Earth Day and ‘greening’ the city of gold

I was reminded of the beauty of Johannesburg while walking our dogs at Delta Park. It’s a magnificent park in the middle of suburbia between Craighall and Victory Park. Despite my beautiful surroundings, I also thought about the state of the city’s natural environment and how relatively little attention is paid by residents, businesses and government to sustain the fragile ecosystem and heed calls from initiatives such as Earth Day.

Clearly the millions of city residents living in poverty or with very limited means have more pressing priorities, but for the most part, the majority of economically active Johannesburg residents aren’t worried about the environment. They couldn’t be bothered about recycling or aren’t overly concerned about the threat posed by acid mining.

If you are lucky enough to live in an apartment or house, chances are the builder hasn’t given too much thought to its insulation or energy efficiency. There is a slim chance you recycle plastic, glass, waste and paper. Even though electricity is expensive, you are likely to keep the under floor heating going throughout the winter months. You may be interested in a solar geyser, but you have written-off the idea because it’s just too expense. I wouldn’t blame you, as it is currently too expensive.  If you are like most Jo’ burgers, you probably regularly drive past business premises with office lights burning a hole into the night. There is a good chance you either own or have recently parked next to a petrol-guzzling off-road vehicle that shows the signs of occasionally mounting the odd suburban curb. While shopping for food, you are probably too busy thinking about dinner and haven’t noticed the avocado in your basket has notched up gold frequent flyer mile status together with a huge carbon-footprint on its way to South Africa from another continent.

I am obviously generalising. Johannesburg’s attitude to the environment is not unique, but we need to act now rather than later. Below are three ideas I have thrown into ‘a green hat’ that if implemented, could help to change the status quo.

1. Regulate green initiatives and enforce laws

Local government must incentivise Johannesburg residents and business-owners to think green. It’s amazing what a tax break, discount or new law will do to make an individual act differently. Green products and services, such as solar-powered geysers should be heavily subsidised to the extent that their pricing is comparable with incumbent products and services.   There should be a recycling rebate for homes and business. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if government encouraged the development of infrastructure to allow city homes creating excess renewable energy to sell power back into the electricity grid?  At the same time, we need skilled law-makers, decisive regulators and passionate educators that have a long term vision to transform the city into a true green belt.

2. Create jobs and develop skills to fuel the green economic opportunity

A specialised skills set is required to manage and leverage the economic benefits of green initiatives such as the recycling channel and renewable energy generation .  After attending the Energy Indaba  in Sandton earlier this year, it is clear there is a huge opportunity for job creation, especially in the solar and wind sectors. This opportunity requires government regulators, academics, system integrators and vendors to work together to set job creation goals and build a pool of skills to service the future demand for renewable energy.

3. Create new indigenous green spaces

In a previous post, I mentioned Johannesburg is often referred to as an urban forest. The reality is the green belt only takes into account established suburbs. The beautiful trees that make up this urban forest are not indigenous, putting a strain on natural water sources. Johannesburg City Parks is creating new indigenous park life throughout the city, including townships.  I believe there is an opportunity to create learning centres for these green spaces to educate children and empower adults with the skills that allow them to take part in the green economy. The commuity business projects could include recycling services,  indigenious garden services or organic vegetable gardens marketed across the city.

Driving through Sandton last week, I noticed a new green space destined for the corner of Sandton Drive and Grayston. This is good news, as Sandton is in need of a park that is within two minutes of the central business area.

My favourite green spaces in Johannesburg are Delta Park, Emmarentia Dam and Northern Farm.  Enjoy the park life, but don’t venture out alone or after dark.

I would love to hear your opinions. What did you do on Earth Day?

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