Foraging for wild mushrooms is becoming increasingly popular and anyone on a mushroom identification group will know that ‘pick-shaming’ (mentioning that someone should not have picked a mushroom that they won’t use) is guaranteed to attract harsh comments and even a removal from the group! While these groups are wonderful for knowledge-sharing and ensuring that mushrooms are correctly identified, they most often fail to teach any sort of responsible foraging etiquette.
Foraged mushrooms in an inappropriate container for spore dispersal
spread their spores further. On that note: picking mature mushrooms that have released most of their spores is essential.
However, there are other less-obvious effects of mushroom harvesting that should be considered. Harvesters who do not consider the environment around the delicacies they seek will undoubtedly squash plants, other types of mushrooms, emerging new mushrooms and insects in their clumsy search. This may have long-term effects on forest floor dwelling species in popular mushroom-harvesting spots, as well as reducing the harvest for all as the season progresses.
It is considered good manners to leave behind at least half of the edible mushrooms in an area, for other human foragers. But, what about non-human mushroom-lovers?
With minimal studies done on mushrooms in general, especially on their importance in ecosystems beyond the obvious decomposition aspect, it is wise to be careful and respectful when it comes to handling mushrooms. While harvesting mushrooms won’t affect the mycelium, it will affect other species that have relationships with them. If animals and insects don’t have access to their usual nutrient-boosting mushrooms at a certain time of year, this could affect their ability to survive leaner seasons and periods of disease.
We have no idea of the ripple-effect that mass human mushroom-harvesting has on greater ecosystems, so let’s be responsible.
Squirrels are one of the many wild animals that consume mushrooms.
When harvesting wild mushrooms, follow the guidelines below:
*Pick just enough for your own consumption.
*Never pick an entire patch of mushrooms.
*Be aware of what else you are stepping on.
*Use a basket for spore dispersal.
*Do the ecosystem a service by picking up litter while foraging.
*Don’t pick more than one or two specimens before getting them identified – just because we can’t eat them doesn’t mean that other animals won’t.
*Pick relatively mature mushrooms that have dispersed spores, bearing in mind that some are inedible if too mature.
By Georgia Carter
Less than 1% of our freshwater reserves are available today, and it’s estimated that 80% of our wastewater - water polluted with chemicals and human waste - is returned to the environment.
These are shocking facts that act as a poignant reminder of what our carelessness has achieved, and it’s harming every living thing on the planet.
To protect precious water and keep it clean for all life forms, we need to adopt a few small yet effective habits when it comes to how we treat our water.
Caption: Less than 1% of our freshwater reserves are available.
Credit: Kazuend, Unsplash
Below are the best ways we as individuals can conserve our water from home:
1) Check your toilet/s, faucets, and pipes for any leaks. Leakages, when added up, can waste litres of water and cost you extra money every month. If you find that you have a leak, fix it straight away.
2) While this is widely known, it’s still important to emphasise as it's one of the most effective ways to save water - take shorter showers!
3) Install water-saving showerheads and taps, which may cost a little extra initially but will help you save money and the planet in the long run.
4) Turn off the tap while you’re washing dishes, brushing your teeth, or shaving. It may not seem like you’re using much water during these activities, but it all adds up in the end.
5) Only use your laundry washing and dishwashing machines when they’re fully loaded, making the most of the water required. Otherwise, litres of water are being pumped where they’re not needed.
6) Collect rainwater for all the little water-required tasks such as watering the plants and wiping surfaces. You’ll be surprised how much water you can actually save this way, and your plants will thank you!
7) Install an adjustable toilet flapper that limits the amount of water needed to flush.
8) Make use of a compostable toilet. No, this is definitely not for everyone and not just anyone can create one of these, but if you can, the benefits are tremendous. Not only are you saving water and money, but you’re also able to renourish and fertilise your plants.
9) Recycle water! Yes, water can be recycled - and easily. Keep a bucket in your shower, save some bathwater, or keep a tupperware in your sink. Reuse that water for certain tasks in the house, such as to flush the toilet or mop the floors.
10) Use a broom instead of a hose to clean outdoor areas.
11) Cover your swimming pools to avoid evaporation and therefore having to add more water into your pool.
12) Water your plants during the early hours of the day. This will not only prevent evaporation and help your plants retain moisture, but will also ward off any pests for the day to come.
13) Add organic matter to your garden beds to help them retain water so you don’t have to water them as often as before.
14) Minimise or end your consumption of chemical products. There are numerous organic swaps for harmful products, such as chemical-free shampoo, eco-friendly face wash, and environmentally conscious hand soap.
15) Dispose of all hazardous materials correctly. These are your oils and paints that make their way down the drain, infecting the entire water system. It’s often better to collect these materials and throw them away rather than disposing of them via the drain.
16) Participate in river, dam, and ocean clean-ups!
17) Consume less of everything. That means less plastic, less processed food, less electricity, you name it - it all requires huge amounts of water to create and work.
Caption: There are numerous ways to save water when it comes to your garden, such as collecting rainwater, watering your plants in the morning, and adding more organic matter to your soil.
Credit: Markus Spiske, Unsplash
Adopting a few of these necessary habits and behaviours has a dramatically positive effect on the environment and those who depend on clean water - which is all of us.
Written by: Georgia Carter
Unparalleled heat waves in Arizona. Impossible snowfalls in Texas. Uncontrollable wildfires across Europe. Flooding in Germany and China.
These are but a few examples of the weather catastrophes sprawling around the globe. The primary cause? Global Warming.
Caption: Uncontrollable fires are raging across the planet due to global warming.
Credit: Matt Palmer, Unsplash
There’s no denying it any longer. Rising temperatures and increased sea levels are starting to cause chaos on the planet - and this is only the beginning. In light of these natural disasters, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, known as the IPCC, recently released their most current report on the matter. It’s the bluntest, most stark warning we have received yet.
“The evidence is everywhere: if we don’t act, the situation is going to get really bad,” climatologist and co-author Xuebin Zhang says.
Founded in 1988, the IPCC is a United Nations governmental body that consists of leaders, scientists, and climatologists from around the globe. The aim of this conglomerate is simple: provide truthful scientific evidence and information that proves human-induced climate change and global warming, the impacts of this destruction, and the potential responses we must take in order to mitigate the negative effects.
Caption: Individuals, businesses, and scientists are pleading for drastic change to mitigate the harmful effects of climate change.
Credit: Markus Spiske, Unsplash
The latest report was compiled by over 200 scientists from around the world. The report has been published three months before the next universal climate summit, which will occur in Glasgow, in a plea for all governments to come up with appropriate and drastic solutions to mitigate global warming.
The report contains numerous statistics, facts, and figures to help readers fully understand the complexity and dire situation presented by climate change as a whole. Below, we unpack the most crucial points:
1) Global warming levels are fast approaching the 1.5 and even the 2-degree limit. Currently, the planet’s temperature is reaching 1.1 degrees celsius - a first in the last 125 000 years. If we continue to emit as much carbon dioxide as we have been, we will far exceed the boundaries of the greenhouse gasses our atmosphere can hold within the next decade. This means we will reach our tipping point, which will be practically irreversible.
2) The effects of reaching this tipping point include uncontrollable wildfires, increased rainfall and flooding, severe droughts, and amplified permafrost thawing. We are already seeing the start of these natural disasters, but these are only minor impacts compared to the detrimental chaos that will occur if we supersede our global warming limit. The worst weather change will be drought, famine, and extreme heat waves. And these disasters won’t happen as singular events - they may occur all at once, making it impossible to find relief. This will dramatically impact agriculture practices for the worst, resulting in a knock-on effect for socio-economic issues across the globe.
3) Unfortunately, some climate and ecological changes cannot be reversed. Coastlines will be lost. Biomes will disappear. Biodiversity will take a harsh knock. Millions of animals and people will lose both their homes and their lives. While some ecosystems are already lost, we still have a chance to mitigate and even halt other drastic impacts on parts of the planet.
4) The most important aspect of the report states that we still have a chance to protect the planet for future generations, but we need to start implementing dramatic sustainable solutions RIGHT NOW. Every little bit truly does count and can make a difference, on both an individual and governmental level.
Caption: One of the numerous effects of global warming is drastic and unparalleled drought.
Credit: Joshua Woroneic, Unsplash
The future truly is in our hands now.
