes, we saved electricity by generating 50% of our monthly consumption using the sun. It is a single step but we are beginning to see the journey ahead of us.

Have you considered how much treated potable water you use and how much you waste? Do you think you could survive on less if you analysed your usage and reduced the wastage?  If you installed rainwater tanks on your gutters, how much of that water could replace the treated potable water that you use? It could save on toilet flushing for a start. Then there’s washing the car and the dog, watering the garden, cleaning the walls, and so on. Have you measured how much water you use or is it too cheap for you to worry about? It will get more expensive, just like electricity. Scarcity increases price.

You may have watched the floods in the lower parts of Durban and thought, “ahhh it won’t happen to me.” So thought I. At the height of the monsoon-like rain storm, my wife and I were out in the pouring rain sweeping water away from our house to prevent it flooding. I thought I knew where water drained around my house but I hadn’t checked where the low and high points were in relation to entry to the house. It was a sobering lesson that no one is completely free from the impacts of Nature. I recall thinking that we couldn’t have got wetter if we had jumped, fully clothed, into a swimming pool.

We live in a high consumption Society which has got used to acquiring and using more “Stuff”. The negative consequences of that “stuff” are direct and indirect. More people are aspiring to more “Stuff” and the origins of the resources that produce the “stuff” are taking strain: can you help reduce carbon dioxide emissions? Can you save water? Can you use less plastic and recycle more? Can you use less electricity by using less appliances or harnessing solar power? Are you willing to take the first steps of your sustainable journey?

Arend Hoogervorst is an environmental scientist with some 35 years of experience in South Africa in environmental management and sustainable development in local and central government, commerce and industry and private practice.

© Arend Hoogervorst, 2019