Andreas Späth

Green New Year’s resolutions

2014-01-06 13:32

Andreas Späth

I’ve never been particularly good with New Year’s resolutions. I just don’t seem to have the long-term self-discipline needed to make them stick – hence my ever expanding waistline despite annually repeated pledges to eat more healthily and become fitter.

That said, the beginning of a new year is as good a time as any to make plans for the future and hope that eventually some of the good intentions will actually manifest themselves in the real world.

So for 2014, I’m keeping my environmentally-inspired resolutions down to just two and I’m making them sufficiently broad and flexible, and therefore, I hope, realistically achievable. Perhaps they resonate with you, too…

1. Get to know the place where you live

That sounds pretty wishy-washy, so I’d better explain a bit.

On a recent family trip to the bush, it occurred to me (once again) how disconnected I, as a city dweller, am from the natural world. Out in the wilderness, without constant access to television, telephones and the internet, the amazingly inter-dependent way in which nature works tends to be so much more evident than it is in places covered mostly by buildings, roads and parking lots.

These particular plants wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for these particular rocks and soils they are growing on in this particular climate and on this particular hill that slopes just so. Neither would these particular animals that happen to feed on them. Take away any one or even several of these interlinked components and the entire system becomes degraded, less resilient and less sustainable in the long run.

Sitting in the bush armed with a pair of binoculars and a book, trying to identify some little brown job bird, it occurred to me (once again) how embarrassingly little I really know about the natural history of my own home, the Cape Peninsula. Sure, I have a fair idea about the geology of the region, but what about the incredibly species-rich fynbos flora that grows on it, and what about the various animals – birds, insects, mammals, reptiles, etc. – that live in that? And what, for that matter, about the indigenous people who lived here in the past, doing a much better job of being an integrated part of the area’s ecology rather than destroying it than I am?

So there’s my first resolution: getting to know my own backyard more intimately. I’m not saying that I’ll become an expert in all of its aspects, but I would like to be able to identify some of the trees and wildflowers and birds and butterflies that share Table Mountain and the Cape Flats with me.

The cool thing about this particular resolution is that anyone can do it. The information is out there. So why not endeavour to find out a little more about the natural world in your own neighbourhood this year?

2. Do something to help preserve the place where you live

Having gotten to know more about my natural surroundings (see resolution 1), my second resolution should make perfect sense. Knowing something means becoming more intimately connected to it, to see one’s own relationship to it, to recognise its value, and to want to protect it.

There are plenty of small and large things that qualify here. Everything from recycling more or growing your own veggies to joining a local environmental group or committing to buying local and organic whenever possible. So if you like the idea, why not choose something that will help to conserve your own natural environment?

For my part, I’ve decided to help organise an environmental documentary film festival. It’s called the Cape Town Eco Film Festival, it will happen from the 27th to the 30th of March 2014 at the Labia Theatre in Cape Town, and it will hopefully become a vibrant annual event that raises awareness among Capetonians about a variety of pressing global and local environmental issues. We’re hard at work putting together an exciting programme. Keep an eye on our website for more details to come.

- Andreas is a freelance writer with a PhD in geochemistry. Follow him on Twitter: @Andreas_Spath
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