In recent decades, the environment has claimed headlines around the world and imposed itself on everyone’s conscience: scientists and laymen alike. Even those uninitiated into the world of environmental politics, are familiar with term the “climate change.” It instantly strikes fear and dread into the hearts of environmentalists like me, recalling doomsday scenarios (fertile land turning barren due to a rise in atmospheric CO2 and increase in temperatures around the globe, plastics choking up our marine life, coral bleaching, increasingly unpredictable and unseasonable weather conditions, island nations and coastal cities at risk of drowning due to sea-level rise, pollution in every shape and form imaginable, and the most iconic image of all: polar bears perching precariously on floating ice sheets due to the slow but steady melting of our polar ice caps). Those are the resources we depend on for our very survival and yet we treat them as expendable.
The list is depressingly long. But just as frighteningly, is the knowledge that these “scenarios” are happening as we speak, in ways more interconnected than we could possibly imagine, simply because nature itself is one whole entity that cannot be broken down into separate parts. In other words, it is not a machine. It does not know national borders, or social class. Every form of environmental degradation or depletion of a natural resource causes ripple effects across the entire planet affecting rich and poor alike, the First World, the Third World and everything in between.
Climate change is the most important issue of our times and yet, there is still a lack of consensus on whether its causes are anthropogenic (man-made) or simply a natural occurrence (climate change events have taken place in the past but at a much slower rate, over a geological time period spanning millions of years, such that the natural environment was able to adapt to it). We are at the end of peak oil, fossil fuels are no longer a viable resource (if they ever were). And yet, climate change still manages to polarize our global community into two diametrically opposed groups: the scientists, armed with hard data proving that climate change is indeed happening at a more alarming rate than we previously thought: and the naysayers, the deniers. In other words, the politicians (specifically of the Trump/Republican/ “business as usual” variety).
People may be familiar with climate change, but many still don’t know what the term “sustainability” means, despite it being bandied about as the buzzword of the century. At its very essence, sustainability or rather, sustainable development is economic development without depleting natural resources, thereby meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. Sounds simple, enough, but it actually encompasses many things, spanning different areas in environmental conservation and natural resource management from recycling and waste reduction to water conservation and energy efficiency to renewable energy systems.
People may feel intimidated by the breadth and scope of environmental destruction that’s already taken place. Indeed even the solutions can be daunting.Where do you start? But I find the multitude of solutions quite comforting. You can simply start anywhere. If history has taught us anything, it’s that the individual can affect change, no matter how small. And that change at the grassroots level, rather than a top-down approach is more significant and sustainable over the long term. So here are a few things you can start doing on Earth Day, things that require more than just switching off your electricity for an hour but will have a more significant effect. That’s how we start: by holding ourselves accountable and adopting more environmentally-responsible habits. Continue doing them and soon it will become a part of who you are, and before you know it, you’ve brought about change in your own little sphere.
- Switch off any electrical outlets when not in use, including TV, laptop chargers, water heaters etc
- Conserve water as much as possible by limiting your shower to 10 minutes. Turn off the faucet when not in use.
- Carpool or car share. Walk to places whenever convenient or if the distance is not that great.
- Practice recycling at home. If you live in a community, try to institute a recycling program with appropriately labeled collection bins: plastic, paper, glass.
- Try to reserve some technology free time everyday, where you don’t type, text, talk or do anything involving a screen. If there are any open spaces where you live, take a walk in nature. It will reconnect and re-balance you and highlight how much we are a part of nature. After all, you protect what you love.
- If you have a garden, look into planting your own fruits and vegetables, rather than buying pesticide-laden produce.
- If you are already planting your own fruits and vegetables, use natural compost, which is basically domestic solid waste. This will divert solid waste from landfills as it will be reused in a closed loop system.
- Make a commitment to eat more fruits and vegetables and local produce and reduce your red meat consumption to once or twice a week. Mass-produced meat uses up a lot of resources, including land and water, not to mention cattle emits one of the most potent greenhouse gases (methane) through various boduly functions such as flatulence and belching.
- When buying new furniture, consider re-purposing old recycled furniture. Readymade is a local environmental conservation company that upcycles old furniture into new eclectic and unique designs. Think barrel refashioned as a bench.
- Learn more about the environment and climate change. You can’t help protect something you don’t anything about. Education is key. The more educated we are, the more empowered we become to affect change.
Photo courtesy: www.ahram.org