Dyeing Easter Eggs – Naturally

Dyeing Easter Eggs – Naturally

How to dye Easter Eggs the natural way

It’s Easter (already!) Every year, I see Easter Eggs dyed in garish colours for sale at the shops. I shudder to think – what is in these dyes? This year, I decided to dye some eggs with natural colours, just for the fun of it.

This is a lovely project to do with kids, but if you want to produce several different colours it is quite a bit of work – not hard work, but time-consuming.

 

What you need

All you need are some eggs and some raw materials to make your dye baths. Use an old pot as some of the materials may stain permanently. Hard boil your eggs in advance. White eggs take on the colour better than brown ones.

  • White eggs, hard-boiled
  • Vinegar
  • An old pot
  • Dye materials:
    Yellow – 20g of dry Turmeric powder, or Yellow Onion Skins
    Orange – 1 cup of grated carrots
    Red – 1 cup of grated fresh beetroots
    Green – Fresh Nettles, or Spinach leaves. Chop finely and use at least 2 cups.
    Blue – 1 cup of grated red cabbage

Dye bath for Easter Eggs

 

Method:

Making the Dye Baths

The procedure is always the same. Take about 1 cup of dye material and 3 cups of water. Simmer for about 15-20minutes, then turn off the heat strain and cool. Add a couple of tablespoons of vinegar, then place your hard-boiled eggs into the dye bath and keep them submerged for about 24 hours.

After 24 hours remove the eggs. You can wash them if you want a cleaner, pastel colour or dry the eggs completely. For a final touch, polish them with a dab of oil to bring out the colour.

Note: Don’t leave the eggs in the dye bath for too long. I tried leaving them in there for two days, thinking that it might make the colour stronger. Maybe it did, a bit. But the eggshells turned soft.

Natural Dyes – The Colours of Nature

Natural Dyes – The Colours of Nature

The art of natural dyeing comprises a huge body of knowledge. Sadly, it has been fading ever since the discovery of tar-based pigments at the beginning of the 19th-Century. Natural dyeing methods and the intricate arts of natural textile design are fast becoming another relic of times gone by.

Unlike birds with their flamboyant feathery attire, human beings are not born with a naturally colourful outfit. The birthday suit varies in tone, but no matter what, it is pretty plain. We have to draw on our own ingenuity and creativity when it comes to designing our apparel.

A true game-changer in our human quest to stand out has been the discovery of how to use the colours of nature to our own advantage. The search for natural dyes is as ancient as it is universal. No matter which culture we examine, all have experimented and explored every conceivable source of pigments in their environment. Everything from shellfish to lichen, not to mention roots, barks, leaves, berries, fungi, and even flower stamens have been explored for their potential as a dye.

Body-paint

Even societies that traditionally pay little attention to clothing still use pigments to paint their bodies. Such body paints are typically obtained from ochre, chalk, and charcoal and usually used on special occasions such as rituals, healing ceremonies, or initiations.

A slightly more elaborate (and more permanent) type of body ornamentation is seen in the art of tattooing. But permanence is not necessarily always desirable. Being able to change design from time to time would certainly be nice. Certain vegetable dyes are used in this way. They last for a few days, at least, but not forever. before long they will wash off, thus leaving the ‘canvas’ clean for new designs. The best-known vegetable dye for temporary designs is Henna (Lawsonia inermis). Body painting with Henna is still widely practised in the Middle East and in Asia. It is an integral part of traditional wedding preparations.

In the West, Henna is mostly used as a popular hair dye, and nowadays also for temporary tattoos. In South America, indigenous people use Achiote (Bixa orellana), and Huito (Genipa americana), as body paint or dye.

Henna tattoo

Colour as code

But colours express more than just artful fancy. Practically all cultures associate certain colours with specific meanings. Colour is an essential key to the mysteries, which can unlock the significance of a whole complex of symbols. For example, the four directions are universally colour-coded, although different from one culture to the next. The colour encodes a whole network of associations – e.g. the East is the direction of the rising sun, of new beginnings, of birth etc. and its colour is often yellow, or white. The relevance to the topic of dyes is that the plants and materials which yield dyes have also become part of the symbol complex.

