Get off the grid

2011-05-05 00:00

FIRST floods and fires in Australia, then an earthquake in New Zealand and now tornadoes in the United States. The catastrophic effects of climate change seem to be no longer just a threat, but a reality of the same magnitude as the general worldwide environmental crisis. What is to be done?

Some individuals and organisations searching for ways to reduce their carbon footprint and live more sustainably are looking into “getting off the grid”. Translated, this means not using coal-generated electricity but only renewable forms of energy such as wind or sunlight.

A local group that is committed to going “off-grid” is Share-Net environmental education network based at the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) in the Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve in Howick. Share-Net develops and produces environmental- education materials and runs a low-cost printing and publishing facility.

Clare Peddie, manager of Share-Net, said: “As an organisation that promotes public participation in caring for the Earth, Wessa tries to practise, as much as possible, the principles of sustainability, such as ‘reduce, reuse, recycle and respect’.”

Share-Net has already made a significant start to practising these principles and fulfilling its long-term goal of “going off grid” by installing a solar-powered printing machine. The Duplo Duprinter DP-S850 printer runs on solar energy captured by four panels installed in the roof and also uses non-toxic ink manufactured from soya beans. “We run only the printer on renewable energy, but we are working at being able to run the whole print works off solar energy, which means the book maker and collator too.”

In its quest to find and use renewable technology, the organisation also installed a skylight to provide lighting to one of its offices, cutting down on electric lighting. Peddie said that the total cost of the installation was R2 250.

“We have found that the skylight works very well, especially on sunny days. On some dull days we do have to use electric lighting, but the skylight has cut our dependence on this significantly.”

The Share-Net staff also turned its attention to reducing its dependence on electricity for heating. They began by removing all the heaters from the offices, and then buying blankets and hot water bottles to keep warm on very cold days. Staff also make an effort to dress warmly in very cold weather. “Other WESSA projects based at the nature reserve use heaters for a short while in the early morning to take the chill out of the air and then turn them off,” Peddie said.

“We have discovered that a major element in trying to change to a sustainable lifestyle is social change (see box). People’s behaviour has to change, like dressing warmly on cold days rather than dressing for a summer day and relying on a heater to keep them warm. That is perhaps the biggest challenge required in responding to the environmental crisis by doing things like getting off the power grid — people have to change the way they behave.”

ACCORDING to Wikipedia, sustainable living is a lifestyle that tries to reduce an individual’s or society’s use of the Earth’s natural resources. People trying to live sustainably work to reduce their carbon footprint by changing their methods of transportation, energy usage and diet. Clare Peddie of Share-Net said: “If we want to help save our planet, we have to change the way we live.

“We set up an outdoor solar cooker at Wessa, which gave us an insight into the difficulties of introducing new technologies, and the resistance to change that can result. After an enthusiastic start, it was seldom used, perhaps because of the extra time and planning it required. If our behaviour is to change, we have to somehow establish a social process that mobilises prior knowledge and understanding, includes meaningful reflection, experimentation and dialogue in order to combat resistance. Somehow these rich social processes were not part of the experience when we introduced the cooker. Now we know that they have to be.”

 

Do you have a story to tell about how you are living a greener life? We’d love to hear it. Write us no more than 600 words about what you are doing or have done, or contact us for an interview at features@witness.co.za

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