As an individual, you’re probably wondering what you can do to help mitigate global warming. Here are a few things:
Breathe easy, hope is not lost. Taking the first step towards leading a sustainable lifestyle is a step in the right direction on the footpath to a brighter and healthier future.
Caption: Every little bit counts, as long as you start acting NOW.
Credit: Markus Spiske, Unsplash
Read the full report here: Sixth Assessment Report (ipcc.ch)
By Georgia Carter
Big brands have overtaken the market. Many of us happily spend our time and money on products and services from global corporations without thinking about the economic and environmental impacts our consumer habits inflict.
When we purchase goods from major names that have stores across the world, we’re hampering the planet and our local economy.
The fossil fuels used for production and transportation are hazardous enough, but add in the carbon emissions that result in increased air pollution and the plastic waste from packaging, and you have a natural disaster.
However, there is a simple yet effective sustainable solution to this dangerous practice - shopping local.
Personal Benefits of Shopping Local
We’re all looking for ways to improve our lives, and what if I was to tell you that keeping your consumerism more locally-based will aid in the betterment of your life as a whole?
As mentioned before, when we shift our shopping to become more locally-based, we’re essentially letting the local vendor know what we as a community want and need, and therefore helping them stock up on our local demands. This equates to a better selection of products and services that best suits the community, instead of global demands that take the whole world into consideration.
When purchasing food and produce from a local farmer, the food is often fresher. It’s brought straight from the farm, requires less to no chemicals to both grow and store, and it’s generally more organic and thus healthier for you. These crops also tend to come at a slightly more affordable rate, saving you money and time while improving your overall wellbeing.
Simply put, buying local produce and food is the paragon for a healthier life.
Caption: Purchasing produce from a local farmers market not only benefits the environment and economy, but also aids in a healthier lifestyle as fresher, organic crops increase in demand and therefore supply.
Credit: Megan Markham, Unsplash
The Environmental Benefits of Shopping Locally
While there are numerous economical and personal benefits to shopping locally, the environmental benefits are paramount.
Below is a list of ways shopping local positively impacts the Earth:
1. Starting from the farming lands, shopping local helps fund organic farmers. These farmers generally use less pesticides, a decreased amount of electricity used for storage and refrigeration, and aid in healthy soil regeneration. This, in turn, also protects the natural insect population required to properly pollinate the crops.
2. Supporting local farmers means that less land is sold off to large developers, helping maintain and preserve the natural surroundings and wildlife that reside in these ecosystems.
3. When purchasing products from major retailers, many modes of transportation are used to supply and provide said items. The fossil fuels emitted through transport are both unnecessary and hazardous to humans and the environment as a whole. But, when you buy local, you’re helping reduce an estimated 26% of fossil fuels emitted through transportation, further conserving fuel which the world is fast running out of.
4. As a result of the immense amount of fossil fuels emitted from large companies, air pollution has become another detrimental environmental issue. However, you can help decrease air pollution by shopping local as this reduces transportation, the use of electricity for refrigeration, and the reduced use of pesticides.
5. There is limited packaging when it comes to shopping locally. Because there are no warehouses involved, nor a wide range of products to be sold, and no shipping required, there is less packaging. This further reduces fossil fuels due to those needed to create the plastic packaging, and decreases the amount of plastic pollution made from single-use packaging.
Overall, shopping locally reduces carbon emissions, plastic and air pollution, aids in healthy soil regeneration, protects insects, conserves fuel and electricity, and preserves natural land and wildlife.
Caption: Supporting local farmers cultivates healthy agricultural practices and the regeneration of land.
Credit: Marcus Winkler, Unsplash
Shopping local is the way to go when it comes to easy and effective sustainable solutions. If we can all try our best to research, learn, understand, act, and share ways to protect the environment, we’ll be the trailblazers for a healthier future on this planet.
By Georgia Carter
Water - the gift, cause, and fuel for life itself. While it makes up most of the Earth, only 3% of it is freshwater that’s safe enough for human consumption, and only one third of that percentage is accessible.
Today, a harrowing amount of more than one billion people lack access to clean and drinkable fresh water, while over two billion people suffer from a lack of hygiene and proper sanitation.
It’s now estimated that by 2025, two thirds of the world will suffer from lack of fresh, clean, and safe water. That’s right, two thirds. Since our population is rapidly rising, this is an issue we need to tend to immediately.
What is water scarcity?
Water scarcity is the lack of sufficient clean water, whereby people have little to no access to safe water supplies.
Water scarcity has an impact on everything: from the food we eat and the electricity we use to power our homes to the plant and animal life and the planet as a whole. Water is connected to the health and wellbeing of the entire world.
Why is water scarcity a problem?
Water forms the basis and foundation of all things, living and not.
We need water for food, from the very root of growing crops to the act of cooking. We also need water to produce electricity, which is further used to power almost all that we do.
Caption: Water is one of the most, if not the most, precious resource we have - we require water for almost everything we do, yet we don’t take proper care of it.
Credit: Markus Spiske, Unsplash
We require water for our hygiene and sanitation, which protects us from numerous diseases. In the bigger picture, water creates jobs, helps circulate the economy, and bolsters the quality of life as a whole.
As you can see, everything relies on clean, healthy, accessible water.
But today, scarcity is an ongoing problem. Over 2.4 billion people have inadequate sanitation, and many more are exposed to a wide range of harmful and even fatal diseases, such as cholera or water-borne diarrhea.
An estimated two million people pass away every single year from such diseases, with the majority being children. In another perspective, that equates to a child dying every 2 minutes from a lack of clean, safe water.
A lack of clean water also hampers education, especially among girls. Menstrual cycles require water to be adequately managed, and where there is none, people suffer. One out of four girls miss school as a result of water scarcity, making the achievement of their full potential all the more difficult, and alleviating poverty nearly impossible as a result. That’s not to mention the devastation of hunger and starvation that a lack of water causes.
Without this understructure of water, everything collapses. The wheels of life break down, and the cycle of struggle keeps spinning.
Caption: Water scarcity harms every life form. We need to begin adopting sustainable solutions to lack of water and make water conservation a priority.
Credit: Matthew Feeny, Unsplash
Economic water scarcity is linked to the same issue - where there are not enough resources or funds to supply clean water. Universal access to water and sanitation would produce about $18.5 billion in benefits, most of this resulting from a prevention of water-related deaths.
Instead, as the problem persists, we lose around $260 billion globally from water scarcity.
But it’s not only humans who suffer - both animal and plant life are impacted by water scarcity too. Water is home to myriad plant and animal life forms, providing refuge, hydration, and nutrients for a wealth of species. Stressed water systems harm biodiversity, alter ideal living conditions for flora and fauna, and ultimately cause an increasing loss of life.
The higher the demand for water, the more supply is required. Coupled with inadequate water management, as well as unsustainable practices in many industries, this has caused the drying up of water resources and therefore the homes of millions of plant and animal populations. Today, 64% of the world's wetlands have disappeared, and this causes more problems than you can imagine.
Caption: Wetlands are among the richest and most diverse biomes on the planet, but since 1990, we’ve destroyed 64% of the global wetlands.
Credit: Usug, Unsplash
If you’d like to learn more about the importance of Wetlands, click here.
What causes water scarcity?
Pollution: This is one of the leading causes of unclean water. Water is polluted by toxic substances and harmful chemicals that derive from human trash. Another form is water waste - the sewage, pesticides and fertilizers that leak into precious water systems.
Agriculture: Unsustainable farming practices, which make up the bulk of our agricultural systems, use around 70% of the world’s fresh water to produce the high demand of crops.
Population Growth: As mentioned previously, when the human population grows, so does the demand for water, often that which cannot be met.
Climate Change: An increase in global temperature causes dramatic shifts in weather patterns, spurring natural disasters of all kinds which hamper water accessibility.
Caption: Agriculture is the leading industry in both water usage and water waste disposal. It’s of the utmost importance that we seek and implement more sustainable farming practices across the globe.
Credit: Red Zeppelin, Unsplash
Sustainable methods to combat water scarcity
While these actions and changes demand global and societal shifts, there are a few things we as individuals can do at home to combat the existing water scarcity issue and prevent further harm.
These actions include:
If you’d like to learn more ways to conserve water, read our blog post here.
Caption: Save our water - it’s the power and force behind all life on Earth.
Credit: Jack Anstey, Unsplash
By Georgia Carter
Water forms the basis for all life. Every single living organism requires it to exist. But it’s not just to replenish and nourish ourselves. Water performs myriad other benefits that are necessary for our existence today.
