Some problems mankind has had to cope with since time immemorial, including famine, plague and sickness.   Yuval Harari in Homo Deus argues coherently from this premise.   However in his recent book, The Better Angels of our Nature, Steven Pinker eloquently describes the comparatively peaceful times in which we live in the 21st century.   Per capita, there are fewer threats to personal well being than have ever existed in the past.

Indeed, I have personally been influenced positively by Pinker’s arguments, and have taken much comfort from his detailed comparative analysis of the eradication of famine as well as the reduction in conflict at the present time.    Plague has been eliminated except for minor intermittent episodes.

Today’s Challenges

However, there are two existential challenges around today which need to be on the conscience of all grandparents – the problems created by plastic pollution and the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere.

This morning I attended a lecture by Professor Peter Ryan who is involved with the Fitzpatrick Institue of Research at the University of Cape Town.   He offered us a vivid picture of the research that he has done whilst supervising both masters and doctoral students.

He cut an elegant figure as he took the stage for his presentation.   Whilst his feet were bare, his nicely-fitting t-shirt together with causal draw-string pants, created an apt image of minimalism for a man talking about plastic pollution!

I found his opening comments alerted my attention when he announced to the audience, “What you are about to hear may well be different to what you expected!”

Plastic Pollution

Peter shared with us the fact he had been playing with plastic for a long time.   He illustrated and endorsed this statement as he went into the history of the aggregation of plastic waste and his team’s efforts to control it.  He has been actively researching  the damage that plastic pollution has created since it’s introduction in the early 1960s

Yes, I was born into an era before plastics were developed.  We managed with paper packets in my youth.   I  recall that when plastic bags first became part of our shopping experience, we would wash them out after the first use, and reuse them multiple times.  Maybe that is something we should think about doing once again!

A time before Pollution!

I also recall the first time I ever heard the word ‘pollution.’   It must have been the late sixties when my children were in conversation with some American youngsters who had accompanied their parents on a sabbatical to this country from Philadelphia in the USA

“You know,” they said, “you should not throw things out of your car as that will cause pollution!”   At that time pollution was not part of my everyday vocabulary.  So this concept came as quite a shock to me.   Can anyone remember when we actually did throw things out of the car window when disposing of waste matter?


Professor Ryan showed us some haunting pictures of dead sea birds photographed adjacent to a range of plastic objects.   This matter had been found in the stomachs of dead birds which had been washed ashore.  Often scores of bottle tops and assorted materials were part of the collection of man-made products retrieved from these deceased birds.

Other photos of sea creatures enmeshed in plastic string or netting forced me to contemplate the agonies experienced by sea animals due to mankind’s inability to dispose of his waste in a manner which was respectful of the natural habitat.

It would be difficult to live without plastic wrapping today.   One of its main benefits is its ability to preserve certain foods.  It is cheaper than glass to manufacture.  Without plastic, the production of fruit and vegetables would need to be increased putting further strain on the earth’s resources.

Carbon Emissions

The surprise came when after presenting such startling evidence of the damage plastic has created to our oceans and our sea animals, Professor Ryan went on to let us know that a different man-made problem was even more worrying.   He reminded the audience that we may have already passed the time of no return due to the pumping of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.   Many authorities believe that the melting of icebergs, the consequent rising of the oceans, the floods and droughts affecting more and more parts of the world, are all the irreversible symptoms of a dire future for the inhabitants of planet earth.

Youth Activism

Greta Thurnberg at age 16 has made a name for herself internationally for castigating political leaders for neglecting to pass legislation limiting the emission of noxious gasses.   Due to her leadership, 1.66 million people in 133 countries participated in demonstrations in major cities around the world earlier this year.   Their aim was to urge the world’s leaders to take the needs of future generations into account when making political decisions.

Senior Activism

Have you thought about what you would like to do to ensure that your descendants enjoy the earth’s natural resources as much as you do?     Will your grandchildren be able to enjoy nature walks, mountain climbs and beach strolls in an unpolluted environment?

Maybe you would like to make some suggestions about practical steps which could be undertaken by senior people.     The Comment Box below is awaiting your contribution.

Freshlivng is the name of a free magazine offered to loyal shoppers at what is probably the largest South African supermarket, Pic n Pay.   Whilst there are a couple of general interest articles in this monthly publication it is mainly devoted to recipes and ideas around food.   Whilst I have been doing my own cooking for the past 60 years, I am constantly amazed at how many tips I can pick up from this worthwhile publication.   However it was an article of a very different kind that first drew my attention.

Starting to read the latest edition from the back page, (yes, I know that is not the usual procedure!) and moving towards the front of the publication, my eyes fell on an article entitled “What’s the Buzz?”   Those of you who are following me closely will recall that last week I reported on my visit to The Cradle of Mankind, to a conference where I was forcefully reminded of the importance of the present population of planet earth conserving our natural resources, and my  conscience telling me I need to do my bit!  This current mindset drew my attention to a contemporary challenge for mankind.

