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  • Writer's pictureCecilia Wandiga

The Anthropocene is an epoch but what are we building?

You cannot build a house for last year’s summer. — Ethiopian proverb

African knowledge, including scientific, is transmitted through contextual storytelling. The goal is to ensure knowledge remains fluid. While written knowledge transmission is easier to verify, written knowledge is also more difficult to update. There are challenges with both forms of knowledge transmission. Updating 3 million copies of a book versus updating 3 million people via conversation requires an extensive amount of planning and logistics. The contextual background of a story can take a while to present. Proverbs help anchor the reader and the listener to the lesson of the story.

Our goal with the CSTI Geoversity Science and Culture Odsomo digital series is to attempt to provide both written (blogs) and oral (webinars) updates that guide readers and listeners through the sometimes confusing web of science information. Understanding Odsomo as a knowledge sharing culture will not occur in one blog or one webinar but rather over decades. Scientific peer review focuses on the veracity and utility of information from the perspective of those with formal schooling. African traditional knowledge sharing also requires veracity and utility, however, the evaluators include the community at large. If science and technology knowledge cannot benefit the people at their level of understanding then the storytellers are speaking to themselves. In this spirit we attempt to blend formal and informal knowledge systems by documenting both written and oral knowledge.

The debate about the negative effects of human pollution, industrial emissions, and waste, has been viewed by some as abstract and by others as obvious. Climate Change is a term that causes confusion because the reality is that seasons change yearly in every country. Many then wonder why there is a need to spend research dollars on studying how the weather changes. A simple way of understanding the need for Climate Change research is to pause and examine the effects of the built environment. When it is hot, do we seek refuge from the heat using an air conditioner or a shade tree? When it is winter, do we warm ourselves with a gas heater or a fire?

If the summer heat has averaged 26.7°C (80°F) for the past 40 years and this year the average is 32.2°C (90°F), we have an unusually hot summer. However, if the 32.2°C (90°F) average summer temperature keeps occurring for 10 years or more, we have a change in the climate. Similarly, if the winter cold averaged - 1.1°C (30°F) for the past 40 years and we now see a consistent trend towards 10 years or more of 4.4°C (40°F) winter temperatures, we have a change in the climate. Both trends are showing warmer temperatures. If multiple countries around the world are showing the same warning patterns, we call the trend global warming.

If you are designing a home during the period of global warming, do you use the same insulation factor you used 40 years ago? What if you increase the insulation to keep more cool air in during the summer and more warm air in during the winter? In Kenya, the increase in temperatures as well as cost of cement has led to an interest in the use of polystyrene (EPS panels) as a building material (GCR Staff, 2016; Property Noma, 2021). In addition to lower material costs, an additional benefit of polystyrene production is that the process consumes less water than cement production (Kiganda, 2021). Some might wonder how expanded polystyrene (EPS) panels compare to strawbale insulation in terms of thermal insulation. Strawbale panels seem more logical if one is selecting natural building materials. Italian researchers showed 20cm thick EPS panels provided better thermal insulation during summer when compared to 20cm thick strawbale insulation while also providing better acoustic insulation year round (Evola, et al., 2019). Energy efficiency, stable indoor temperature, and less noise.

Future Research Note: We would like to see future research expand the evaluation of sustainability to include an analysis of materials that are food for animals, e.g. elephants eat straw but not rice husk agro-waste. Portland-pozzolana rice husk cement has been technically feasible in Kenya since at least 1994 yet is only recently gaining industry attention (Intermediate Technology Development Group, 1994; Wachira, et al., 2019). Highlighting polystyrene is not presenting polystyrene as a universal solution but rather an illustration of the reasons why the construction process of today's house cannot be the same as the construction process that was used 40 years ago (last summer, time tracking is different in Africa pun fully intended). One of the new construction tools that was not often used 40 years ago is Whole Life-Cycle Assessment to compare the emissions footprint of different materials and construction techniques (Kimani & Kiriatha, 2019). Equally new are Environmental and Social Governance (ESG) metrics to assess the impact of company managerial governance policies for tracking data on preventing emissions and pollution while improving resource efficiency, employee well-being, and social equity (Mutisya, Nzaku & Coulson, 2020).

Join the discussion and share your favorite eco-efficiency construction metrics!