‘Show your true colours’

We still use colour in this way today, although usually in a secular context and more often than not, we are not even aware of it. We paint political parties red or blue, speak of ‘the grey (indistinguishable) masses’, or label things ‘green’, if they are eco-friendly. Different social groups still follow an unspoken dress-code – business people prefer greys, whites, beige, or dark blue, while Goths wear black. In the West, white is associated with purity, while in India, it is the colour of the dead and of ghosts.

Likewise, traditional costumes also convey much more than meets the uninitiated eye. Every piece of clothing signals a specific message informing those in the know as to the social and marital status of the wearer. This message was woven as pictographic symbols right into the fabric, or colour-coded into the design. Other items of clothing, worn only at certain times, e.g. during a hunting expedition, or for certain rituals, were covered in colour-coded protective symbols to act as spells.

Colour as a status symbol

Some natural colours are exceedingly precious due to the rarity of the substance that yields them. Royal purple is derived from molluscs, and not easy to come by. For a long time, it was a prerogative reserved for royalty to wear this colour.

Nor could an ordinary mortal afford it, given the extraordinary price tag. In Roman times (400AD) a pound of cloth dyed in royal purple costs the equivalent of $20.000! The mollusc was already endangered and very rare. And, as is often the case, the symbolic value drove up demand which in turn catapulted the price into an intergalactic orbit. As a result, the status association was reinforced.

Other colours, such as those obtained from walnut shells, or onion skins, or lichen were more easily available and widely used – despite the time-consuming process. Large amounts of plant materials had to be gathered; the linens and skeins of wool had to be prepared with a mordant to render them more absorbent and a fixative added in to fix the colour so it does not fade too quickly in subsequent washes.

The art of natural dyeing comprises a huge body of knowledge. Sadly, it has been fading ever since the discovery of tar-based pigments at the beginning of the 19th-Century. Natural dyeing methods and the intricate arts of natural textile design are fast becoming another relic of times gone by.

How to dye wool with natural materials

How to dye wool, using natural materials

Preparing the wool:

In order to prepare the yarn, it has to be gathered up into skeins and tied loosely but securely with a piece of yarn of the same material. The first step is to thoroughly wash the skeins. If you want to experiment at home, use natural wool as this is the easiest material to prepare.

All the natural oils in the wool have to be removed, so use a mild flaked natural soap, so that it will dissolve easily in hot water. Rinse the wool with several rinses of hot water to wash out all the soap.

Mordants

The washed yarn is now ready for the mordant bath. Depending on the mordant different shades of colour can be achieved using the same plant material. Commonly used mordants are alum, copper sulphate, iron sulphate, tin or chrome, which are toxic! (Keep out of reach of children!)

Due to this toxicity, some people prefer to do without. But without the mordant or the fixative the dyes are not colour-fast. They will run very easily in the next wash.

To produce a stronger colour one can ‘over-dye’ the skeins, i.e. submit them to several treatments in the dye bath. Only do this with yarn, not with finished pieces of textiles, or knitted jumpers since they will shrink in the hot dye bath.

The most commonly used mordant is Alum, which is another way of saying ‘potassium aluminium sulphate’. Sometimes the wool is subjected to several different mordants to achieve a different shade of colour.

Equipment

Dyeing does not require a whole lot of equipment, but as the mordants are toxic, it should always be done outside.

Tools:

  • large pot
  • stick, or large spoon.
  • Gloves

Set them aside as dedicated utensils for this purpose only.

Never use them for cooking after you have used them for dyeing.

Ingredients:

  • 4 oz aluminium sulphate
  • 1 oz cream of tartar
  • 1 lb wool
  • Water

Method:

To mordant the wool follow this procedure:

Place the aluminium sulphate and the cream of tartar in large pot of cold water. Stir well to dissolve the powders. Once the powders are fully dissolved place the wool into pot and slowly bring the mordant bath to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer gently for 1 hour. If the wool is very fine and soft, less mordant and a shorter boiling time is sufficient.