Diminution of Bee Colonies

Whilst I had read intermittently over the past 10 years about the dangers of diminishing bee colonies, and the role that these critical insects play in ensuring the sustainability of our food resources, I had never given attention to the details of this challenge.

A Short Bee Quiz

  1. Have you ever wondered how many flowers a bee visits in one flight?
  2. Did you ever think about how many species of bee exists?
  3. Has it ever crossed you mind to wonder how many bees there are in any one colony.
  4. Or, did it ever cross your mind to think about how much honey a bee produces in its lifetime?

(Here are the answers:  1. 50 – 100; 2. 200 000; 3. 50 000; 4. 1 ½ teaspoons)

Declining Bee Populations

Bees are critical pollinators because they are responsible for pollinating about 70% of the crops.   These crops are responsible for feeding 90% of the world’s population.  It may be difficult to believe that crops pollinated by bees produce $30 billion worth of consumables per year. And that, they say, is only the start because the many animals who eat those plants also depend on the ability of the bees to pollinate them.

Whilst scientist are not able to pin point the exact reason for the diminution of the world’s bee populations  which in turn leads to a threat to our food chain, it is pretty certain that the use of artificial chemicals which enhance production have been detrimental to our bee hive populations.

Other products dependent on Bees

Apart from the role that bees play in pollinating our food crops the production of honey is a gift to mankind because of its unique ability to flavour whilst it sweetens.   Its use as a soother of sore throats is unparalleled.   It is also an environmentally friendly alternative to paraffin-based pollutant products such as cosmetics, polish, waterproofing, sandwich wrap and carton-free candles.

Let’s go organic

A convincing research study which took place in Sweden recently has been quoted by Greenpeace.   It was found that organically grown strawberries were demonstrated to not only achieve higher pollination success, but additionally the quality and quantity of the yield was superior.


“So what has all this got to do with Conscious Living in our Senior Years?” I can hear you saying to yourselves.   Apart from reminding ourselves of the delicate balance of nature and enhancing our awareness of this potential danger to the sustenance of mankind; it helps to create an awareness of the need to educate farmers on the value of switching to inorganic techniques.   We need to invest in more research which demonstrates the advantages of finding alternatives to the use of pesticides in the production of fruit and vegetables.  Insect poisoning chemicals have unequivocally been shown to endanger bee populations, particularly in North America and Europe, where these poisons have been so widely used during the past 100 years.

What does it mean to be wise?

When I reached my mid-sixties, I had a strong, and rather guilty feeling, that I had reached the age in which it was required of me that I fulfill the description of being “A Wise Woman!”.   After all, were not all senior women wise?  Anyway, this is what I had been led to believe.   But what does it mean to be wise?   And what is it that motivates me to continue on my journey which has more recently been named by a local public relations expert as a facilitator of “Conscious Ageing”?

In my earlier blog about my visit to the Mindfulness Conference in Gauteng, I mentioned the contribution of the wise Zimbabwean Elder who reminded us of the role of both our Ancestors and Mother Earth in contributing to our wellbeing.   How we need to honour both those who have gone before us as well as the planet, which sustains us in all our multiple dimensions.    These concepts are now resounding in my awareness, I have been made even more profoundly and painfully conscious of the ubiquitous manner in which mankind has been exploiting both natural resources and natural wisdom.  It made me feel there is something which I must do actively to promote the knowledge of impending ecological disaster.   I need to promote support for people who are in a less fortunate position than myself.

Mindful in May

My opportunity to play this role arose when going through this morning’s emails.    Here is a link for you to visit:

If you peruse the information on the website of Mindful in May you will have the opportunity to join an annual program in which I have participated for the past few years.    Elise Bialylew who runs this course is author of bestselling book, The Happiness Plan.    Mindful in May is “The world’s largest online global mindfulness fundraising campaign that teaches thousands of people each year to meditate, while raising funds to build clean water projects in the developing world.”   I do believe that the development of Mindfulness and the acquisition of Wisdom go hand in hand, and recommend you consider taking advantage of this opportunity taking place next month.

Wisdom – Andrew Zuckerman

Returning from the conference last week we popped in to see a friend en route to the airport, and there on the bookshelf I spied a beautiful picture book entitled Wisdom.   The photographer and film maker Andrew Zuckerman has photographed and recorded the thoughts of fifty prominent people over the age of 65 who have achieved acclaim in their chosen field.  I was so intrigued when glancing at this book after pulling it off the shelf, that I had to apologise for being anti-social as my attention was totally diverted to the wonderful pictures and beautiful erudition of the wise men and women who were featured in this work.

Jane Goodall – Animal Behaviorist

I have been an admirer of the esteemed primatologist Jane Goodall since I was a student and it was her profile which immediately drew my attention.   As a young woman she spent many hours in the heart of the African jungle scientifically studying the behavior of chimpanzees. Today the Jane Goodall Institute protects these wonderful apes and inspires people to conserve the natural world we all share. The work of the organisation honors the concept, “that everything is connected—everyone can make a difference.”