Caption: Water is essential to all life on Earth.
However, we’re wrecking our water. Currently, we have less than 1% of our fresh water reserves available, and our resource is fast becoming finite. Pollution, agricultural run-offs, wastewater, and an increase in infrastructure is ruining our precious, vital liquid material.
Source: The Conversation
But to be able to first mitigate the harm caused to our waters and the beings who both use it and inhabit it, we need to understand how our water systems actually work.
How global water systems work
Water networks have been around for millenia, with the earliest known form of controlling water flow dating back to 2500 BC in China. But the most famous water systems in the world are still those constructed and utilised in 312 BE by the Roman Empire, some of which are still in use today.
Caption: One of the aqueducts constructed in the Ancient Roman era.
Today, there are four stages to our waterways: Collection; Treatment; Storage; Distribution.
Collection: We receive most of our drinking and amenity water from groundwater, water entombed just below the Earth’s surface. To retrieve this water, specialised pumps charged by fossil fuels are needed which causes multiple harms on the environment.
Another form of water we use is surface water, such as rivers and lakes. While these are seemingly everflowing, we cannot solely rely on them. Humans have therefore created their own versions in the form of man made dams, reservoirs, and artificial lakes.
However, these human-made facilities can be destructive to the surrounding ecosystems due to deforestation to make space, reverting the flow of water which was once a home to a diversity of life, and pollution from humans who work in the area.
We still need to seek out sustainable solutions for collecting water.
Treatment: Natural water often contains materials that can be harmful for human consumption. These include dust and soil particles, microbes, and decaying matter. While there are various different forms of treatment, two are the most prominent.
Distribution: It’s a silent miracle that humans have crafted a way to deliver water all across the world. Each city, town, and living space has a network of waterways locked beneath the ground.
Pipelines snake through the depths of our homes, providing us with seemingly endless liquid to use as we please. Water travels through these pipelines with the help of pumps to power movement, transferring water from storage tanks to home taps.
Caption: Our water is pumped to our homes via a network of pipelines entombed below the ground.
Credit: Denny Muller, Unsplash
But this method, while remaining efficient and effective, can be damaging to the environment. The materials required to produce the piping rely on fossil fuels for their creation, the pumps needed to forcefully move the water depend on electricity and heavy machinery, and space is necessary to install the pipes themselves.
While there may not be viable sustainable solutions to tackle these problems at the moment, it’s important for us to appreciate the water we receive in our homes every single day, and even more vital to protect the source.
How do humans pollute water?
An estimated 80% of our waste water, water polluted with chemicals, toxins, and human waste, is dumped back into the environment. Unclean and unsafe water is killing us all - wild and marine, plant, and human life. In fact, in 2015, it’s believed that around 1.8 million people passed away due to contaminated water consumption.
Not only are we destroying our health and the wellbeing of other living organisms, but also entire ecosystems. Today, nearly half of the United States of America’s rivers and streams have been harvested, and one third of all lakes have rapidly decreased in size and water quantity as well as being too polluted for humans to even swim in.
Below are a few ways we pollute our invaluable water:
Caption: Agricultural practices are one of the leading water pollutants.
Credit: Ibadah Mimpi, Unsplash
There is a chain effect that occurs in the natural world, and by harming one of the significant cogs in the wheel of life harms them all.
For example, if new materials such as microplastics are introduced into an ecosystem, suffocation occurs. This is when algae consumes the new material and grows exponentially. Algae stores require large amounts of oxygen and receive their quantities from the water, lessening the total oxygen in the water for other species, who can then drown. This leads to the loss of food for more predator species, who also perish due to starvation. Soon, the entire body of water will hold little to no life.
Sustainable ways to meet the growing demand of water
We pollute our waterways at almost every stage of the system. While we can all do our part at home to protect and keep our water clean for its return to the Earth, we need to start thinking about sustainable solutions for the root of the process.
Rainwater collection is among the most eco-friendly ways to collect water. It’s both inexpensive and accessible, and helps communities manage their own water and therefore livelihoods. However, collecting rainwater can take an extended amount of time and is not always available.
Another method is to divert surface water, leading it rather into the ground to prevent evaporation. This also improves the overall quality of the water.
Finally, desalination is fast becoming a sustainable method. The process of transforming salty sea water into clean, drinking water is useful as it supplies an abundance of water, but still relies on fossil fuels to power. Hopefully in the future, we will be able to utilise this process in a more sustainable way.
Water is the very essence of life, and it powers most of what we do on a daily basis. We need to protect this precious life giving force - and we need to begin today.
Caption: A cascading oasis in South Africa. Less than 1% of the globe's water sources are fresh and fit for human consumption.
Credit: Georgia Carter, Mindful Meanderer
Piling Up the Proper Way to Compost: What Composting is, Why it’s Important, and How to Compost Properly
Food waste harms everything. From the resources discarded in the production stage and the transportation used to move the produce to the unnecessary area taken up in landfills and the hungry people on the street wishing they had a tiny morsel, the disregard of edible items is causing damage to both the planet and humans - and it’s only getting worse.
But there are many sustainable solutions to this wasteful plight, one being composting. This simple yet effective practice can be done by almost anyone and requires little effort. In fact, it’s so beneficial in myriad ways that the process is enjoyable.
Caption: An autumn compost heap consists of many leaves.
Source: Annie Spratt, Unsplash
What is composting?
Composting is the process of decomposing organic materials that create simple organic compounds filled with nutrients once broken down. The result is a rich, healthy fertiliser that can be used on your plants.
The benefits of composting
Food scraps make up 30% of the garbage we throw away. Most of this ends up in landfills, not only taking up space but emitting harmful methane.
Composting tackles this problem in many ways while also creating additional benefits such as:
- The encouragement of healthy bacteria and fungi.
- Lowers carbon footprints.
- Enriches soil.
- Suppresses plant disease.
- Makes a natural fertiliser that saves you money.
- Reduces methane emissions.
Caption: A compost heap is made up of brown and green organic materials.
Compostable vs Biodegradable
Not all things are compostable, and what can go into your compost must not be mistaken as a biodegradable object.
Compostable means that the item breaks down into non-toxic components, whereas biodegradable refers to breaking down something into smaller pieces.
Eventually, compostable items will completely disappear and return to the Earth within a matter of weeks. Biodegradable objects may take decades or even centuries to vanish.
The Basics: What you need to start composting
Honestly, you don’t need much at all to start your compost heap.
Here are the bare basics and essentials:
1) Some space. This can either be outside in your garden, balcony, or even a little corner in your kitchen.
2) A tub, bucket, or bin. If you’re composting outdoors, make sure your container does not have a bottom or has drilled holes in the bottom. (If you’re opting for the indoor small compost bin, I recommend using a clay bowl)
3) Some organic, compostable produce made up of green and brown material (this is explained later in the article.)
Caption: All you need is some space and a container to start your compost heap.
Source: Edward Howell, Unsplash
What can you compost?
A healthy compost consists of one part carbon, referred to as dry brown materials such as cardboard; and one part nitrogen, which is called the green materials. These are your coffee grounds and organic matter. Finally, the last ingredient to the nutrient-rich soup is moisture, which can be provided with some water. You’ll need to assess your compost heap regularly to make sure it doesn’t have too much liquid but isn’t too dry either.
So, all in all, you have your browns, your greens, and your moisture.
Below is a list of things you can chuck into your compost heap:
- Fruits and vegetables (raw, uncooked)
- Coffee grounds (extremely healthy, but don’t throw in too much as you don’t want your heap to be nitrogen focused)
- Teabags (with any staples removed)
- Newspaper (remember to shred it first)
- Cardboard/paper (again, cut it up into bite-sized bits)
- Woodchips/ sticks
- Hair/ fur
Caption: Make sure your compost heap has equal parts of brown and green ingredients.
How to make a compost heap
First, seek out a shady spot in your garden or a cosy corner in your kitchen. Then start your heap by adding in equal parts of brown and green materials. Always cut up your larger chunks of produce - it will accelerate the process.
Moisten your dry materials with some water as you proceed. Once a pile is established, mix the green waste into the bottom half of the pile. Remember to stir your compost every one-two weeks.
When the bottom half of your compost heap is a rich, dark brown, it’s ready! Apply the compost to your plants and, if you don’t have many plants, head on over to your local park or communal garden and help out the foliage by applying your own compost - teamwork!