After 1 hour, take the pot off the heat, drain and gently squeeze out the liquid. (Wear gloves!) The wool can be dyed right away, or it may be dried and stored for later use.

For the dye bath, it is usually best to use fresh plant materials, but make sure you either pick them from your own garden, or from a place where the plants are in plentiful supply.

Use about 1 lb of plant material per 1 lb of wool skeins.

Place the plant materials into a muslin bag and tie securely.

Place the dye pot on the stove, ¾ full of water.

Add the muslin bag of dye material and submerge it well.

Place the skeins of wool into the pot and slowly bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and allow to simmer for about one hour.

Stir occasionally.

After an hour, turn off the heat, but leave the skeins in the water until it is cold, or when you deem the colour to be just right. Lift out the skeins (a pair of metal tongues will help), and rinse in water of the same temperature.

When the water runs clear, you can hang the skeins up to dry. (A suspended rod will do fine)

Fix a light weight to the bottom of each skein to prevent crinkling.

CAUTION: Mordants are mineral based substances that are highly toxic. Such substances must be handled with due care. Wastes must be discarded properly. Wear protective clothing (especially gloves) and avoid inhaling the fumes. Dyeing should preferably take place outside.

The information given here is for educational purposes only.

Some common dye plants:

Plant

Part

Colour

Mordant

Madder (Rubia tinctorum)

roots

deep red

alum

Woad (Isatis tinctoria)

leaves

blue,

Somewhat complicated process involving a real chemical cocktail. Woad (Indigo) dyes by oxidation, the trick is to get the dye bath right. Indigo is a fast dye that fades very little in sunlight or in washing.

Weld (Reseda luteola)

whole plant

lemon yellow,

alum

Blueberries (Vaccinium myrtillus)

berries

shades of blue and purple,

alum

Elder (Sambucus nigra)

berries, leaves

purple and violets green

alum

Blackberries (Rubus fructicosus)

shoots berries

black/grey blue//grey

iron alum

Bracken (Pteris aquiline)

young shoots roots

yellow/greens orange/yellow

alum

Heather (Calluna vulgaris)

shoots

olive/yellow

alum

Fig (Ficus carica)

leaves

lemon yellow

alum

Birch (Betula alba)

leaves

yellow

alum

Privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium)

leaves

yellow

alum

Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea)

whole plant

yellow

alum

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)

flowers

yellow

alum

Canadian Golden Rod (Solidago Canadensis)

flowers

golden yellow

chrome

Pine (Pinus sp.)

cones

orange/yellow browns

alum iron

Onion (Allium cepa)

skins

golden brown

alum

Walnut (Juglans regia)

shells

pinkish browns

no mordant

Turmeric (Curcuma longa)

rhizome

yellow

no mordant

Earth Charter Initiative

Earth Charter Initiative

Earth Charter Initiative

When I first came across the Earth Charter Initiative in 2004, I was elated to find a worldwide network of hundreds and thousands of people working as individuals, or grassroots organizations and NGOs, all sharing a common vision: appealing to the highest common denominators and values of our shared humanity to draw up a charter that could serve as a guideline for a sustainable, just and peaceful future.

At a time when major changes in how we think and live are urgently needed, the Earth Charter challenges us to examine our values and to choose a better way. It calls on us to search for common ground in the midst of our diversity and to embrace a new ethical vision that is shared by growing numbers of people in many nations and cultures throughout the world.

I feel that initiatives like this, and this one especially, are important and deserve to be spread, far and wide, so that its spirit takes wings and inspires us to try harder and do more to save our beautiful home planet, I am publishing it here in full.

What is the Earth Charter?

The Earth Charter is a declaration of 16 fundamental principles for building a just, sustainable, and peaceful global society in the 21st century. It seeks to inspire in all peoples a new sense of global interdependence and shared responsibility for the well-being of the human family and the larger living world. It is an expression of hope and a call to help create a global partnership at a critical juncture in history.

The principles are grounded in the four pillars of Respect and Care for the Community of Life, Ecological Integrity, social and Economic Justice, and Democracy, Nonviolence, and Peace.