Jane feels the most important thing we can do is to try and get out of the mess we’ve made on this planet both from an environmental point of view and a social perspective.    We need to learn about the consequences of our daily actions.   How the choices we make about the products we purchase, the foods we eat and the origin of the clothes we wear impact the environment.    Are the acquisition of these goods causing a disruption in the balance of nature?   Are they contributing to human suffering because of their mode of production or manufacture?

Changes in Water Usage

And, yes you can change your habits, even at a senior age.   In Cape Town, South Africa we have all learned during the past three years of drought, how to use water more wisely.   I frequently remind myself that my daily consumption of water has dropped at least 75% because of the discipline and training I have acquired which means I now use water without any wastefulness.   Washing dishes happens once a day, and the flushing of the toilet, only when necessary.   Watering of gardens is strictly limited to certain hours and number of liters.

What do I understand now about Wisdom?

My exploration of some Buddhist philosophy and my practice of Mindfulness has made me aware that Wisdom and Compassion are deeply enmeshed with each other.    It is through the introduction of “metta” or “loving kindness” meditation that I now am more readily able to value gratitude and looking at the positive side of apparent challenges.   I have been trying to make a habit of listing my Gratitudes, looking at the good things which have happened to me on a daily basis.   So yes, I am feeling a little wiser than when I first realised this is an area of my growth which needed attention some fifteen years ago!

The force needed to empower wisdom is compassion. Both wisdom and compassion shift our sense of identity away from ourselves toward the wider human, biotic, and cosmic community to which we belong.  —Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, “The Need of the Hour”

In Cape Town we have been adapting during the past few years to a severe shortage of water, and how with our public supplier of electricity Eskom, going through major supply problems we are having to cope with regular electricity outages lasting a couple of hours, twice a day.

It is Valentine’s Day, 14th February 2019, and I have just returned from a game of early morning tennis and a swim. On reaching my home, I find there is no electricity and this situation will only be rectified in about two hours time. Under normal circumstances, my computer would be my next port of call, but due to the lack of electricity that activity is no longer viable.  Alternative occupations need to be found. No cooking, because the stove is similarly out of action. So I have decided to write this blog with pen and paper and transfer it to a digital format later when power is restored.

February is the middle of our summer, and we have a Mediterranean climate which means rain falls in the winter. Last year our dams were 30% full, this year is better as they currently stand at 66% full. In the good old days when local rainfall had not been influenced by the new hazards of climate change, dams were frequently reported as 101% full.   The only watering allowed in gardens is with the use of a bucket.   This can be done on only two days a week and only within a two-hour time frame. Washing up the dishes happens once a day. Showers are a rare luxury and ablutions in the summer most often consist of a swim at the gym or in the pool at the residential village where I live. Toilets are flushed, only when needed.

Capetownians have adapted to using about 25% of the daily water consumption when compared to the days when no concerns existed about saving water. This is the ‘new normal’. I will never use water from the tap without being conscious of the fact that I am utilising a scarce resource which needs to be consumed carefully and with circumspection.  This new respect for a commodity which had been taken for granted until recently now feels deeply embedded in my current lifestyle.

Having adapted to minimising the use of household water, we now need to cope with daily outages of electricity. The political conundrums behind this most unsatisfactory state of affairs, I will not attempt to analyse, as that I do not see as my role. However my interest as an observer of human behaviour requires means I wish to comment on the capacity of the man in the street to alter daily habits which may have been practised for many decades previously.   In the past commodities like water and electricity were consumed without any consideration for their finiteness.   Necessity has dictated that we are now constantly aware of saving water. In addition, we need how to adapt to having no electricity for extended periods.  Many businesses have had to invest in private generators to ensure they have a constant energy supply.

The present situation brings back a memory of a conversation I overheard some forty years ago. This was between my children at play with the offspring of some American visitors. These children from abroad were talking about pollution and environmental degradation,  concepts which were new to me.   It was the first time I had become aware that one should not throw foreign objects out of the windows of your car.

Again, in those days there were few cars on the roads, and traffic jams were unknown in this country. Today I am aware on a daily basis that more and more vehicles are on the road and I must budget for more and more time to reach my destination. Time, electricity and water are all in short supply!

My grand-daughter who is in her 20’s is doing her bit for the preservation of the environment. Whilst she has a post-graduate degree in the History of Art, she has decided to put her energy and idealistic tendencies into doing her bit for diminishing the amount of plastic that pollutes the environment. She is manufacturing re-usable cotton bags for shoppers for use when they go about their regular purchases of fruit and vegetables. By providing these bags for the temporary storage of their purchases, she is helping to eliminate the use of plastic bags.  Her range of products is sold at local markets and she is making her mark as a young person who is not only environmentally aware, but actively doing her bit to preserve the balance of nature and the natural ecology.