June is South Africa’s National Environment Month and it ties in with World Environment Day which is on 5th June.
"Environment" is such an all-encompassing word, but due to the recent terrible storm, KZN’s attention has mainly been focused on the scourge of plastic, and how it is negatively impacting on our lives, and the lives of creatures in the ocean. After heavy rains, there is always an outcry about the plastic pollution affecting our rivers, harbours, beaches and the ocean, but a few months later another downpour will bring almost as much plastic downstream! Obviously, the message about the value of re-cycling plastic, and the effects/dangers of plastic pollution is not getting through to the general population. A staggering 300 tons of waste, a huge proportion of it plastic, was collected after the storm from Durban harbour alone. What about the hundreds of kilometres of coastline that do not have people and organisations to clean them up? It’s mind-boggling and very distressing!
So, what needs to change? Everything really, but the first line of “attack” should be aimed at our children. If an awareness of the environment and a passion for being kind to our planet is ignited at an early age, it will be with those kids for life. It is hard to change habits once you are an adult, but kids can become so emotionally invested in a project if they are educated on how an action, or a change of action can impact on so many creatures (including humans) and the environment, down the line. And if the kids get charged up and start making changes in their own environment, hopefully this will rub off and start parents and adults being involved.
Individuals have the power to facilitate change. Small actions taken by many individuals can add up. Refuse a plastic straw and object if the outlet automatically gives you one. If you cannot go without a plastic bag at the supermarket, at least re-use it until it fails, and then recycle it. Get in contact with the supermarket chains that you use and lobby them cut down on the use of plastic packaging of their own products and persuade them to put pressure on their suppliers to change their packaging. If it HAS to be packed in plastic, at least ensure that it is recyclable plastic.
Apart from plastic pollution, what are the other great dangers to the well-being of the environment? I am no expert, but the two main ones, in my opinion, are the use of pesticides, and deforestation. Just from what I read, hear and see on TV, Mother Earth is in a bad place right now. “Although extinction is a natural phenomenon, it occurs at a natural “background” rate of about one to five species per year. Scientists estimate we're now losing species at up to 1,000 times the background rate, with literally dozens going extinct every day.” (www.biologicaldiversity.org). Countries and giant corporations are involved with activities that not only have tragic consequences (I am thinking particularly here of orangutans and bees) but also have a devastating impact on the whole planet. Is concern for the welfare of future generations ever going to overcome the greed for expansion for financial profit? I doubt it!
However, we, as individuals do have power, and if enough individuals raise objections and make their own lifestyle changes, amazing things can happen. You don’t have to use insecticides and poisons at home. I have had them banned on my property for twenty odd years, and my garden still survives. Sure, I may lose some plants from time to time but that is nature. Even the bane of Durban homeowners - wood borer and white ants, can be treated now with products that are environment and eco-friendly (and a huge PLUS…you do not have to have your house tented!!!) When I had a rat problem a few years ago, poison was not an option, and after trying all sorts of natural deterrents and a humane trap, I found the solution. Peppermint oil!!! (It has to be the essential oil, not culinary peppermint essence) and it worked wonders. A few drops of the oil on cotton wool balls placed strategically around the kitchen…rats gone for good.
So, readers, what are you going to do to make your contribution to saving the environment? I would suggest having a “family practices audit” and decide what each one of you can do to make a change. Keep the public area around your home clean and tidy, even if you are picking up other people’s litter. The smallest piece of plastic put in a garbage bag, will save it from being washed into the stormwater drains and into the sea.
Every single one of us can make a difference, however small, that will benefit the beautiful “blue marble” we inhabit, for all species and their future generations.