The Earth Charter

 

Preamble

We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. To move forward we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny. We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace. Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations.

Earth, Our Home

Humanity is part of a vast evolving universe. Earth, our home, is alive with a unique community of life. The forces of nature make existence a demanding and uncertain adventure, but Earth has provided the conditions essential to life’s evolution. The resilience of the community of life and the well-being of humanity depend upon preserving a healthy biosphere with all its ecological systems, a rich variety of plants and animals, fertile soils, pure waters, and clean air. The global environment with its finite resources is a common concern of all peoples. The protection of Earth’s vitality, diversity, and beauty is a sacred trust.

The Global Situation

The dominant patterns of production and consumption are causing environmental devastation, the depletion of resources, and a massive extinction of species. Communities are being undermined. The benefits of development are not shared equitably and the gap between rich and poor is widening. Injustice, poverty, ignorance, and violent conflict are widespread and the cause of great suffering. An unprecedented rise in the human population has overburdened ecological and social systems. The foundations of global security are threatened. These trends are perilous—but not inevitable.

The Challenges Ahead

The choice is ours: form a global partnership to care for Earth and one another or risk the destruction of ourselves and the diversity of life. Fundamental changes are needed in our values, institutions, and ways of living. We must realize that when basic needs have been met, human development is primarily about being more, not having more. We have the knowledge and technology to provide for all and to reduce our impacts on the environment. The emergence of a global civil society is creating new opportunities to build a democratic and humane world. Our environmental, economic, political, social, and spiritual challenges are interconnected, and together we can forge inclusive solutions.

Universal Responsibility

To realize these aspirations, we must decide to live with a sense of universal responsibility, identifying ourselves with the whole Earth community as well as our local communities. We are at once citizens of different nations and of one world in which the local and global are linked. Everyone shares responsibility for the present and future well-being of the human family and the larger living world. The spirit of human solidarity and kinship with all life is strengthened when we live with reverence for the mystery of being, gratitude for the gift of life, and humility regarding the human place in nature.

We urgently need a shared vision of basic values to provide an ethical foundation for the emerging world community. Therefore, together in hope, we affirm the following interdependent principles for a sustainable way of life as a common standard by which the conduct of all individuals, organizations, businesses, governments, and transnational institutions is to be guided and assessed.

Respect and care for the community of life

Respect and care for the Community of Life

Respect Earth and life in all its diversity.

  1. Recognize that all beings are interdependent and every form of life has value regardless of its worth to human beings.
  2. Affirm faith in the inherent dignity of all human beings and in the intellectual, artistic, ethical, and spiritual potential of humanity.

Care for the community of life with understanding, compassion, and love.

  1. Accept that with the right to own, manage, and use natural resources comes the duty to prevent environmental harm and to protect the rights of people.
  2. Affirm that with increased freedom, knowledge, and power comes increased responsibility to promote the common good.

Build democratic societies that are just, participatory, sustainable, and peaceful.

  1. Ensure that communities at all levels guarantee human rights and fundamental freedoms and provide everyone an opportunity to realize his or her full potential.
  2. Promote social and economic justice, enabling all to achieve a secure and meaningful livelihood that is ecologically responsible.

Secure Earth’s bounty and beauty for present and future generations.

  1. Recognize that the freedom of action of each generation is qualified by the needs of future generations.
  2. Transmit to future generations the values, traditions, and institutions that support the long-term flourishing of Earth’s human and ecological communities. In order to fulfill these four broad commitments. it is necessary to: (continue to Pillar II).

Ecological Integrity

Protect and restore the integrity of Earth’s ecological systems, with special concern for biological diversity and the natural processes that sustain life.