A detailed summary of the climate change patterns in Africa can be found in Prof. Shem O. Wandiga's March 19, 2021 AfriSMC Press Briefing on the Effects of climate change in Africa. Climate Change effects are closely linked to the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. If you have ever stood by an open fire in a closed space or burned food while cooking, the space you are in gets quickly filled with smoke. Some types of emissions are odorless and colorless but they fill the room anyway and can kill you if not ventilated, e.g. carbon monoxide. Ventilation does not mean the carbon monoxide from your car or gas heater ceases to exist. All that happens is that the gas you cannot see or smell moves from your room to the outside and now creates a risk for others. Carbon dioxide gets absorbed by trees and turned into oxygen, assuming there are enough trees to absorb the carbon dioxide released. Trees also convert carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide and methane. Hence, even if you have a lot of trees, you can still have high carbon dioxide and methane in the air (Revkin, 2019). The balance between human emissions and plant emissions can be better understood through the recently published African science Shared Earth, shared ocean Framework (Obura, et al. 2021). Important to re-emphasize sharing is space for flora and fauna to flourish.

Within the context of Climate Change research, another term has emerged: Anthropocene. The exact start date of the Anthropocene epoch is ambiguous. Odada, Olago & Olaka (2020) present a summary of the evolution of the Anthropocene in Eastern Africa.

We will not resolve the debate about the definition of Anthropocene in this blog, nor is there a Kiswahili or local language translation available for the term at this time. We are not trying to increase your eco-anxiety (Fomina, 2021). What we are inviting you to do is to join us Wednesday, September 8th, 2021, 6pm East Africa Time (EAT) for a 2 hour interactive webinar discussion where we explore the topic:

What is the Anthropocene (epoch) in Africa and why should we change our human activities?


Centre for Science and Technology Innovations (CSTI). Web of applied science. Retrieved August 27, 2021 from

Evola, G., Cascone, S., Sciuto, G., & Parisi, C.B. (2019). Performance comparison between building insulating materials made of straw bales and EPS for timber walls. IOP Conference Series: Materials Science and Engineering, 609, (7). doi:

Fomina, M. (2021, August). Eco-anxiety: Friend or foe? The Decision Lab. Retrieved August 27, 2021 from

GCR Staff. (2016, May 31). Kenya’s building cool houses – from polystyrene. Global Construction Review. Retrieved August 27, 2021 from

Kiganda, A. (2021, August 14). Polystyrene homes in Kenya taking center stage. Construction Review. Retrieved August 27, 2021

Kimani, L. & Kiaritha, H. (2019). Social economic benefits of green buildings in tertiary institutions in Kenya. Africa Journal of Technical & Vocational Education and Training, 4(1). Retrieved from

Mutisya, A., Nzaku, E. & Coulson, P. (2020, September 26). Are institutional investors and financial intermediaries legally required to consider ESG factors when making investment decisions? Must any additional non-financial principles and objectives be considered? Lexology. Retrieved from

Neiditch, D. (2021, June 17). One farm's trash is a construction site's treasure. GreenBiz. Retrieved from

Obura, D. O., Katerere, Y., Mayet, M., Kaelo, D., Msweli, S., Mather, K., Harris, J., Louis, M., Kramer, R., Teferi, T., Samoilys, M., Lewis, L., Bennie, A., Kumah, F., Isaacs, M. & Nantongo, P. (2021, August 13). Integrate biodiversity targets from local to global levels. Science, 373(6556), p. 746-748. doi:

Odada, E. O., Olago, D.O., & Olaka, L.A. (2020). An East African perspective of the Anthropocene. Scientific African, 10. doi:

Property Noma. (2021, March 31). What are EPS PANELS? Alternative Building Technologies in Kenya [video]. Retrieved August 27, 2021 from

Revkin, A. (2019, March 25). Trees release flammable methane—here's what that means for climate. National Geographic. Retrieved from

Wachira, J.M., Thiong’o, J.K., Marangu, J.M. & Murith, L.G. (2019). Physicochemical performance of Portland-rice husk ash-calcined clay-dried acetylene lime sludge cement in sulphate and chloride media. Advances in Materials Science and Engineering. doi:

Wandiga, S.O. (2021, March 19). AfriSMC Press Briefing on the Effects of climate change in Africa by Prof. Shem O. Wandiga [video]. AfriSMC TV. Retrieved August 27, 2021 from

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