Greetings from a very dry, fire and climate change ravaged Lowveld. Winter looks like it may finally be making an exit, the stinkhout trees have started to bud into leaf and the first of the jasmine is out. The clivias are competing with the coral trees to add a flash of colour to an otherwise rather drab environment. This year the fires in the veld and plantations around us have been the worst since we moved down here (five years to the month, time just moves too fast). The roads towards Sabie, Lydenberg and Badplaas look like a bad horror movie backdrop. We just wish that the plantations could revert to the pristine grasslands that they once were.
The driving motivation for this green missionary update is Maru and Simon’s future; it’s that selfish gene thing. Simon turned ten in June and we celebrated by going to a Raptor Rescue Centre where they did the most fantastic flying demonstrations with a barn owl and various falcons. Simon has decided that he wants to become a falconer… so if you know of any injured birds that need a home let us know. Maru turned seven in April and Simon (against Tamar and Judith’s advice) got her a hamster for a gift. Fluffapuff is the most charming pink-footed creature that we have seen and now makes a lot of noise each night in her custom-built palace.
Syneth returned from Tamarind at the beginning of June and it is great to have him back in the studio. Sarah Dudley and Ulrich Kuehle have returned to the studio for six months to help edition a mountain of prints for William Kentridge. The series of prints are more paper constructions than pure print and have stretched our abilities to the limits. Coffee and frequent treats of choc chip cookies and brownies are keeping the focus up. Some of these prints will be on Kentridge’s upcoming exhibition in the USA. Conrad Botes is currently in the studio and has created a new record by working straight through the night to correct colours on the large print that he is working on (who said artists are layabouts?).
Tamar completed a commission for the Graham Beck Wine Estate tasting room in Franschhoek (6m x 2m); it is embroidery and beadwork on fabric and looks stunning. Go to the artist’s page and scroll down to Tamar’s name near the bottom. The panel is based on the history of Franschhoek and surrounding areas. Tamar also exhibited her sculptures at a group show for the re-opening of the Sally Thompson Gallery in Melville in May.
A few months ago we saw Al Gore’s movie “The Inconvenient Truth”(if you have not seen it please get the DVD) it wraps up what a mess we have made of the planet and underscores what a mess we are leaving for our children and future generations. We have been taking a long hard look at what we contribute to climate change and are trying to take some action to make our carbon footprints as light as possible. It’s difficult not getting too missionary about all of this but the wannabe struggle activist does surface so here goes….
Get rid of the gas guzzler, SUVs and 4 x 4 ownership should be criminalised (own one? Get rid of it!!). We bought a Toyota Yaris (yes it can get across our bumpy dirt road…just) and it uses just over 5 litres of fuel to 100kms. Our next vehicle will probably be one of those hand pushed carts that people use in Maputo to get water, building materials etc around, it should make quite a statement in White River. We also make a point of buying fuel from South African fuel producers when we have the choice, this means Sasol, Engen and Excel. That way money stays in South Africa and the transport costs are lower in getting it to our evil cars. Ask the fuel attendant to use the auto stop to stop petrol sloshing out of an overfull tank. Don’t exceed the legal speed limit, travelling at 90km/h gives you up to 21% better mileage when compared to 110km/h. Traveling at fast rates in low gears can consume up to 45% more fuel than is needed. Inflate all tires to the maximum limit. Air conditioners can reduce fuel economy by 10% to 20%. Heater fan, power windows and seats increase engine load; the more load on your engine the less mileage you get. And then try to pool transport (Cape Town and Joburg could use lots of this, the roads there are nuts!) our kids walk to catch a lift each morning to school (we have worked out that they have almost covered the distance between here and Joburg in a year and a half). By being in this lift club I am saved twenty hours a month of being stuck in the car as well as saving a load of fuel.
Using electricity to heat your water? An average hot bath (100 litres of water) uses up 50kg of coal to generate the electricity. Its filthy stuff and is poisoning river systems on the highveld not too mention the tons it adds to carbon emissions. We have installed solar water geysers onto our house and are going to put them into the guesthouse and workshop as well. Its already saving us about 40% on our electricity bill and makes a good hot bath easy on the conscience. The least you can do is get your geyser turned down as low as possible and cuddle it in an insulating blanket. We have also put low energy light bulbs into every socket we can find (now we just have to find some safe way of disposing of them – currently a plastic bag hanging in the pantry along with used batteries…), we have worked out that these bulbs also handle power surges better than the regular ones and they last a lot longer. On a web search, we came across the wall wart concept… those piles of plugs and adaptors that seem to grow on every computer, TV, sound system etc outlet. They chomp quite a lot of electricity when they are off duty (about 5% of your usage). Your cell phone charger is also gobbling up resources when it is left plugged in when you have finished charging your phone. Pull it out when not in use, think of it as a weed!
