By Nita Chicooree-Mercier
After welcoming the first cool weeks of May, and feeling like you want to compose an ode to early winter sailing into the thicker clouds of mid-June, in other countries it’s bracing up to face summer heat, and that calls for more attention to an effective contribution at individual and national levels to reduce global warming. All the more so as the memory of an exceptionally unbearable summer has not yet faded away, and the grasshopper’s carefree lifestyle during the happy days might not be the right course to follow.
California Academy of the Sciences Renzo Piano Building Workshop San Francisco, California, United States
New environment-friendly policies have not been mentioned in the recent budget. Techniques which recommend the use of greenery on the rooftops of buildings are well-documented in some countries. It reduces the consumption of energy used in air conditioning in hot weather. Green roofs are effective in cooling buildings, reducing flood risks through absorption of C02 by green leaves, slashing pollution emissions and providing spaces for nature to thrive. Shrinking spaces in small islands are one among other reasons to consider the installation of green roofs on public buildings, not only in urban areas but in villages, too.
Hospitals in Singapore and India have already experimented with green rooftops which provide vegetables for internal consumption, thus saving space and bringing economic advantages. Greenery on the façades of skyscrapers in China’s sprawling cities helps combat air pollution. It is an option India may have to adopt to reduce the discomfort and health hazards engendered by the 50° C temperature that is currently stifling its big cities.
Public buildings in Mauritius can be used to carry out the experiment of green roofs for environmental and economic benefits. The flat roofs of hospitals, for instance, are no obstacle to such experimentation. It could be given due importance by urban planners in reconstruction projects, and also across the island if any long-term vision is considered. Gardens in towns occupy roughly 50 to 80 square metres in privately-owned property, a trend which is spreading in villages due to overcrowding caused by extended family units sharing a limited space of land.
Mauritius still enjoys vast natural spaces of greenery, unpolluted air, and is a well-ventilated island, one may argue. How long will there be enough trees to ensure a healthy and sustainable environment? It would be wiser to anticipate the long-term consequences of demographic growth and widespread construction.
Green roofs are sprouting up in many countries. Singapore innovates by installing green roofs on the top of bus stops to reduce the temperature and purify the air around the bus stops. The city-state goes even further by extending the courtesy to four public buses which have become moving vehicles with green tops. Smart idea.
Cities in Mauritius lack space for any further creation of public green gardens. Existing ones fall in disrepute over the years. Port-Louis is a hellhole during the peak summer season. One may wonder why things look bound to follow the path of neglect and decay. Lack of motivation and discipline? New public green spaces can be created in villages which are fast being covered with concrete. Such spaces help to connect people, enrich biodiversity and improve the environment. Reversing the decline of key species like bees, butterflies and birds is a major environmental cause which should prompt research and concrete action.
‘Greening’ buildings is becoming an effective option to tackle gas emissions. Embracing nature is key to mental health. Once you open a window and your eyes rest on a green spot, or you are outdoors and can behold a green façades with plants and flowers, you immediately benefit from the soothing effect. Stress levels are reduced within a matter of minutes.
Single Use Plastic
Environmental cause has made headway into consumers’ minds and effective measures have been taken to curb the use of plastics, but there is still a long way to go to reduce the amounts of plastic wastes piling up on a daily basis.
Plastic straws used in restaurants, hotels and bars are a modern calamity destroying the soil worldwide. Why anyone needs a straw to drink from a glass, one may well ask. Personal non-plastic straw is being envisaged and should be made compulsory in the years to come. Airplanes pour out tons of plastic glasses, knives, forks and spoons on a daily basis.
Plastic stuff imported from China floods markets everywhere. Artisans in Mauritius make galvanized-tin basins, the ‘baquet’ which has proved useful for centuries, pails and water cans which anyone can purchase to replace plastic items. And you can call at the village artisan’s shop and order your items, a privilege few developing countries can offer.
Mineral water in plastic bottles is another calamity. Keeping water and food in plastic containers and utensils is considered unhealthy. There are new ways to purify tap water and keep it in bigger ordinary bottles for family use and lighter ones for individual use. We all can do without mineral water in plastic bottles sold in supermarkets.
Use of paper bags is not so widespread for takeaways of cooked food or salads. The same plastic bowls of salads stare at you even in the professional French bakeries in Mauritius and in food outlets at the airport. Drinks and food charged at high prices are served in plastic glasses, bowls and plates at the airport. It is all the more vulgar in modern brand-new luxury places. Totally unacceptable!
All households accumulate vegetable and fruit peelings every day, but not everyone has the time and will to grow a few plants in their private gardens. It is nevertheless good to note that thousands of compost bins have been distributed freely in recent years; the practice should be maintained and widely publicised. Natural manure is one area that needs to be encouraged at all levels, households, restaurants and hotels. Every household can use it for their own needs to grow a few plants, coriander, thyme, parsley and give away surplus amounts to other inhabitants. Collective manure can be developed by municipalities and district councils.
From green rooftops to non-plastic containers, there are solutions which are being experimented and the sooner they are adopted by a wider number of countries, stakeholders and public at large, the better it will be for one and all. And this, despite the apocalyptic announcement of last, real end of the world forecast by a group of world scientists in the French weekly magazine Nouvel Observateur a few weeks ago…
* Published in print edition on 28 June 2019