  1. Adopt at all levels sustainable development plans and regulations that make environmental conservation and rehabilitation integral to all development initiatives.
  2. Establish and safeguard viable nature and biosphere reserves, including wild lands and marine areas, to protect Earth’s life support systems, maintain biodiversity, and preserve our natural heritage.
  3. Promote the recovery of endangered species and ecosystems.
  4. Control and eradicate non-native or genetically modified organisms harmful to native species and the environment, and prevent the introduction of such harmful organisms.
  5. Manage the use of renewable resources such as water, soil, forest products, and marine life in ways that do not exceed rates of regeneration and that protect the health of ecosystems.
  6. Manage the extraction and use of non-renewable resources such as minerals and fossil fuels in ways that minimize depletion and cause no serious environmental damage.

Prevent harm as the best method of environmental protection and, when knowledge is limited, apply a precautionary approach.

  1. Take action to avoid the possibility of serious or irreversible environmental harm even when scientific knowledge is incomplete or inconclusive.
  2. Place the burden of proof on those who argue that a proposed activity will not cause significant harm, and make the responsible parties liable for environmental harm.
  3. Ensure that decision making addresses the cumulative, long-term, indirect, long-distance, and global consequences of human activities.
  4. Prevent pollution of any part of the environment and allow no build-up of radioactive, toxic, or other hazardous substances.
  5. Avoid military activities damaging to the environment.

Adopt patterns of production, consumption, and reproduction that safeguard Earth’s regenerative capacities, human rights, and community well-being.

  1. Reduce, reuse, and recycle the materials used in production and consumption systems, and ensure that residual waste can be assimilated by ecological systems.
  2. Act with restraint and efficiency when using energy, and rely increasingly on renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.
  3. Promote the development, adoption, and equitable transfer of environmentally sound technologies.
  4. Internalize the full environmental and social costs of goods and services in the selling price, and enable consumers to identify products that meet the highest social and environmental standards.
  5. Ensure universal access to health care that fosters reproductive health and responsible reproduction.
  6. Adopt lifestyles that emphasize the quality of life and material sufficiency in a finite world.

Advance the study of ecological sustainability and promote the open exchange and wide application of the knowledge acquired.

  1. Support international scientific and technical cooperation on sustainability, with special attention to the needs of developing nations.
  2. Recognize and preserve traditional knowledge and spiritual wisdom in all cultures that contribute to environmental protection and human well-being.
  3. Ensure that information of vital importance to human health and environmental protection, including genetic information, remains available in the public domain.

Social and Economic Justice

Eradicate poverty as an ethical, social, and environmental imperative.

  1. Guarantee the right to potable water, clean air, food security, uncontaminated soil, shelter, and safe sanitation, allocating the national and international resources required.
  2. Empower every human being with the education and resources to secure a sustainable livelihood, and provide social security and safety nets for those who are unable to support themselves.
  3. Recognize the ignored, protect the vulnerable, serve those who suffer, and enable them to develop their capacities and to pursue their aspirations.

Ensure that economic activities and institutions at all levels promote human development in an equitable and sustainable manner.

  1. Promote the equitable distribution of wealth within nations and among nations.
  2. Enhance the intellectual, financial, technical, and social resources of developing nations, and relieve them of onerous international debt.
  3. Ensure that all trade supports sustainable resource use, environmental protection, and progressive labor standards.
  4. Require multinational corporations and international financial organizations to act transparently in the public good, and hold them accountable for the consequences of their activities.

Affirm gender equality and equity as prerequisites to sustainable development and ensure universal access to education, health care, and economic opportunity.

  1. Secure the human rights of women and girls and end all violence against them.
  2. Promote the active participation of women in all aspects of economic, political, civil, social, and cultural life as full and equal partners, decision-makers, leaders, and beneficiaries.
  3. Strengthen families and ensure the safety and loving nurture of all family members.

Uphold the right of all, without discrimination, to a natural and social environment supportive of human dignity, bodily health, and spiritual well-being, with special attention to the rights of indigenous peoples and minorities.

  1. Eliminate discrimination in all its forms, such as that based on race, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, language, and national, ethnic, or social origin.
  2. Affirm the right of indigenous peoples to their spirituality, knowledge, lands, and resources and to their related practice of sustainable livelihoods.
  3. Honor and support the young people of our communities, enabling them to fulfill their essential role in creating sustainable societies.
  4. Protect and restore outstanding places of cultural and spiritual significance.