To cook on we have put gas stoves into all the kitchens on the property (six!), which is a lesser evil than using electricity to cook with. It also means we get to enjoy hot meals when our neighbours are held by the whims of Eskom's power supply and outages in summer from rampant gum trees falling across the lines during summer storms (rather spectacular, a bit of the aurora borealis in the Lowveld!). Don’t know if we are quite ready to buy a solar cooker yet (lots of ads in the Farmers Weekly).
The average household in South Africa generates one ton of recyclable waste each year. Create jobs and recycle your waste. We recycle glass, plastic, metal (tins etc), and paper. We wash the food containers and then put it all in bins by the workshop and take it off onto Nelspruit to Green’s Waste when there is a full carload. In Newtown Mark insulated the ceiling of his studio at the Bag Factory with polystyrene packaging from sewing machine parts (he found a pile of them on the sidewalk!!), we have continued this fine idea by tossing clean Styrofoam packaging and food trays into the ceiling of our house. If you live in a city recycling should be even easier to do. In Jhb contact Resolution Recycling 011 618 2246 (they will collect from your house for a small fee) and in Cape Town contact Oasis Association 021 671 2698 Oasis Recycling's website or even Kool Waste 021 712 3137 who will collect your recyclables for the price of a few latte’s a month.
All our organic waste goes onto the compost heap for the organic vegetable and fruit garden. Which brings me to the local is lekker concept… Veggies from the garden require no packaging, transport or electricity fired storage, they are as full of nutrients as they can be being fresh and organic, growing them saves on gym membership fees and provides a free stress outlet (saves on therapy sessions for us). We have also taken to buying locally where we can. This means no more imported olive oil (South Africa can compete with Italy in terms of quality these days and the price has come down a lot, check out even the prices at Woolies); our milk comes from a local dairy owned by South Africans (not Parmalat), and oranges and other fresh produce bought from roadside vendors where we can. Out of season plums, strawberries and other yummy stuff dragged in from Israel, Kenya, and Egypt have also been banned from the table (fascism sits snugly here).
Middle to high-income earners who are energy aware (small car doing 10 000 kms a year, small house, use electricity sparingly, compact fluorescent lights throughout, solar water heater, two short-haul return flights per year) have a carbon footprint of 6 tonnes a year. Middle to high-income earners who have a large car doing 20 000 kms per year, large house, uses electricity rapaciously, has no energy saving initiatives and does 10 short haul and three long-haul return flights per year (does this sound close to home??) has a footprint of 22 tonnes per year. And then there are the people who we should all be emulating the low income and energy poor who have no car, live in low-cost housing, use public transport, walk and cycle, and do not fly. Here the footprint is 4 tonnes, this is impressive and sets an example for the rest of us (yikes, how do they survive without a plasma screen TV?). But the UK based Carbon Reduction Action Groups say we should get to 4.5 tonnes in the short term and should all be aiming for one ton…. South African emissions per capita are still half of those of the USA and are slightly lower than Russia’s but we are three times higher than China’s and nine times higher than India’s.
Measure your carbon footprint you can work it out on www.trees.co.za which is developed for South Africans. We have worked out that we need to plant 30 trees a year to offset our emissions. Luckily we have space and are already doing this, although we have some catching up to do 30 trees per year for the past five years is a lot. We have planted about 60 trees since we have been living here, 90 to go… If you have no space to plant a tree look at supporting www.trees.co.za as they have a carbon offset programme where you can donate money to plant trees in communities that really need them. Better still hook up with your own community and see where trees are needed. We have been employing Working for Water crews to clear alien trees from our property, they are well trained and can be found by contacting the national Working for Water offices and ask for crews in your area, tel 021 4412700. We have also removed the alien water lilies from our dam (took ages and almost broke a few backs) as they were choking the water (my high school English teacher would be horrified at my mangling of the language!). Removing the lilies was made simpler as we had to drain the dam as one of our “brain surgeon” neighbours had rinsed out pesticide drums in the canal and in so doing killed every fish in every dam in the valley. The planet is getting very grumpy with the way we treat her.
On a more ambitious front, we are looking at putting a water turbine into the canal to generate electricity. It all looks possible and the system is available from a Cape Town supplier, we are hoping that we can combine this with solar panels for electricity so that we can more or less remove ourselves from the national grid. Recently I tried to replace our iron with energy efficient one, apparently, appliances in the EU have a rating system but alas we have none here. So we use common sense and do not use a clothes dryer (a ridiculous concept given our climate), dishwasher or things like electric can openers, coffee makers etc etc (we have found great insulated unbreakable stainless steel plungers available from Sabie River Valley Coffee 013 737 8169).
On the studio front, we are looking at ways of being more efficient and have started to drop prints at the courier when we have to be in town for other reasons rather than dragging them out here. This all seems like fiddling while Rome burns, but we can and have to do something.
Hoping that this rather biased update galvanizes you into some environmental action….
With warm(??) green greetings
Mark and Tamar
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