1001 Water-wise ways: Ode to the woman with a blue stripey hat


Today, for the first time in a while, I went for a long walk on Noordhoek beach, close to where I live. I needed to think. I'd been wondering about climate-change denialists all week, after someone posted several links (on the watershedding Facebook page) "refuting" the awful, inescapable reality that we are turning our planet into a burning tip.

I often wonder about these folk: how is it possible to identify publicly as so credulous and ignorant? I'm sure there are people who truly believe that elves come out and dance at the bottom of their gardens every full moon, but they tend not to stand up and shout about it. It doesn't help that climate-change denial seems to be the official administrative position of supposedly one of the most scientifically advanced countries in the world. From putting the first human on the moon to "No, no, these hurricanes and droughts and melting ice-caps and scary extremes of heat and cold are nothing to do with us!" in 50 years. It's a terrifying time-warp in reverse, even with the facts staring us in the face: here are the bald, brutal figures on the current near-apocalyptic summer in the Northern hemisphere.

Then I read this frightening article. A friend posted it on social media, and wrote "We need to talk about this." No one would. It's too big and too scary to contemplate our lemming-like rush to self-destruction. One thing astronomy has taught us is that there are bazillions of planets out there, spinning through the vast galaxy, and all we've able to learn about them so far is that they are hostile to life. By some extraordinary, incredible, mind-blowing miraculous coincidence, this little stop in the Milky Way has produced the perfect conditions for an equally mind-blowing tapestry of ecosystems and species to thrive. But we're prepared to wreck that -- to turn the planet into a chunk of coal -- and for what? Just so a tiny, tiny percentage of the human population can have solid gold toilets and Lear jets and huge holiday mansions they don't even live in?

By now I was in such despair, I knew only a beach walk would help. This is my prescription: I don layers of jackets, scarves and a woolly hat, roll up my pants, walk down the beach and wade into the sea's edge. Then I slog along through wet sand and brine and froth, the shush of the surf a literal white noise. I swear, it's never THAT cold. Well. Bracing is the word. Something about the sound and scent of the sea, the repetitive movement, the numbness from the knees down, the constant shifts of weather and light, the birds and the mountain vistas switch off the hopeless and helpless thoughts.

And then I spotted a small woman in the distance, who kept stooping. She was wearing a knitted hat with blue and white stripes, and carrying a bag. As I got closer, I realised she was picking up every piece of plastic trash and waste she found, and she'd clearly been at it for a while: her bag was bulging.

And I realised hers was the only sane solution: to the problem of climate change, our water crisis, the problem of plastic waste, our insane economic model of growth and profit (and greed) at all costs: JUST DO SOMETHING. Even if it's an hour on a winter Sunday afternoon helping clean up your own backyard. Or local beach. She gave me a glimmer of hope: reminding me that ordinary people in their everyday lives can have an impact beyond themselves, and the accumulative impact of that has the potential to grow and grow. Maybe there are ways out of this: maybe saving the planet is going to be such a full-time and enormous task that it's going to be the huge job creator of the near future -- and that would be a fine thing.

Whatever the future holds: be more like Blue-Stripey-Hat-Woman. Capetonians know that our water crisis has created all sorts of everyday s/heroes: it's surprisingly easy to be one of them. So thank you: from one wearer of knitted hats to another, I salute you. I didn't want to invade your privacy, so you're in this pic, on the far right, doing your thing, but not identifiable. WAY TO GO and thank you!


Helen Moffett