Democracy, Non-Violence, and Peace

Strengthen democratic institutions at all levels, and provide transparency and accountability in governance, inclusive participation in decision making, and access to justice.

  1. Uphold the right of everyone to receive clear and timely information on environmental matters and all development plans and activities which are likely to affect them or in which they have an interest.
  2. Support local, regional, and global civil society, and promote the meaningful participation of all interested individuals and organizations in decision making.
  3. Protect the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, peaceful assembly, association, and dissent.
  4. Institute effective and efficient access to administrative and independent judicial procedures, including remedies and redress for environmental harm and the threat of such harm.
  5. Eliminate corruption in all public and private institutions.
  6. Strengthen local communities, enabling them to care for their environments, and assign environmental responsibilities to the levels of government where they can be carried out most effectively.

Integrate into formal education and life-long learning the knowledge, values, and skills needed for a sustainable way of life.

  1. Provide all, especially children and youth, with educational opportunities that empower them to contribute actively to sustainable development.
  2. Promote the contribution of the arts and humanities as well as the sciences in sustainability education.
  3. Enhance the role of the mass media in raising awareness of ecological and social challenges.
  4. Recognize the importance of moral and spiritual education for sustainable living.

Treat all living beings with respect and consideration.

  1. Prevent cruelty to animals kept in human societies and protect them from suffering.
  2. Protect wild animals from methods of hunting, trapping, and fishing that cause extreme, prolonged, or avoidable suffering.
  3. Avoid or eliminate to the full extent possible the taking or destruction of non-targeted species.

Promote a culture of tolerance, nonviolence, and peace.

  1. Encourage and support mutual understanding, solidarity, and cooperation among all peoples and within and among nations.
  2. Implement comprehensive strategies to prevent violent conflict and use collaborative problem solving to manage and resolve environmental conflicts and other disputes.
  3. Demilitarize national security systems to the level of a non-provocative defense posture, and convert military resources to peaceful purposes, including ecological restoration.
  4. Eliminate nuclear, biological, and toxic weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.
  5. Ensure that the use of orbital and outer space supports environmental protection and peace.
  6. Recognize that peace is the wholeness created by right relationships with oneself, other persons, other cultures, other life, Earth, and the larger whole of which all are part.

On the earth charter website, the earth charter is available for download in different languages. There are also a number of other educational materials available to all who wish to share its message. 

 

Visit the Earth Charter Initiative online at https://earthcharter.org/

Get involved https://earthcharter.org/get-involved/https://earthcharter.org/get-involved/

Educational Ressources https://earthcharter.org/education-sustainable-development/

Climate Change – what can we do?

Climate Change – what can we do?

“The climate emergency is THE defining issue of our times.”

It is the beginning of August, the time of ripening fruits. The year is progressing rapidly and the sun is already past its peak. It has been a stormy first half of the year with weather extremes throughout the world. Temperatures nearing 40°C which in my neck of the woods is unheard of, especially this early in the season. July and August can always bring swelteringly hot days, but this appears to be a new kind of normal. We urgently need to rethink the squandering of our planetary resources and what can be done to address this burning issue.

 

Climate Grief

 

As the intensifying seriousness of the situation is burning into my skin I find myself cycling through the stages of grief. Denial is no longer possible. Some days, I am overcome with grief and inconsolable sadness. I long for a state of reliable normalcy but know in my heart that nostalgia is futile.

 

Some days, I am almost numb with shock and disbelief. The seemingly wilful destruction of our beloved home planet is simply incomprehensible.

 

Some days, I just get angry as hell.

 

But, deep within me, there is still a beacon of reason reminding me that these feelings are the drivers of change, that the way forward starts exactly right here, where I stand. All I have to do is to take a step outside of the ‘normal’ complacency of my comfort zone. All I have to do is to challenge myself with questions about the changes I want to see in the world. What can I do to make a difference in my own life and in my immediate social surroundings?  Such questions empower me and transform sadness, frustration, and anger into determination – powerful energy for change.

