Edu-ca/ac-tion Indaba

Ten days ago, supported by EThekwini Municipality and Green Corridors, around 100 environmental education / public awareness practitioners met for an Indaba to discuss how we can accelerate our joint response to the intensifying climate crisis, and to pull together an Environmental Education & Action Network.

The organizers invited me to open the discussion by talking about “What triggered you to start acting or doing what you do?” The same question was discussed among attendees later.

So here is the mystery: Why does knowing about a deadly danger not automatically cause action, or a change in behaviour? When and why do we act (differently)?

At a recent FAO webinar on environmental education, the presenters explained how knowledge about human behaviour can contribute to pro-environmental action.

According to Self-determination theory, humans need 3 basic psychological foods: Competence: being able to do things. Autonomy: having the freedom and power to be and do. Relatedness: being connected with others.

We do things, when we feel able, when we have courage to try: “I can do this, this is not beyond me. I have the capacity. I know what to do.” Knowledge and practical know-how are also part of it. Competence.

We do things when we have the freedom to do and act. “I can choose, nobody is forcing me, I can look and judge for myself, I can evaluate and make good decisions. I can find the means to do this.” Autonomy.

We do things when we can do it together. We need to know we are not alone, that there are others doing it. We even experience FOMO, the fear of missing out. Humans love getting together, agreeing on things, doing things with others who feel the same way, or doing things that bring us closer together. Relatedness.

One can design education programmes around this.

Individual behaviour can also change when systems are set up to make it easy.

“Environmental problems are collective action problems. Targeting individual attitudes and behaviours is not enough. We need to change the systems that influence our behaviours.” (S. Hanisch)
“Nudges: positive and gentle persuasion to encourage sustainable behaviour… Nudging is based on an understanding of the psychology of decision-making… We use mental shortcuts – do what everyone else is doing or take the easiest way… we follow ingrained routines or act on auto-pilot.” (from th booklet)

UNEP has published a downloadable Little Book of Green Nudges, that shows how this principle can be applied to encourage people to make sustainable choices. If you can offer pro-environmental, sustainable behaviour options that are easier than unsustainable ones, that are attractive, that promote togetherness or that show how you can join others who are already doing them, and if you offer these options at the right time and place, then there is a good chance sustainable behaviours will win over unsustainable ones.

E=Easy, A=Attractive, S=Social, T=Timely spells out EAST.

As EASTER Action, we would like to add ER: E=Effective and R=Responsible.

E for Effective. Lets make sure the ‘sustainable’ action is truly effective, no ‘green-washing’ please. For example carbon trading gone wrong. Or ‘recycling’ that does not work as promised, and only excuses the abuse of plastic. Or thoughtless ‘tree planting’. Or switching off every little LED light, while leaving the geyser set to 70°C day and night.

R for Responsible. Those of us who have the most and spend the most, are most responsible for the problem and therefore most responsible to act (differently). People cannot consider the environment or the climate when their families are hungry, or plan for tomorrow when today is not taken care of. “Leaving no-one behind” is a key principle of the Sustainable Development Goals.

These were mentioned as caveats, but are best included up front.

So when did I start acting on climate change and the environment? I started eradicating exotic plants when it was my little part of nature, not someone else’s (ownership? custodianship?) and when I learned to tell alien from indigenous plants. I started acting on climate change once I realized just how big and bad my personal contribution was, and when I knew what actions would make a meaningful difference.

My little patch of indigenous swamp forest. My piece of nature. Mine to cherish and to protect. (Not as in ‘mine mine‘, but more like ‘my’ family, ‘my’ children: I love them and I am responsible.)
Oh the shock, realizing that one short drive into town and back home produces 10kg CO2 emissions! … Oh the joy, being able to avoid several tons of CO2 emissions per year for electricity!

Rag rugs

The Internet is full of fantastic ideas for upcycling generally (turning waste into something useful), and rag-rugs specifically. Old T-shirts too stained to pass on as second-hand clothing, still find a use. Stretchy fabric works best. Ideally the fabric should not fray.

Rags to strips

Start by cutting off any seams. Then cut the fabric into strips, in a zig-zag pattern to make one long continuous ribbon. You don’t need to cut straight either, curves is fine.

On fabrics that stretch in one direction only, it is better cutting in the direction of the stretch rather than across it.

The strips can be from 1 to 3cm wide. The thinner the fabric, the wider the strips.

The thicker the yarn, the thicker the final carpet will turn out.