It can take anything from two months to two years for your compost heap to be ready, as it all depends on your size, components, and how you take care of it during the process.
Caption: Your compost is ready when it’s a rich, dark colour. This can take two months or more to reach.
Source: Heather Ford, Unsplash
What not to do when composting: Mistakes to avoid
There are a few common things people do when attending to their compost heap that will destroy it. Here are a few things to avoid in order to maintain the health of your compost heap:
- No meat as it attracts pests and creates a terrible smell. It also messes with the pH of the heap itself.
- No cooked ingredients.
- No dairy
- No diseased plants as the disease might survive and be carried onto your other plants when applying the compost.
- No coal. It’s toxic.
- No fat/ grease/ oil/ lard.
Frequently asked questions and answers.
Do I need a bin to make compost?
Caption: Compost is highly nutritious for your plants!
Source: Maarten van den Heuvel, Unsplash
By: Georgia Carter
By Georgia Carter
Technology is always evolving. With increased awareness of the environment and the wellbeing of the planet, innovation is taking the lead in green.
Revisiting and reimagining existing everyday products is happening as we speak - one such invention is the car. Our humble vehicles take us from point A to point B, and while some of us don’t give much thought to the fuel and emissions our motors emit, they still come at a cost to our Earth. Luckily, more eco-friendly transport options are joining the fast lane.
Caption: Millions of cars shroud the city streets, emitting tons of harmful chemicals and contributing to air pollution.
Credits: Conor Williams, Unsplash
Electric cars are already here, and they’re only getting better as we evolve. But first, what exactly are electric cars, how do they work, and are they considered green transportation?
What electric cars are and how they work?
Electric cars are vehicles powered by electricity rather than diesel or gasoline. Some special cars are even fuelled by hydrogen from fuel cells that transform the chemical into electricity. Generally, electric cars are cleaner in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution as they harbour no exhaust.
Caption: A painted sign signalling a charging port for electric cars.
Credit: Michael Marais, Unsplash
The electric car was first conceived in 1830 when inventor Robert Anderson attempted to build one with non-rechargeable cells. While that model never took off, novel designs and feats in engineering ensure the potential future of eco-friendly transport today.
There are two types of electric cars. The first relies on plug-ins or charging ports to fuel them up, while the second is an auto-charge, requiring fuel that automatically charges the battery when not being used - these are Hybrid vehicles.
Examples of these cars include the Nissan Leaf, the Toyota Prius, and, of course, the renowned Tesla additions.
Caption: A sleek Tesla electric car design.
Credit: Tech Nick, Unsplash
Statistics of fuel-dependent cars
Steel, glass, plastic, rubber, battery acid - these are a few of the many materials it takes to make a car. Each item has already forgone the production phases that each cost the earth. Now, a profusion of already-harming products crafts your motor. Even before hitting the road, cars cause chaos to the Earth’s wellbeing.
Caption: A car workstation is filled to the brim with harmful waste products that often end in landfills.
Credits: Egor Vikhrev, Unsplash.
However, it’s the driving of the car that creates the most damage. Greenhouse gasses are constantly emitted while the car uses litres of petrol and gasoline to manoeuvre. The very extraction of petroleum from the Earth is already devastating enough, both short and long-term - and the demand is only increasing.
Fortunately, our society is slowly shifting to a more sustainable future.
Energy sources and environmental impact
Electric cars are paving the highways to the future, but how eco-friendly are they right now?
An already produced and purchased electric car is currently less dependent on fossil fuels as it requires no petrol. Since there is no exhaust, between 17 and 30% fewer emissions are being released into an already hampered atmosphere.
Electric cars are manufactured using more recyclable and reusable materials, ensuring not every piece is simply thrown away after one life span. Furthermore, electric cars need lower maintenance, saving more resources and money.
In essence, an electric car is better for the environment in terms of air pollution, more recyclable, and relies less on fossil fuels. That sounds like the perfect option, right? While they’re more eco-friendly than your average car, there are still some vital setbacks that need to be addressed before labelling these cars as the ultimate solution to transportation.
An electric car requires between 9 and 13 hours to charge, and they need electricity to power up. This electricity often comes from the city’s electric grid, which utilises...fossil fuels. This creates yet another closed circuit of resources that harm the environment further. Hybrids rely on petrol to charge the battery anyway, so while they’re more fuel-efficient, they still depend on it.
Caption: An electric car charging station.
Credits: Ernest Ojeh, Unsplash
But even before they need charging, the actual production of electric cars creates huge amounts of waste. These cars rely on Lithium-ion batteries to operate, which often have a short lifespan. Once dead, it’s extremely difficult to reuse these batteries, and the disposal of such batteries often isn’t performed with caution.
In addition, electric cars use more emissions to create than a normal car. In fact, more than one-third of the car’s lifetime-emitted CO2 is made during the production phases.
There are two sides to every coin, and there’s no difference when it comes to electric cars. They’re far superior and more eco-friendly than their fossil-fueled counterparts but more harmful in other aspects. Luckily, this is fast improving with time and the scientific and technological advancements it brings. These innovative changes to transportation are already at our doorstep, or shall I say garage.
We’ve all heard of Elon Musk's brainchild, Tesla. This company is at the zenith of innovation and engineering. And now, they’re summiting the peak of electric cars.
Caption: The Tesla Logo.
Credits: Presilla Du Preeze, Unsplash
The design and technology harnessed for Tesla cars are unparalleled. Each motor uses significantly fewer parts than any other car, resulting in decreased production levels and greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, the company is incredibly switched on when it comes to saving the environment. Tesla’s mission statement is to “accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”
Tesla cars have their unique charging ports independent of the electrical grid, relying on and charging solely off solar power. This method has saved over 75 million gallons of gasoline. “We are focused on creating a complete power and transportation ecosystem from solar generation and energy storage to all-electric vehicles,” their impact report says.
Caption: A Tesla charging station. Each charging station is off the grid and supplied with solar energy.
Credits: Torbjorn Sandbak, Unsplash
Tesla tracks their emissions at every stage, from manufacturing and warehouse use to retail and charging; they’ve thought about it all. Their concern for a sustainable future is even apparent in small details, such as the lights in the car being LED and the paint used is eco-friendly. Tesla’s ultimate goal is to power all transportation using 100% renewable energy, and it looks like their dream will soon become our reality.
Cars will always be around. Their invention has saved time and become one of the world’s largest dependencies. Now more than ever, we need to rethink the transportation world to mitigate the harm we’ve already created.
Electric cars are driving sustainable solutions. But - although we’re not quite there yet - with the rise of Tesla a light can be seen at the end of the tunnel, and the rugged road we’ve been following can take a sharp turn for the better.
There are many questions that still lack efficient answers, like how will developing countries receive charging ports and how will we tackle the grand challenge of waste management. Still, we can conclude - the future is electric.
By Georgia Carter
The very first Earth Day occurred in 1970, exactly 51 years ago. Back in the day, no one was conscious of the negative environmental impacts our booming and ever-growing society was creating. Automobiles began lining the streets, industries were filling the skies with fumes, and plastic was seen as a miracle material and adopted worldwide.
Caption: The industrial revolution began in the 1700s. Today, our world is fueled by coal, gas, and oil, polluting our already fragile atmosphere.
Credit: NASA, Unsplash
However, some early earth activists started opening their eyes and noticing the drastic change in the planet’s health. In 1962, author Rachel Carson published her novel Silent Spring, which shed light on the link between pollution and health. It increased awareness of living beings and nature, sparking an enthusiasm to protect our planet and all those who call it home.
Caption: Our Earth is of the utmost importance to protect. Earth Day aims to uplift environmental efforts across the world.
Credit: Matthew Smith, Unsplash
Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin was one of the people who witnessed the horrific oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, that occurred in January 1962. During that time, anti-war movements were pushing through and gaining awareness. The energy of the protestors inspired the Senator, and he wished to harness the passion and shift it towards a consciousness for the environment. He decided to gather forces with a collective day where people around the world all take a moment and think about the planet’s wellbeing. He called this Earth Day.
Caption: Earth Day was the beginning of mass environmental activism and awareness.
