It’s Not Easy Being Green

Is being environmentally friendly just a trend? Can and should it be more? As a relatively informed student of ecology, I sometimes struggle to wrap my head around the increasingly popular ‘green living’ concept. I know I’m supposed to recycle, switch off lights and not litter, but how does this improve the environment? What right do I have to tell you what to do, when I’m sometimes in the wrong? Well, we humans tend to follow-the-leader. You only need one drop to make the bucket overflow.  If I can convince just one person to (for example) recycle I have succeeded as they might do the same and in that way we can easily decrease our impact on the environment.

The City of Cape Town has embraced green living, and many institutions are promoting environmentally friendly and sustainable options. Cape Town’s positive attitude towards eco-friendly solutions has created a market for emerging green businesses, shops, restaurants, markets and other social responsible green activities.  I mean, the country’s greenest festival, Rocking the Daisies, is just around the corner and on our home turf!

Green living doesn’t have to be expensive: it can be as easy as recycling or reusing a plastic water bottle. Over a series of articles I will discuss a few practical and effective ways to reduce your impact on the environment and create a more sustainable way of living. The focus of this column is on how technology is helping us live more sustainably.

Everyone is dependent on electricity and technology. More than we’d like to admit.  Whether it’s to charge your phone (constantly glued to your hand), or to use the blender to make your smoothie, we can’t live without it.  Generating electricity has a large impact on the environment.  Nuclear power generation uses large amounts of water for cooling and there is always the threat of radioactive spillage. Generating power from fossil fuel uses non-renewable resources, emitting large amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere – most scientists link this directly to global warming.  Luckily technology is turning back to Mother Nature for help, and at lower costs too.

My parents power our farmhouse in the Karoo with six solar panels with six batteries, and one wind turbine. It’s more than adequate and we’ve never had a problem.  Solar panels are an effective substitute to generate some of the electricity for your household and reduce the total cost of electricity. Initial installation of solar panels might not be cheap, but you will save in the long run.

Renewable energy is visible all over Cape Town.  Recently the largest roof-mounted solar panel system in southern Africa was installed at the Black River Park office development in Observatory. The Vodacom Cape Town branch also spent millions to build a solar system to power their offices.  The South African government plans to plans to provide up to 40% of its energy from renewable resources, focussing on sustainable, green energy initiatives, such as the iShack project. This initiative piloted in April 2013 and involves an experiment powering twenty homes at an informal settlement near Stellenbosch.  If this project is successful it can potentially power thousands of homes across the country.

Generating electricity is expensive, uses a great deal of our natural resources and in any case Eskom can’t always be trusted.  Saving electricity is important and energy consumption can easily be minimized.  When a light bulb goes out, replace it with an LED one, and remember to switch off a light when leaving a room. Just switch off the light.  Also remember to switch of a wall plugs when not in use.  At our Bo-Kaap digs we are constantly running out of pre-paid electricity, and aiming to save electricity in this way minimizes our impact on the environment, but also helps us save electricity for monetary reasons.

Technologies to build a sustainable Cape Town do exist, and we have the responsibility to use this power of technology to improve our society and environment.  We as Cape Town citizens should support local green initiatives to promote progress in this sector.  I am going to try and do better, and it would be great if you could too.

What Do You Think?

Written by Corlia Meyer for a now-defunct section of Platform called ‘Reality’.


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