Find a route that has the smallest off-cuts, for instance:


To save time, fold the fabric in half. Cut from the fold to within 1cm of the edge. Open up the fabric, and snip through to the edge, on alternating rows, to create a continuous strip, like this:

A lovely selection of matching colours.

Strips to yarn

To connect individual strips quickly and easily, loop them through each other. Cut slots into the ends; first push the end of strip A through the slot in B, then pull strip B through the slot in A:

Once I got a huge bag of off-cuts from a T-shirt factory. It took ages to untangle all that cotton Lycra – much longer than it took to crochet the rugs afterwards.

Yarn to rug

If you don’t know how to crochet, check out Sarah‘s blog for example. The simplest crochet pattern starts with a chain, and then works back and forth until the rug is long enough.

The last time I crocheted anything was at age 5.

Here is an alternative pattern for a rectangular rug. Hopefully the instructions make sense. (I am a complete novice and cannot read or write a proper crochet recipe.)

First, mark out on the floor how big you want the rug to be. Mark out two right-angled triangles on each end. Measure how long the starting chain needs to be. Calculate 2cm per stitch.

On this rug the starting chain was 50cm long, about 25 stitches.

Use a 10mm thick crocheting hook.

  • Create a chain (Step 4 on Sarah’s blog)
  • ‘Work into the chain’ (Step 5)
  • As you get back to the beginning, put three stitches in the end loop of the chain (figure A below).
  • Crochet along the chain and do the same on the other end (A).
  • On the next round, add an extra stitch on each of the four corners (B).
  • On the following round, and each round thereafter, add two stitches in each corner (C).
  • With each round, there are two extra stitches on each side of the rectangle (D).
  • When the rug is big enough, or you run out of yarn, fasten off (Step 9).

I love my colourful rug!

Bottle garden

In a city, one doesn’t always have access to a vegetable patch. But vertical gardens are a great way to grow food on hot, sunny walls.

Here is a 4min video of how to make this fully functional drip-irrigated vertical vegetable garden using recycled 2L plastic milk bottles.

On the Internet there are many different ideas and designs for vertical bottle gardens. Some of them are quite complicated, and need lots of hardware. My aim is always to spend as little time, money and energy as possible, and to recycle junk that is lying around anyway. Plus it must actually work. Tried and tested.

I started experimenting back in 2019. The first design was a flop. Ok I managed to grow a crop of veggies, but (a) each bottle had to be watered individually (groan!), (b) the water simply dripped out the bottom (leeching the soil), (c) the soil shrank in the bottle as it dried leaving a gap, so the water would just run around the soil without getting absorbed, (d) … anyway, there were other drawbacks that are not worth listing.

This arrangement was ultimately not successful.

The only part that really worked was the idea to use wire and square metal brackets hung loosely over the top of the wall, to hold up the bottle racks, instead of drilling and screwing anything permanently into the bricks. This system was quick and easy to put up, move and importantly – remove. On house walls one could hold up the rack by wires attached to roof rafters or window sills.

As for the bottles – after much head-scratching and fiddling, I came up with a much better system: a row of bottles, connected to each other and set up at an angle, like so:

The end bottle is the reservoir. Simply fill up this tank with water. The lid has holes punched in it. The water gently irrigates the first bottle, then dribbles slowly from one bottle to the next. Reduce the flow from the tank by blocking some of the holes with toothpicks.

A container at the bottom collects the overflow – a nutrient-rich tea, which can be poured back in the top, to recycle nutrients.

Watering is quick and easy, but the actual irrigation is slow, and the soil gets a thorough soaking. As a result it stays wet longer. You can even control the moisture level: the steeper the angle of the rack, the better it drains. If you lower the rack, more water pools in each bottle. This helps fully grown plants to cope in the heat of summer. (But avoid water logging.)

I have successfully grown several crops of vegetables: lettuce, spinach, various herbs (parsley, dill, chives, leeks, basil), celery, also green beans, radish. Even cauliflower – though the monkeys got to them first.

Cucumbers also grow very well in bottles: set up two racks about 2m apart, and zig-zag a string between them. This works for runner beans too. Just help each plant to find the right path.

Soil quality is something I am still learning about. Diluted urine, bone meal, wood ash and Epsom salt are organic alternatives to artificial fertilizer. But I have found it is easy to overfertilize, because nutrients cycle around this self-contained unit. It is probably best to replace the soil once a year, mixing in fresh compost, and rotating crops. The plastic bottles also become brittle from the sun and don’t last longer than two seasons.