 

We each are the ‘gardeners’ of our worlds and choose, at each step of the way, the seeds we want to grow and that there will be to harvest when the season comes. Instead of just concerning ourselves with fulfilling only the short-term demands or temptations, perhaps it would be a good idea to take the long-range view and ask ourselves that crucial question: how do we want to shape the world? What will be the fruits of our action or inaction? What will we harvest, when the time comes? And what kind of environment and seed store will we leave for our children and children’s children?

 

Our time here on this planet is short but our effect on the lives of future generations is huge.

In Norse mythology, Mid-summer inaugurates the time when the fiery God Lugh takes over from the bouncy Bel.

 

Bel warms the earth and quickens the seeds, Lugh ripens the corn and sweetens the fruits. But Lugh can also bring almighty thunderstorms and heavy monsoon-like rains. In recent years these phenomena are spinning out of control at alarming rates.

To be sure, even in the past, August could bring short but intense rains that refreshed the land. Maybe even an occasional hail storm, which farmers feared, but rarely did it bring complete devastation. Nowadays, hail comes in the shape of ping-pong balls, destroying crops in a matter of minutes. The amount of rain that normally falls over the course of a month now often deluges towns in just a few hours. Cities are flooded and little streams turn into raging rivers at very short notice. New weather records are broken every year. We can’t deny it – climate change is here.

 

We have seen it coming, yet few have been ready and willing to act. People are looking for guidance from authorities, but that is in short supply. Given that politicians are in office for only a short period of time, their priorities lie with short-term goals. Bureaucracy is slow to change and unpopular messages reduce the chances of being re-elected. Fear may help to sell even the most unpopular draconian policies, but it is not a useful tool for attracting votes.

 

People want simple answers to our woes. Unfortunately, there are no simple answers to climate change. It is a hugely complex and new phenomenon that we are only just beginning to understand fully.

 

It seems, without guidance from ‘above,’ we must find ways to help ourselves.

 

So, what can we do?

 

Perhaps it is time to reflect on what has helped us to get this far on our evolutionary journey.

 

Human beings are nothing if not curious and what has helped us the most is our keen sense of observation and experimentation. Observing the phenomena that are happening around us and paying close attention to what works and what does not. The task seems daunting. There are so many fires, so many issues that are screaming for attention. Whole ecosystems are affected by the changes that are taking place. How can we possibly address them all at once?

The world around us is a system. Whatever we do, the effects are never isolated but will affect the whole. The crucial aspect to realize is that WE ARE ALSO A PART OF THAT SYSTEM! Therefore, whatever we do in the world out there also has repercussions on US.

That realization can be even more depressing. But it shouldn’t be, because it also is the key! It is the key to understanding that we must start with ourselves and all that we do. We may not be able to fix the whole world by ourselves, but we can each fix our own world by taking responsibility for our lives and our actions. We can start by reflecting on how our own habits affect the world and make changes to minimize that impact

Some habits and practices are harder to change than others, but we each can start somewhere! 

There are things that we can do

  1. Organize
    The most important thing all of us need to do right now is to bring climate change into the conversation. If possible, group together with friends, family, and your community specifically to discuss how you have been affected and what, as a group, you may be able to do about it. A group can always achieve more than any one individual. Skills, know-how, and tools can be sourced and shared. Instead of feeling like a lone soldier fighting a losing battle you can tackle issues together, support each other and empower one another in doing so.
     
  2. Plant trees
    Encourage your community to plant more trees, and if you have the means and space, plant some yourself. According to a recent report, trees are the single most effective way to combat the rise of CO2. Even communities in poor countries, such as Ethiopia and India, have embarked on massive tree-planting campaigns. They are literally planting MILLIONS of trees. To optimize such an effort it makes sense to plant a variety of species and not just one fast-growing type. Diversity will build resilience as different trees react differently to various climate conditions.

Trees not only function as massive CO2 sinks, but they also create shade for other, more sensitive species, and help to conserve water by creating shade. Trees are also a vital component in the water cycle that regulates our climate. They are absolutely key to almost any ecosystem. They clean the air and produce oxygen, which we all need to breathe. Air pollution is currently one of the biggest environmental health hazards, according to a WHO report. It claims the lives of some 4.2 million people each year.

