On Friday 27 September 2019 I had the opportunity to participate in the Schools Strike 4 Climate Change in Auckland, New Zealand. As a conservation educator it was a thrilling moment to be able to march alongside my colleagues and the youth of the world as we speak up to secure our World’s future. To continue to walk my talk of many years.
Now not everyone agrees with Greta Thunberg’s or Severn Suzuki’s type of action. But this is just one approach that supports countless others as we each work or fight for change in our own way. The future of our planet really does rely on every individual, mindful action as well as policy change at the highest levels of government.
I was sixteen years old when 12-year-old Severn Suzuki gave her moving call to action at the UN Earth Summit in Rio 1992. The South Africa I grew up in was only just emerging from the evil, tragic grip of apartheid. Rio’s Earth Summit certainly did not play out widely in my troubled environment. I didn’t even hear about Severn and the Rio Summit at the time. I only got to hear about her and the Earth Charter at university a few years later while completing a degree in Environmental Science.
There was no such thing as recycling of rubbish while I was growing up. But I did have an inspiring Geography teacher who talked about CFCs and the hole in the ozone layer, rising sea levels and global warming.
An immense amount of Good Work has been done since then. Voices for action can derive hope from that, I think. I know I do.
My personal journey with Sustainability started as a child, privileged to be surrounded by the magic of prolific wildlife. Though back then I would not have described my passion as ‘in aid of Sustainability’.
Wildlife conservation is my original passion. For me, the heart of my desire to make a difference in the World has always been derived from my intense love of all things wild in Africa – wild, pure, open spaces and all the marvellous creatures that are so precious, deserving of their right to life and their perfect role in a thriving ecosystem – simply because they are, like I am!
As I hit my tweens, I started to realise that the human world I had been born into was messy. I became aware of the concept of Ubuntu. In light of this ancient truth I could see that South Africa was in a dark place. I am because we are – for me “we” is all aspects of Mama Africa, and by extension, Mother Earth.
The ‘wildlife’ concept of conservation had to be expanded to include human communities. Some decades later I guess we would now refer to this more holistic approach as ‘Social Sustainability’.
My degree focused on Environmental Science and Conservation Biology. I began to understand sustainability – the complexity of unsustainable human practices that focus on technological advancement, convenience and to some degree simply because we can…. pushing the human brain to its creative limits. This level of advancement and focus on economics, profits and convenience is energy-intensive, to say the least, and the highest cost has been to Mother Earth.
Even to people whose compassion doesn’t extend beyond their own family it must be becoming alarmingly obvious that the outcomes of unsustainable practices, particularly since the start of the Industrial Revolution, will affect their future – health, ability to generate wealth, perhaps even their whole way of life.
You would think that I would be a sustainable living Champion, with all the information I have gleaned in my education and in the course of my professional life as an environmental scientist and conservation educator! But it has been a journey of years to put the picture puzzle pieces together and genuinely start living sustainably.
To be honest, my practical buy-in started really simply with the 3Rs – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. What’s possible in terms of recycling looks different in diverse parts of the world, depending on infrastructure and resourcing. It varies greatly between urban and rural areas in New Zealand, where I am currently living. And it will continue to change over time, hopefully rapidly and for the better. Even just getting the 3Rs right can be confusing, frustrating and certainly inconvenient, depending where you live.
So here’s what I’ve learned … being mindful of how I tread on this planet, and making environmentally conscious decisions, has to supersede convenience. I recognise that it is not my right to live conveniently at the cost of All around me.
These days I work with the 7Rs in mind – Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rehome, Replant, Rot. Here is an image of what that looks like, taken from ubuntunomad.com.
I also like this image (below), with RETHINK at the centre, taken from a Google image search – Be mindful of your consumption, your relationship with “things” and your relationship with the Earth.
From a place of Rethink anything is possible. This is motivation to mindfully, actively, continuously pursue the 7Rs strategy. For example, we can find out about composting in our area. For me a recent delightful discovery has been that my hair salon belongs to the Sustainable Salons initiative – I’m very happy to support ingenious organisations like this.
There are so many amazing examples like this now. Yes, it does take a little extra time and energy to do the research, but I believe it is worth it in the long run. Spending money with local businesses that have sound sustainability initiatives is a simple and practical contribution everyone can make. I have found social media to be an invaluable tool in connecting with environmentally conscious groups and organisations I can support.
So that’s it in the daily micro-moments of my life. Turning off lights and electronics on standby, separating out the soft plastics for recycling, refusing disposable cups or straws or single use plastic bags, thinking about water use and saving where I can, being a mindful consumer as much as possible for everything from clothing to cosmetics, being aware of the palm oil predicament and only purchasing products containing certified sustainable palm oil.
The list goes on and I will make it longer as I learn to tread as lightly as I can. I have to believe that each of our small mindful actions will make the necessary difference in the end.
In my bigger picture, I try to make my mark by taking my conservation education career very seriously – and I never forget about the beleaguered African wildlife that planted this seed in me that lead to greater knowledge of the plight of life everywhere .
This year my focus has been to look at conservation and sustainability when travelling, which is another great love of mine.
I spent a number of years working in high end ecotourism lodges in Botswana. Such an incredible time in my life! What particularly stands out for me is the environmentally sensitive architecture used to construct these lodges – the temporary footprint they are able to create, completely off the grid and very sustainable. If this can be achieved in extremely isolated areas of the Okavango Delta, I think there is little excuse for organisations based in areas of the world which are better resourced!
I finally managed to get back to Mama Africa this year. Previous blog posts cover this absolutely amazing Journey with Purpose. I chose that particular trip because it ticked so many of the environmental and social sustainability boxes that I am trying to be mindful of in my travel choices.
On my bucket list, since always, is to visit East Africa, the birthplace of safari, so I constantly search in hopes that a perfect option and opportunity will arise. I am looking for tourism organisations that focus on wildlife conservation, community conservation and sustainable practices in their delivery to guests. My experience in Botswana tells me exactly what to look out for.
I have been following Asilia Africa on Instagram for a while now, and I find their authentic community conservation initiatives utterly inspiring. Of course, their tourism offering looks stunning, too! And Yellow Zebra Safaris appears to be a good bet to organise a truly caring, conservation-conscious safari in Kenya! Their concern for solo travellers backs that up.
And so my journey dreams continue … next on my agenda is how to tackle the carbon footprint of air travel, especially from this part of the world? For such a vast distance, I’ll have to look further than contributing to the planting of thousands of trees.
I will finish off this rather long post with a thought-provoking excerpt from The Infinite Game – How to Live Well Together by Niki Harré:
“Well, changing the behaviour of other adults has always seemed to me both patronising and misguided. What we need, if we are going to promote human and ecological flourishing, is people working together on creative solutions, not experts training others like circus animals. The enormous beauty and power of our species lies in our capacity for collective innovation. It is an endless, uncertain task, improving this world of ours and trying to do so with love and joy. It takes both big, powerful players and small, discrete players each working within their sphere of influence – experimenting, adapting, and negotiating new practices; and the policies, laws and technological innovations that help hold these practices in place. We need to ignite that creative capacity in each other – not smother it with assumptions that ‘we’ (whoever ‘we’ may be) know best.”