Credit: Markus Spiske, Unsplash
Senator Nelson’s idea was announced on college campuses through teach-ins, where students would gain knowledge about sustainability, the effects of pollution, and how to be more mindful of environmental impacts. Denis Hayes, a youth earth activist recruited to organise the teach-ins, recognised the potential global influence of Earth Day and sculpted a community of 85 members to promote the ideal. Soon, myriad organisations jumped on the environmental bandwagon.
Caption: Since 1970, America has been protesting for the health and wellbeing of the planet.
Credit: Markus Spiske, Unsplash
Earth Day started gaining traction. The media began exploring and publishing information on Earth day, which fuelled a reaction from the entire country. Over 20 million American citizens were soon taking to the streets, giving a voice to the degradation caused by years of industrial pollution. Finally, Earth Day became a symbol, a chance to illuminate the effects humans have on the planet’s ecosystems.
Environmental organisations weren’t the only ones to join the cause. On Earth Day in 1970, Republicans and Democrats started to support the notion. By the end of the year and for the following ten years, the initial Earth Day inspired and led to various environmental laws adopted across the United States of America.
Caption: Earth activists worldwide are still protesting for the planet, following the start of Earth Day in 1970.
Credit: Markus Spiske, Unsplash
In 1990, Denis Hayes was asked to organise yet another earth campaign - and it went global. Over 200 million people from 141 countries worldwide supported and participated in Earth Day, uplifting recycling efforts and inspiring the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.
Today, Earth Day is celebrated as a cherished emblem of activism for the environment. It continues to spread its legacy and gain traction as the ever-looming climate crisis pushes forward. It initiates global conversations and stirs the growth of environmental action, efforts, and organisations worldwide.
But Earth Day isn't just a day - it’s a way of life. Every day is Earth Day, and every day, we can do our bit to aid in the planet’s wellbeing.
Caption: There’s only one planet like ours. We need to protect and preserve its splendour, abundance, and power.
Credit: Landon Parentea, Unsplash
By: Georgia Carter
The latest environmental documentary, Seaspiracy, is hitting home. Highlighting the horrific effects of overfishing, the film directed and presented by British filmmaker and activist Ali Tabrizi sheds light on the corrupt fishing industry, shares the unimaginable devastation of bycatch, and unearths the implications of fishing as a whole.
Caption: Fishing nets and crates waiting to imprison marine life.
Credit: JP Valery, Pixabay
Packed with statistics and facts, Seaspiracy is a poignant reminder of the unjust and inhumane activities worldwide, on both land and in the ocean waters. However harsh it is to witness, sometimes a true shock is all we need to be jolted into action.
Here are the main points the film brought to the foreground:
- 46% of all ocean plastic is made up of discarded fishing nets.
- More than 300 000 dolphins and whales are killed every year due to bycatch, accidental catching when using mammoth fishing nets.
- More than 30 000 sharks are killed every hour as a result of bycatch. The illegal shark fin trade also fuels this devastation.
- Labels such as ‘Dolphin Safe’ that exist to ensure tuna products don’t contain any other marine animal species, were called out for being corrupt. Apparently, workers within the company accept bribes in return for their approved label. A former employee admitted that they cannot guarantee there are no dolphin parts within tuna products.
- It’s not only the by-products of fishing that harms the ocean. Bottom trawling - the use of extremely large nets the size of 13 jumbo jet planes dragged across the ocean floor - destroys natural ocean plant life, marine life habitats, and entire ecosystems. The foliage that flourishes on the sea bed sequesters 93% of the world’s carbon dioxide. By eliminating these vital plants, CO2 is released in huge quantities. Bottom trawling deforests around 3.9 billion acres of ocean floor every year, an area far greater than that of the entire Amazon Rainforest.
- Many plastic awareness environmental organisations are on par with the fishing industry, accepting business and money in return for not disclosing the destruction of the fishing industry and the real issues the ocean is facing. While plastic is still a major problem, the consumption of fish and ongoing overfishing causes greater harm but is not brought to the forefront due to corrupt officials.
- The labour found on fishing boats is often from a cycle of slavery. Many workers are held against their will and forced to work at gunpoint or threatened to be thrown overboard. Those who object are murdered.
- There is no such thing as sustainable fishing. The only real solution is to give the ocean a break and halt the consumption of fish altogether.
Caption: Fishing gear makes up 46% of all ocean plastic pollution and acts as the main cause of death to whales and dolphins.
Credit: Barry Savage, Pexels
This intense and incredibly raw documentary is not for the faint-hearted. It piles horror onto horror to create a jigsaw puzzle of human problems, each as shocking as the last. It shakes your beliefs, values, and morals and makes you question the very essence of society and the world we live in today. But that is where the true and long-lasting motivation for change comes from.
When it comes to protecting the ocean, the next step is crystal clear - stop eating fish, stop supporting the fishing trade, and start doing your part to preserve and protect our precious ocean and the marine life it harbours.
Green technology solutions are no longer new concepts. In fact, many companies and households already use green tech products. However, only a few per cent of the world uses these technologies, making its impact lower. People should start to use green tech solutions today to make a significant change in the future. Among these green tech solutions, here are some that more people worldwide should be using, from electric scooters to urban vertical farming.
Cars, buses, and other fuel-powered vehicles have long contributed to the issue of greenhouse gas and global warming. In fact, transportation accounts for a fifth of the world’s carbon emissions. However, electric vehicles aim to resolve this by reducing harmful emissions and slowly cleaning the air in the long run. An example of a popular electric vehicle is electric scooter technology which is gaining attention because of its convenience and accessibility. However, are electric scooters eco-friendly? How do electric vehicles help the environment?
Since electric vehicles don’t need fuel, it does not emit any harmful gases, reducing carbon emissions present in the air. Moreover, most electric vehicles are manufactured through eco-friendly processes and materials. This further reduces the product’s environmental impact for its lifecycle. For example, the electric car Nissan Leaf is partly made of old car parts, plastic bags, and water bottles. Owners with electric vehicles can also reduce their impact by charging their vehicles using renewable energy such as solar and wind power.
Adopting more electric vehicles, like eco electric scooters, will move global transportation into a more sustainable future.
Many companies, especially huge tech brands, are moving files and data from paper to cloud. Cloud-based storage solutions are an increasingly popular green tech solution because of its space and cost-saving benefits. It eliminates the need to use more equipment in the office, reducing energy consumption as well. In fact, a report says that using more cloud storage and processes could reduce electricity consumption by 25 to 45%.
Investing in cloud storage solutions and processes also make it easier for people to share information. It promotes the idea of paperless offices, reducing paper waste and the need to cut down trees. Moreover, it supports remote work, reducing the need to commute every day to work and carbon emissions from vehicles.
Lastly, eliminating hardware reduces the opportunity for computer parts to end up in landfills. In the US, only 27% of the 2 million tons of e-waste could be recycled. This leaves a significant amount of computer parts that could pollute the land and sea.
If most businesses move their data and processes to the cloud, small to large businesses can reduce their energy consumption and carbon emissions. Altogether, this leaves a huge positive impact on the environment.
Green energy sources
Although many countries are shifting toward renewable sources of energy, 84% of the world still primarily use fossil fuels according to a 2019 study. People have used fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution. Unfortunately, it has caused large amounts of greenhouse gases and air pollution. These byproducts not only harm the environment but also pose health problems for people.
To reduce harmful emissions and impacts on the environment, renewable energy will be a key player. These energies include:
People should rapidly change into these energy sources before it’s too late.
Vertical farming promotes the idea of growing plants or produce in layers stacked vertically. It offers farmers and city dwellers sustainable farming in limited space. One of its greatest benefits is that it uses 90% less water because of its hydroponic growing process. As a result, it also needs fewer nutrients and fertilisers. Moreover, the used water can be recycled or reused since it’s clean. This further minimises waste and reduces the cost of farming.
Aside from this, it reduces the need for tractors or farming equipment, which likely use fossil fuels to run. As a result, it helps reduce harmful emissions that come from traditional farming methods. Moreover, it helps conserve biodiversity since there’s no need to convert acres of land for farming.
For city dwellers, vertical farming enables people living in apartments to grow their own produce indoors or on balconies. Having more plants in cities can help convert carbon emissions from vehicles into clean air. In fact, some biomimicry designs include vertical gardens into its design such as Singapores Gardens by the Bay.
Shift to a green future
While these green tech solutions help reduce waste and pollution, this is not enough. People also need to reduce plastic use and lessen their energy consumption from fossil fuels to reduce our environmental impact. Although green solutions are generally expensive, people should realise that these technologies are an investment in their own life and the future generations’. From recycling to using eco-friendly electric scooters, let’s do our part to save the environment.
