13 December 2009

Freshen up

Turn off lights, walk to work. Worthy, sure, but a bit boring. What's needed are some Fresh Green Tips - quirky, surprising, smart. What's your coolest save-the-planet move?

TV weatherman and author of "Going Green", Simon Gear, and Health24's EnviroHealth Editor, Olivia Rose-Innes, get the ball rolling with some of their favourite greenie tips.

 Obey the speed limit
We already know that the most fuel-efficient way to drive is to keep below the speed limit.

Here's another little game to play. If, like me, you pay speeding fines through, you can trace back through your bank account how much you paid in the last year. Set that amount as your goal for the coming 12 months, ending say 2 days before your birthday. When the end date rolls around, any money that you didn't spend on fines this year gets put towards a present: to you, from you.

You're saving petrol, pollution and money, and with a little luck, if we all drive slower, the cops will stop hiding in the bushes and actually get on with some more sensible law enforcement. - Simon Gear

Eat your greens
Ingestion is the most literal form of consumption, and unthinking food buying and eating is a big contributer to most households' carbon footprint.

Lighten your tread simply and instantly by swopping just one meat meal a week for a vegetarian one. If that's just too abstemious for you, at least swop one beef meal for chicken or eggs. Livestock farming is estimated to account for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, with beef the worst offender. (Note to the ovo-lactos: dairy products also come from cattle farming, remember, so don't go crazy with the cheese portions.)

For more tips on greening your plate: Edible Earth. - Olivia Rose-Innes

Pay off your bond quickly - debt freedom provides choices
It's a fundamental reality of green initiatives that they tend to be seen as luxuries, quickly dispensed with when times get tight. This is largely due to the way we fail to account for the long-term benefits and savings of most changes that we make, as well as a tendency to only account for the immediate benefits to the community or world at large.

So, that said, paying off your bond is going to give you the space both financially and emotionally to start living a better life. It's difficult to downscale your life when every waking moment is spent trying to just keep ahead of monthly expenses. So phone your bank today and start putting a little extra in your bond each month.

Excellent for you, but ultimately good for the planet too.- Simon Gear

Green life, green death
Every once in a while someone sends me a question about how they can organise to leave their mortal remains to the vultures (a practice more poetically known as "sky burial" in Tibet).

This is not really an option in South Africa, I'm afraid, unless perhaps you take yourself on foot into the Kruger Park at the hour of your death, but other kinds of alternative burial are certainly worth considering.

The natural death movement believes it's one of the most important environmental decisions we make, and is striving to win converts away from conventional burial and cremation. The former takes up space we don't have, and both release toxins into the environment.

Explore some of the greener options available, such as burial in a simple, easily degradable container, or a favourite tree for a headstone. Read more on this topic. - Olivia Rose-Innes

Take your morning coffee out into the garden
It's about pausing for a moment at the start of the day and just inhaling your garden when it's at its best.

Even if it means getting up 5 minutes earlier, making a cup of coffee and carrying it out into the garden with you is going to mean the difference between starting your morning routine harassed and rushed, and tripping lightly into the day with a smile on your face.

You get to appreciate the greenery around you and chances are you will be more open to all sorts of positive changes through the day. - Simon Gear

Lose the shoes
Your shoe-soles bring toxins and dirt into your home from the outdoor urban environment, so swap your shoes indoors for socks, bare feet or slippers. (It’s also less painful for pets on those infrequent but inevitable times when a paw or tail gets stood on.)

This has been a standard practice in the East and Middle-East for centuries of course, but removing one’s shoes appears to be a slowly growing trend in occidental households – in my home town (Cape Town) anyway, where there are quite a few shoeless dictators who won’t let anyone over the threshold unless they honour the custom too.

Rather keep it optional for guests, or they may stop coming. You can always arrange a few pairs pointedly just inside your front door… - Olivia Rose-Innes

Spring-clean your closet once a year
Somewhere, deep in the lizard brain of all of us, is an instinct to hold on to the most unbelievable pile of rubbish on the off chance that "it might come in useful some day".

One of the best activities you can do for your personal space and your own peace of mind is to filter your closet once a year.

By all means put aside your school rugby top, the bow tie from your Matric dance and your lucky kilt, but anything else that you haven't worn in the last year can safely be given away with no more than a moment's panic.

Keeping your cupboards filled with piles of unused items isn't only wasteful, it's selfish too. And if you're really struggling with the emotional side of things, sell your unwanted stuff for a nominal amount and buy something tangible like a new tree with the cash. - Simon Gear

Roll up your sleeves
An excellent remedy for despair about the global environmental crisis is to get your hands dirty on the frontlines, where you can see the benefit of your direct actions: chopping through an alien stem, cleaning an oil-slicked feather.

The mass whale stranding this weekend at Kommetjie showed that South Africans are crazy about nature and wildlife, and only too willing to put their time and energies into trying to save it. But if you're going to volunteer, make sure you're actually helping effectively and not hindering relief efforts such as this.

Instead of leaping into well-meaning but potentially counter-productive action when something big happens, rather join a volunteer organisation that appeals to you before the time, and be prepared to learn the ropes so that you're best placed and suitably skilled to make a real difference.

We have a wealth of green-hued volunteer initiatives in this country to choose from. Here are a few ideas, but let us know if you've got a worthy contender to add to the list:

  • National Sea Rescue Institute (stations along the coast, and some inland waters): for hands-on rescuing of people and marine animals, you need to undergo rigorous 6-month training.
  • Volunteer Wildfire Services (Cape Town and environs): again, active duty on the fireline requires 6 months of skills training and physical fitness.
  • Honorary Rangers, South African National Parks: senior and junior rangers contribute to conservation efforts in national parks nationwide.

We'd love to hear your unique spin on a dull "green tip" classic, and add it to our Fresh Green list: use the comment box below, post on the EnviroHealth forum or email - Olivia Rose-Innes

(- Health24, updated December 2009)


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