On 1 November is World Vegan Day. We are not vegans, but I respect the choice. This blog is my salute to you, Douglas, Glenda, Shannon, Chloe and others. I share your love for veggies.

by Marlies Craig

Solar home

As I write, our neighbourhood is wrapped in darkness. At Stage 6 national load shedding, electricity cuts out several times a day. But we hardly notice. We enjoy the benefits of energy that shines down from the sky, for free, every day.

In August we installed a solar power system. After fretting for a while over the cost, we saved up and just did it, knowing that this investment will pay itself back in a few years. After that, electricity will be free.

Installed and pumping electricity!

Best of all, we reduced our family’s carbon footprint, making a major contribution from our side towards solving the climate change crisis.

The best location for solar panels was the garage roof, as it is the most nearly North-facing, with the least shade.

The solar panels convert sunlight into electricity. This power is variable, and it comes in as DC (direct current) while the home uses AC (alternating current). So the current has to go through an inverter.

The inverter receives electricity (from the panels, from the grid or from a battery), converts it as required, and sends it as required to the home or the battery or exports it to the grid. Beware: the inverter is noisy.

Batteries supply power at night. Without them electricity would only be available during daylight hours. They act as a storage tank, ensuring a steady supply while power production peaks and dips. The inverter also needs a battery to start up during power outages (it is a computer after all). This took me a while to understand. Without electricity from the grid or from a battery, the inverter cannot power up in the morning, and the solar panels are useless.

The Watt ratings on the panels indicate the maximum power produced per square meter. I don’t know if one ever reaches that maximum, but today at lunch time (a blazing sunny spring day) our panels produced 85% of their total rating.

An online app records and makes pretty graphs of everything – the energy being harvested from the sun, our electricity usage, how much we import and export from and to the grid, even an estimate of total savings – in Rands (our monthly electricity bill) and in carbon dioxide (1.8 tons in under 3 months, or more than half a ton of coal). Wow!

Electricity production (green area) depends on the weather, the length of the day, and other factors.

At this time of year the weather is extremely variable, swinging from blazing hot sunny days to grey fog and drizzle, and back. Despite this, our solar system has supplied our needs, on average. On some days we import from the grid, on others we export. Even on the darkest days with heavy cloud cover, the panels produce at least enough electricity to keep the fridge and freezer going 24/7 (with two batteries). But this is good to know.

Back to question of money: these past few years the cost of solar power has come DOWN, to the point where it is now getting cheaper than electricity from fossil fuels (like coal power stations). At current electricity prices our system (which we paid for cash) would take about 10-11 years to pay off.

But electricity prices in South Africa have gone UP, faster than inflation (15% annual increase on average since 2008, which is 3x faster than inflation). If this trend continues (very likely) we will get our money back in about 7 years, after that, profit. So this is an investment that makes business sense. No wonder more and more businesses are installing solar power. In theory one can start small and add more over time.

I just discovered that 13 October was International Day for Disaster Reduction. On 11 October 50% of Durban city was without power after an explosion at a major substation. Half a large city! The Durban flooding disaster damaged electricity infrastructure and caused major power outages. Sometimes we lose power for several days due to local faults. And have I mentioned the load shedding?

In every way solar power makes sense. It makes sense for today, it makes sense for the future, it makes sense financially, it makes sense for disaster readiness and for peace of mind.

by Marlies Craig

Climate Action Programme

On Youth Day (24 June 2022) the South African Youth Climate Change Coalition (SAYCCC) ran a workshop in Durban to strategize how to ramp up climate change action and activism, now that Covid-19 restrictions have been relaxed.

It was a timely opportunity for EASTERaction to hand out copies of What I Can Do About Climate Change booklet, and to present our plans for a brand new Action Programme to go with it, which we hope to roll out over the next year.

Participants included representatives from SAYCCC-affiliated climate action groups such as Durban South Peacebuilders, Durban Youth Climate Council, eThekwini municipality, Green Anglicans, Ray Nkonyeni Municipality, uShaka Marine World Education, Vascowiz, and our lovely local beauty pageant, Miss Petite Globe SA, Zoe Nyandeni, who wants to help spread the word on climate change and sustainable living. Go Zoe!!

The booklet was originally written to inform eThekwini municipal councilors about personal climate action. One day before our workshop, the booklet was distributed at a climate induction workshop run by the Environmental Planning and Climate Protection Department.

Thank you SAYCCC for this opportunity and for your enthusiasm! We very much look forward collaborating on ‘the biggest challenge facing humankind ever’.