The lungs of the Earth.
So poignant as a virus that causes humans to experience deathly shortness of breath sweeps the world. Yet, as I write this at 10:30am, a deforestation counter shows that over 33 000 hectares of forest have been cut or burned across the world today.
Forests are incredibly important to preserve as a means to slow climate change, for many more reasons than air quality. Preserving forests tackles climate change, global warming, the biodiversity crisis, desertification and drought, air and water pollution.
Trees ‘breathe’ out the oxygen that we breathe in, providing much of the oxygen that most organisms on Earth need for survival. They also improve the quality of the air by absorbing polluting gases through their leaves. A 2010 estimate stated that trees and forests removed 17.4 million tonnes of air pollution in the United States – monetising the human health effects to be worth $6.8bn. Besides reducing pollution, forests and urban trees also balance air temperature – cooling cities and reducing the need for fossil fuel powered temperature-control devices and improving day-to-day quality of life for humans, animals and insects.
Effortless Earth guardians: trees absorb the all-important Carbon Dioxide simply by breathing; they are the second-largest carbon stores on Earth, after the oceans. Trees store this carbon in their trunks as a structural component and when they die and rot, it becomes new soil. Beautiful carbon sequestration. A quarter of a trillion tonnes of carbon is stored in the biomass of the world’s tropical forests alone. Cutting and burning of these forests releases large amounts of carbon back into the air, exasperating the greenhouse effect that is causing Earth to warm at an alarming rate - with the clearing of tropical forests contributing about 20% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
It is well known that forests create rain locally through evaporation and transpiration but, a Russian physicist has claimed that forests also create rain in areas far from where they are situated as well as creating the wind that carries the rain clouds. The theory states that coastal forests create wind that pulls moisture off the ocean, adding it to their own evaporation clouds and sending it to form rain inland. Therefore, the loss of these forests would cut off inland water supply – creating and spreading deserts. “Forests are complex self-sustaining rainmaking systems, and the major driver of atmospheric circulation on Earth,” Anastassia Makarieva says. Atmospheric jets or ‘flying rivers’ send water from huge forests like the Amazon, to inland areas - where they are stopped by mountains and fall as life-giving rain. The Amazon flying river is thought to carry as much water as the more visible, terrestrial river below it.
Yet, 11,088 sq km of Amazon rainforest were destroyed from August 2019 to July 2020.
Besides controlling weather across the globe, forests also stabilise land masses – preventing erosion, they filter water and slow it down – preventing flooding, indigenous and old-growth forests stop fires and slow down winds close to the land, whilst providing important habitat, food and medicine for people, animals, insects, fungi and smaller plants.
80% of Earth’s land-based biodiversity is housed in forests, as well as the 60 million indigenous people that call them home. Deforestation is seen as one of the main reasons for us entering the Sixth Mass Extinction, and we may be reaching a ‘tipping point’ where forests begin to decline on their own due to the sheer mass of human-led destruction that has already occurred.
Forests are incredibly important for a myriad of reasons and it is up to each of us to protect them. As the animal agriculture industry (particularly cattle and soy to feed cattle) is one of the leading contributors to deforestation, a huge step towards slowing deforestation would be for each consumer to switch to a plant-based diet. Other actions including: choosing sustainable palm oil, ensuring that you can trace the origins of everything you buy – especially coffee, chocolate and wood products – buying local, planting trees in our own spaces and volunteering for tree planting organisations, choosing to use platforms (like Ecosia) and support companies that care about forests and are active, challenging destructive companies and government policies.
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
-Dr. Suess, The Lorax
Written By: Kelly Steenhuisen
Exotic and invasive plant species are, unfortunately, very popular in home gardens and decorative gardens around public spaces. Studies have shown that between 50% and 70% of invasive and non-native plant species were purposefully taken to their new homes by the horticultural trade.
The impact of invasive plant species is often overlooked as many are prized for their beauty, food production and ability to create a certain ‘feel’ in a space. However, native plant species are just as, if not more, beneficial and don’t come with the negative environmental impact as a side effect.
Invasive and non-native plants species out-compete and, therefore, reduce the population of indigenous and endemic species – reducing food and habitat availability for insects, birds and animals that rely on those plants for survival. This is causing a huge decline in insect species across the planet with Germany reporting a 76% decline in the biomass of flying insects over the past 27 years.
The mass insect decline has a myriad of knock-on effects in the ecosystem, including a collateral insect-eating bird population decline which will further exacerbate the food-chain domino effect.
Invasive species alter natural environments by affecting light and temperature, as well as altering risk and frequency of fires, the water table, and nutrient cycling. Non-native species change the micro-organisms in soils around them, in turn affecting the ability of native species to access soil nutrients.
Unimaginable amounts of non-native species have been introduced to new areas by colonisation, agriculture, forestry and for various reasons by home gardeners.
Tree plantations of non-native species almost always spread into the surrounding natural spaces - altering the ecosystem, using up available water, and creating fire risk. This example was clearly illustrated in Knysna, South Africa, where pine plantations have leaked into the natural fynbos vegetation. This caused massive, extremely hot fires to decimate the area in 2017 – burning down hundreds of houses, killing countless animals and taking out 5000 hectares of plantations. Pine trees and dry conditions caused the fire to burn hotter and faster than indigenous trees ever could. Residents noted that when the fires reached the indigenous forest, they very quickly fizzled out.
The introduction of invasive and non-native plant species often brings along potentially invasive insects as eggs or live specimens. These insects often die out due to the change in climate or lack of food, however, they are just as likely to become a problem. An example of this is the Chinese Harlequin ladybug that is considered an invasive species in Europe, North America and South Africa. It is more aggressive than most native ladybirds and, therefore, out-competes them by consuming all available food resources and by sheer numbers. Native ladybirds and all the necessary food-chain effects linked to them are then reduced or eradicated.
With biodiversity receiving a well-deserved spotlight for its importance in maintaining the health of animals and humans, keeping wild species alive, and combating climate change, we must acknowledge the effects of our home gardens. Spaces with the potential to become diverse sanctuaries for struggling plant, insect and small animal species are instead filled with common, non-native flowers and lawn grass – creating ‘food deserts’ for insects, birds and animals alike.
American entomologist, Douglas Tallamy, has stated that American homeowners could create a “Homegrown National Park” larger than Yellowstone, Yosemite and 11 other famous national parks combined just by converting half of their lawns into diverse, indigenous plant sanctuaries.
The power lies with us, in numerous small actions. Planting up verges, lawns, garden edges, park edges, street divisions and public space gardens with diverse, native plant species can and will have a massive impact on our biodiversity crisis and the global insect decline.
Written By: Kelly Steenhuisen
In Ramsar in 1971 February second, The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance was adopted. 2021 is the 150th celebration of World Wetlands Day.
A wetland area identifiable by water being the main characteristic of the landscape. It is an area where the soil is covered with water all year or for varying periods, particularly during the growing season, always retaining saturated soil and act as a natural carbon sink. By regulating streamflows, they are responsible for the reduction of droughts and floods. They also serve the purpose of purifying water through trapping sediments and removing pollutants, which helps to purify water, as well as providing habitat for a diverse array of plants and animals.
Wetlands are crucial for climate adaption. Peatlands are a type of wetland that covers 3% of the world and store nearly a third of all land-based carbon. Salt marshes, mangroves, and seagrass beds are categorised as Coastal wetlands and are one of the most carbon-dense ecosystems. Inland wetlands absorb excess rain to slow down the movement of water and distribute the water over the floodplain more evenly, thus preventing flooding from occurring and delaying droughts.
Even though there is plentiful scientific evidence suggesting the importance of wetlands over the past 45 years a third of the wetlands have been lost, disappearing three times the usual rate. With global warming being a risk factor, the loss of wetlands has turned these areas into emission sources due to the burning and draining of peatlands for a tenth of the annual fossil fuel emission.
Indonesia has the third-largest area of peatlands worldwide, homing the most tropical peatlands in the world, storing 60 billion tons of carbon. Indonesia is part of the Global Peatlands Initiative, with plenty of mangroves on the continent, storing 3 billion tons of carbon.
In South Africa wetlands cover only 8% of the land area, and provides 51% of the populations’ water source, and support 64% of the economy.