Extra kudos if you can plant trees with edible fruits and nuts that can provide food for people and wildlife.

wild flower meadow

  • Conserve water
    A lot of water is simply wasted – not just on sometimes obsessive hygiene routines but also because it just gets drained into the canalization. In places where the water system is not well developed, some of it may drain directly into streams or rivers, adding to the pollution.

 

Most people won’t have the opportunity to build a compost toilet in their back yards or find ways to easily separate grey water from solid waste. However, you may be able to save some greywater from the sink and ‘donate’ it right to your garden. But, make sure that you are using biodegradable detergents, otherwise, the toxic substances can build up in the soil.

An easier way to conserve water is to collect it from the drain pipe. Instead of letting it wash down the drain, divert it into a tank or water barrel to be used for watering the garden. Make sure the container is covered, otherwise you will provide a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Gardens are notoriously thirsty. This is especially true of lawns and vegetables. A good way to help conserve water is to mulch your veggies. Irrigating plants with a slow trickle watering system may also work well. Take a container (some people use plastic bottles but un-fired earthenware is better) and puncture several times to make some small holes. Dig a hole in the veggie plot and submerge the container so that it is level with the ground, fill it up with water and cover with a stopper. That way water continuously seeps into the ground. If your garden is large and you can dig in several such containers this is a good way to reduce the time and effort it takes to water.

Another good way to save water is to abandon the idea of a perfectly manicured English lawn. Instead, aim at a perfect wildflower meadow or plant more fruit trees or veggies. Or consider replacing your water thirsty turf with a more water conservative variety,  which is now offered at garden stores (e.g. Bluestem Enviro-Turf). Fleur de lawn includes low growing herb species such as white clover that fixes nitrogen in the soil and provides nectar for bees.

 

  • Composting
    The earth is covered by a thin layer of fertile soil. Due to erosion, this layer is continuously reduced. Farmers have to add tons of fertilizer, most of it inorganic, in order to sustain their yields. Heavy machinery further destroys the soil structure and compacts the soil. The negative effects of this type of farming practice are cumulative and turn into a vicious cycle. The only way to break this downward spiral is to change the way we look at the soil.

 

We derisively call it dirt and regard it as a rather lowly element. Yet, even a couple of handfuls of soil contain more micro-organisms than there are humans on earth. The soil is alive and constantly working to make this planet habitable for ‘higher’ species. The micro-organisms do this by breaking down organic materials that plants can assimilate. They also aerate the soil so that rain can penetrate the deeper layers instead of just running off the hard, impenetrable surface. But micro-organisms need one thing to do their job:  organic material on which they can work their transformative magic.

This is where compost comes into the picture. Compost is what your organic waste turns into when it is broken down by worms and other creatures that live in the soil. Some may think that composting is gross. But what is truly gross is to dump organic and inorganic waste all together into a bin which eventually ends up as toxic sludge in a landfill. By composting your organic materials and using it in your garden you will actually improve the fertility and soil structure of your plot, which not only helps it to retain more moisture but will also make your veggies more nutritious.

 

There are many other measures we can take to make a difference. Some may need a bit of organizational effort: carpooling for school or shopping runs, or forming buyers co-ops so as to make high quality, organic foods more easily and more cheaply available in low-income neighborhoods. Others may require an investment that will actually save money over time. such as exchanging energy-hungry appliances for more efficient ones or installing solar panels or wind power generators.

 

The climate emergency is THE defining issue of our time. It does seem daunting – almost too big to even contemplate. But once we stop to think about our own behaviors and habits and what we individually can do to make a difference, we realize that many little steps can eventually bring about the change we so desperately want and need.

 

Collectively changing our consumer habits and voting with our conscience will eventually ring the bell at the government level. We must make it clear that we do not want to go down the road of certain planetary destruction. In democratic countries, governments depend on our approval and cooperation – and that is where our power lies.

 

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