11 percent of Uganda’s landmass is covered by wetlands, sustaining the country’s water sources and agricultural productivity, such as creating breeding grounds for large scale fisheries. They are facing encroachment, overexploitation, and degradation of its wetlands. Population growth is contributing to major water depletion and increasing the chances of flooding, through the increasing encroachment on swathes of urban and rural wetlands. Over 15 years Uganda has lost 30% of their wetlands which has contributed to the damage of the ecosystem, such as the silting of water bodies. To counter the deterioration of Uganda’s wetlands they have signed onto the Paris Agreement and placed goals for themselves to strive towards with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), by introducing a three-pronged approach which is dedicated to restore wetlands and enhance communities’ climate change adaptation capacity and resilience.
Did you know our favorite childhood movie ‘Shrek’ lives in a freshwater swap which is a type of wetland. Swamps are flat land around lakes or streams majority woody vegetation and are nutrient-rich environments with slow run-off. Homing river otters, all the way to freshwater shrimp.
Written By: Charlotte Mostert
Gov.za. 2021. World Wetlands Day 2021 | South African Government. [online] Available at: <https://www.gov.za/speeches/world-wetlands-day-2021-19-oct-2020-1048?gclid=CjwKCAiAu8SABhAxEiwAsodSZFmt1NnB0tWSug26vGFio8GKTFtqp6pLkx6wieWBzll8evlm4zq6vhoCbDgQAvD_BwE>
Worldwetlandsday.org. 2020. Story detail - WorldWetlandsDay. [online] Available at: <https://www.worldwetlandsday.org/story/-/detail/wetlands-are-a-natural-solution-to-climate-change?redirect=/stories>
Worldwetlandsday.org. 2020. Story detail - WorldWetlandsDay. [online] Available at: <https://www.worldwetlandsday.org/story/-/detail/wetlands-are-a-natural-solution-to-climate-change?redirect=/stories>
Worldwetlandsday.org. 2021. Story detail - WorldWetlandsDay. [online] Available at: <https://www.worldwetlandsday.org/story/-/detail/indonesia-creates-expert-wetlands-team-to-revitalize-development-goal-efforts?redirect=/>
Worldwetlandsday.org. 2020. Story detail - WorldWetlandsDay. [online] Available at: <https://www.worldwetlandsday.org/story/-/detail/south-africa-integrating-water-management?redirect=/stories>
Worldwetlandsday.org. 2020. Story detail - WorldWetlandsDay. [online] Available at: <https://www.worldwetlandsday.org/story/-/detail/preserving-uganda-s-wetlands-secures-a-brighter-future-for-country-and-planet?redirect=/stories>
The Wetlands Initiative. n.d. What Is a Wetland? — The Wetlands Initiative. [online] Available at: <http://www.wetlands-initiative.org/what-is-a-wetland>
Bees are a common talking point in environmental and agricultural circles, and for good reason: 70 of the 100 crop species that feed 90% of the world’s population rely on pollination by bees. Besides this, honey bees make many important medicinal products that are used cross-culturally, including: honey, beeswax and propolis.
The issue of Colony Collapse Disorder is massively increasing each year, resulting in beekeepers losing about 30% of their hives annually. This mass bee death is caused by viruses and the mites that spread them, as well as by crop pesticides that kill bees and lower their immune system, climate change and the decreasing access to bee’s natural medicines. These bee medicines we are referring to include a variety of pollen available from diverse plant sources, as well as secretions of polypore mushrooms that grow in forests. Pesticides on plants further exacerbate the problem by compromising the bees’ gut microflora, which they use to ferment pollen into ‘bee bread’ – a main food source for worker bees and larvae.
Interestingly, the same mushrooms that can be used to treat a variety of human illnesses are also used by bees to strengthen their immune systems and as natural antivirals. The most well-known examples being: Reishi (Ganoderma Lucidum), Amadou (Fomes Fomentarius) and Chaga (Inonotus Obliquus).
These bracket fungi grow on dead wood and trees that have sustained damage to the bark (often from bear or wild cat scratches). Bees dig into these mushrooms to feed on the mycelium beneath their surfaces. In studies done by famous mycologist, Paul Stamets, bees fed with medicinal mushroom extracts showed significantly improved chances of overcoming viral infections.
Bees are going through a tough time in the 21st Century, navigating the mass use of agricultural chemicals, noise and air pollution, purposeful extermination by scared and uneducated humans, monoculture and habitat loss. The most well-known honeybees, as well as the lesser known wild bees like bumblebees and solitary bees, are all in serious decline. Some effort is being made to curb this but it is really not nearly enough, especially considering that human beings would likely face extreme famine if bees became extinct. This would be due to the lack of plant pollination as well as the knock-on effect up the food chain.
Global warming is compounding the problem – as unusual temperature changes cause bees to remain in hibernation at the crucial time in the beginning of Spring when flowers first open. This results in the first wave of flowers receiving little to no pollination while the bees become weakened by an unnaturally extended period with no food.
In short, the usual suspects are to blame: bad agriculture, habitat loss and climate change. As conscious consumers, we must focus on these mega-problems by looking at our personal choices and by working in groups to fight destructive practices by large corporations and governments.
Here are some steps to take in one’s own home to protect bees, and their medicinal mushrooms:
It is up to each of us to take responsibility to preserve the incredibly intricate relationships of the natural world.
Written By: Kelly Steenhuisen
At the dawn of time, before plants, insects, animals and humans – there were mushrooms. These mushrooms, Prototaxites, looked very different to the little toadstools that we know today - they were 6-foot tall, trunk-like formations whose mycelium (root-like structure) was said to be one of the very first living things to begin converting our hostile rock planet into the lush green paradise that we now live on.
Mycelial hyphae spread out as single-cell thick root-like structures, breaking down rock and retrieving nutrients. This is what created soil and allowed the first primitive plants to take root. It’s easy to see why plants and mushrooms still nurture a symbiotic relationship in modern times.
Permaculturists and organic farmers know that it is important to honour the mycelium in soil. Many enlightened farmers actually focus mainly on nurturing the mycelium and allow that to take care of the plants for them. This is due to the fact that 90% of plants benefit from a relationship with fungi, and because mycelium draws down and stores carbon in the soil – adding nutrients and combating the high carbon dioxide levels that cause global warming.
Fungal hyphae colonise the roots of plants by forming a sheath around the root tips, or by sending tiny tendrils into the surface of the root, which opens up the exchange highway. The fungal hyphae then rapidly spread out into the surrounding soil, searching for and delivering important nutrients back to the plant while the plant feeds and ‘thanks’ the mycelium by giving it carbohydrate molecules – which plants are very apt at making. The mycelial network reaches much farther than the plant's roots are able to, and breaks down many nutrients that the plant would not be able to absorb on its own.
This mycorrhizal fungus also strengthens the immunity of plants naturally by triggering their defense mechanisms with root interference, ‘priming’ them for any later battles with pests and diseases – similar to how fighting off mild illnesses strengthens human immunity in the long-term.
This is merely the tip of an incredible iceberg of fascinating relationship benefits between plants and fungi. Unfortunately, modern agriculture completely disregards these relationships by essentially killing soils and then inadequately attempting to mimic the intelligent processes that naturally occur beneath the surface.
The practice of tilling soil destroys fungal networks whilst turning it and exposing it to the sun kills all micro-life present. Fungicides, as the name suggests, kill all fungi – including the beneficial fungi that feeds plants. Herbicides are one of the worst – negatively impacting beneficial fungi whilst allowing non-beneficial fungi to thrive and attack crops. It’s a vicious cycle: break up fungal hyphae by tilling, plant selected herbicide-resistant crops and spraying with herbicide to prevent weeds, allowing non-beneficial fungi to thrive and then spraying fungicide to combat this. This decimates everything besides the ailing, chemical laden and lonely plants that are then sold to us as some  watered-down version of food.
Not only is this terrible for fungi on fields and the surrounding environment – as well as insects and small animals – but also the low-immunity, drug-addicted plants that are no longer able to go through the normal processes that would result in the creation of nutrients within themselves. Combined with the lack of diversity in monoculture, this creates food crops that are lacking in nutrients which means that people need to eat more to feel full, severely exasperating the obesity issue facing society.
In order to fight these near-sighted, money-driven practices – we must make every effort to support not only organic agriculture, but small, local farmers that are going beyond organic – regenerating soils and honouring natural biodiversity. Growing one’s own food will also have a huge impact. It is our duty as environmentally conscious consumers to be aware and to make the changes necessary to protect fungi – the life-bringers.
TRUTH BOMB! I love it
By Kelly Steenhuisen
Permaculture – an amalgamation of the words ‘permanent’ and ‘agriculture’ coined by scientist Bill Mollison and his student, David Holmgren – is a system that offers us the tools to design our way out of numerous crises facing humanity.
Permaculture has become a widely used and extremely misunderstood term. Before one can harness the ancient wisdom behind the ethics and principles of Permaculture, one must truly understand what it is – at its essence.
In order to understand what it is, it may be helpful to acknowledge what it is not. Permaculture is not gardening, nor is it living sustainably; it is not a cult or a religion, nor is it a hard set of rules. One cannot say that their vegetable patch is ‘a Permaculture’ – it is not a noun. It is not an ego trip for one to boast that they know better than another and it is no longer common sense in the Western world. Lastly, Permaculture is not a system created by old, white men. Permaculture is old knowledge that was formulated and has been used by indigenous people for millennia – Mollison and Holmgren simply structured this knowledge into an accessible and usable format for the modern human, and they have stated so often.
As a design system, Permaculture is about action – it is a mindset and therefore, one could say that they live their life or have designed their home and garden or village using the teachings of Permaculture. It is the intricate connections between the elements that make up the designs of entire human settlements, it is systems thinking. It can be highly complex, if one dives deep, or extremely simple. A garden fits into the Permaculture system as it fulfills the human need to eat – it creates food security. That being said, one could design their life according to the principles without growing a single plant – social Permaculture.
Permaculture asks us to live without excess (to reduce our waste and transform it into a resource), to view ourselves as connected to all things and to cultivate a solution-based mindset. Using the tools that the principles of Permaculture provide, it is possible to shape our individual lives and to redesign the destructive systems at play to morph the current apocalyptic narrative into something regenerative.
Through the lens of Permaculture, one will realise that sustainability is not enough – regeneration is key – and manicured lawns are not beautiful, but rather wasteful and ridiculous. The lens magnifies what corporations gloss over and shows us that the current norm of destructive agriculture is catapulting humanity towards the precipice of environmental catastrophe. Permaculture shows us that the destruction of the natural world is a tragedy disguised as ‘progress’; it shows us that the creepy crawly creatures we so often fear are, in fact, an important part of biodiversity.
Many simplified definitions of Permaculture can be found: Bill Mollison has described it as “a persistent system that supports human existence”, and as “a philosophy of working with, rather than against, nature.” Marit Parker describes it as something that “joins the dots between different areas of our lives, different interests and different issues that affect us,” while Heather Jo Flores describes it as “community, human and non-human, interconnected.”
Personally, I see Permaculture as a call to action, an empowering body of fascinating knowledge and a workable set of solutions in a world of problems. I see it as accountability for our role as Earth custodians, enabling us to design our mindsets in favour of the natural world, so that the paradise of Earth may naturally regrow.
Written by: Kelly Steenhuisen
Resources and Further Reading:
It is an unusually hot morning for early May, and we are clustered on the western side of the half-complete, skeletal structure of Heartland’s new school building and community center. At our feet is a fluffy heap of barley straw, to our right is a halved, recycled water tank, awash in a deliciously smooth clay and water concoction: slip.
In a day and age of vast overuse of energy-intensive building materials, the only logical place to turn, when it comes to the recreation of the Garden Route’s infrastructure, is towards sustainable building techniques. When I say recreation, I mean the mass rebuild which had to take place after the 2017 fires ravaged a 300km stretch of South Africa’s pristine south coast.
With the intention to both minimise negative ecological impacts and maximise the use of locally produced renewable materials, eco architecture aims to incorporate sustainable design practices which involve the integration of the building into its natural environment.
Heartland School of Self-Sufficiency was burned to the ground when the fires swept through the back-to-back farms and smallholdings just outside Sedgefield. In their case, when it comes to working closely to their environment, they’ve made use of clay harvested from a small deposit on the banks of their dam, locally sourced barley straw, and a generous assortment of materials both donated or salvaged from the wreckage left from the fire.
All bricks used for the foundation were sourced from previous buildings on the land which burnt, while the turf roof, which is now planted generously with sour fig, actually survived the fire. This new building will not only be the new school space but also a community center, comprising of a pottery studio, music room, and yoga space utilised as an engaging, co-creative learning environment.
The partly-finished building is a delightfully creamed-honey colour and is veined in the texture of the straw. Fine green shoots are beginning to sprout from the older walls as they dry out beneath the autumn sun. This is natural and important to the process. As the remaining barley and wheat seeds in the straw sprout, the tiny roots assist in further binding the wall, and their dying-off is a natural indication of moisture levels in the wall, marking an apt time to begin the final process of plastering.
The design of the building primarily incorporates a timber framework and light straw clay infill. The process of the infill is swift and simple, once all core aspects are in place.
A fine slip is made by roughly sieving the clay and combining it with a 2:1 ratio of water to clay. The clay mixture can then be sieved again through a fine mesh to eliminate any large clumps. The final consistency should be that of thick cream - it looks good enough to eat, and certainly good enough to bathe in.
This slip is then combined with the straw (barley or wheat, whichever can be locally sourced) until lightly coated. The quantities equate to roughly four litres of slip for enough straw to stuff into a 25 litre bucket. The final product should only be wet enough to clump when squeezed, and is then put aside to cure overnight.
Then to build the walls.
The tamping process is equally straightforward. Wooden form-work is applied to either side of the timbre framework and light straw mixture is applied in layers or ‘lifts’ - approximately 20cm when loosely packed - before it is stamped firmly down, either by foot or with a wooden tool.
Depending on the width of the panel and the height of the wall, this is a process with varying degrees of difficulty. I brace myself alongside a crossbeam and work my feet up and down the narrow space, as the damp straw compresses delightfully beneath my toes. By the time we’ve worked the wall halfway up however, I am half wedged against the roofing, awkwardly suspended by one arm tucked around a broad beam. It’s almost time to abandon footwork entirely.
Any gaps or spaces found within the infill once the panel is complete can be plugged with ‘chinking’ - a denser mixture of river sand, clay and straw which can be stuffed into or smoothed over the areas. Give it a couple of weeks to dry out and sprout, then a plaster of lime and cow dung smooths things over for your light straw clay home. Voila!
This is a process which finds all the elements in motion. Earth and water in their physical form; as well as air and the sun’s heat, intrinsic to the drying and crystallisation of the walls final structure.
Although it is one one of the lesser known methods of sustainable building - which sits in the shadow of the more common cob or adobe techniques - Light Straw Clay is likely one of most cost-effective, simple, and yet highly durable techniques when it comes to building naturally.
More information on the building technique can be found in Essential Light Straw Clay Construction, available on Amazon.
Heartland School of Self Sufficiency is now up and running once again, and you can see more about them on their Facebook Page.
By Skye Mallac
What is Sustainability?
Sustainability is "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Sustainability is the management of Earth's ecosystems in a way that promotes the wellbeing of all species and future generations. To ensure environmental stability, we need to establish the use of resources within the natural boundaries of the planet.
The environment is influenced by a number of systems - namely social, economic and ecological - all of which contribute to the promotion or reduction of environmental stability. For social and economic sustainability to occur, there needs to be a sustainable environment - it is a prerequisite for the maintenance of diverse life. Human beings are part of the biosphere, but we are rapidly exploiting it. Our species is currently consuming more than Earth's ecosystems can withstand.
The climate emergency is a threat to all species on earth, including humanity. It is exacerbating the rate of biodiversity loss, and has resulted in the unfolding of the sixth mass extinction: the Anthropocene.
With rapidly growing urban areas and a global population size of approximately 7 and a half billion people, our consumption rates are increasing exponentially. We are depleting Earth's resources, rapidly resulting in an environmental and ecological emergency.
The exponential growth of the human population means that the increased consumption rates are pressurising ecosystems and are exceeding their functional thresholds.
Figure 2: https://www.kateraworth.com/
Once an ecosystem has passed its threshold it can no longer revert back to its original state. We are pressuring a number of ecosystems beyond their functional capacity and are exacerbating our anthropogenic impact on the environment exponentially. This is why we, as a collective, need to rise to the challenge of changing our behaviour in order to ensure our actions and choices promote sustainability so that we can preserve the planet and all the creatures who call it home.