This world in which the distinction between ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ has been blurred; so much so that our many wants are mistaken for our needs and our ‘genuine needs’ are relegated to the periphery of our lives. This has given rise to a world of mindless destruction of the environment, gigantic mountains of non-biodegradable waste, oceans with islands of floating plastic many square kilometers wide, increasing salinity coupled with lowering of water tables, mindlessly ravaged forests that can no longer sustain the indigenous communities which once lived in communion with the trees, rivers, birds and animals that inhabited the land with them.
While it is true that the world has gone through five mass extinction events over the millions of years of its existence, it is for the first time the world seems to be on the brink of an extinction event brought about by the thoughtlessness and mindless greed of one of its most blessed [both in terms of mind power and heart power] creatures, namely us ‘human beings’. The previous extinction events were most likely because of ‘asteroid strikes’ that blocked out the sun for hundreds of years and caused acid rain, colossal volcanic explosions and other geological activity that in turn caused a sharp increase in carbon dioxide levels or dramatic ‘cooling’ or ‘heating’ events that wiped off many species practically overnight when seen in terms of cosmic time. We, humans, appear to be the most vulnerable of the Earth’s life forms but we have been showing ourselves to be also the most dangerous. Human choices and lifestyle, especially over the last two hundred years, have brought about drastic changes to our planet. The ‘background rate of extinction’ [where one species in a ten thousand goes extinct in a hundred years] has accelerated to between a hundred and a thousand times because of ‘us’.
‘We’ve got to change the way we live our lives! We’ve got to make choices!!’ Humans have created senseless instruments of mass destruction which can destroy the world many times over in a way that life will perhaps never resurge again as it has in the past. But even if we have the good sense not to use these ‘nuclear weapons’ we still seem headed in the direction of a major extinction event if not in our own lifetime then in the lifetime of those who will be born in the next fifty years from now.
We have the keys to the future in our hands. One of these keys is expressed in the simple three-word mantra of the environmental movement, namely: REDUCE, REUSE, and RECYCLE. We have got to adopt a simple less complicated lifestyle and remind ourselves that possessing more and craving for new things does not necessarily convert into greater happiness.
One of the great challenges of the environmental movement is to think that others are responsible for the destruction the world is witnessing on the ecological front. We could accuse our politicians and bureaucrats of being irresponsible and short-sighted, we could blame previous generations [parents and elders] for being selfish, we could point a finger at governments and administrators at local, provincial, national or world levels and scoff at them for not being sincere and making empty promises, but at the end, if we want change to really happen we, each one of us [especially those of us who are young], have to turn the mirror on ourselves, and ask ourselves this basic question, “What am I willing to do to rescue the world from hurtling towards what appears to be a ‘sixth mass extinction episode’? Am I willing to change? Am I willing to pay the price that a more environmentally sustainable and stable world demands? The following is a straightforward and matter of fact examen that focuses on the little things that can enable us – you and me – to be true ‘eco warriors’ doing our bit to safeguard and protect the world from ‘worst’ selves.
- Do I reuse plastic and paper bags and cardboard boxes that provisions, clothes, and other things come packed in?
- Have I stopped using single-use plastic cups, straws, forks, spoons, plates, etc.?
- Do I use gift wrappers, newspapers, colourful magazines, old ribbons, cardboard and other similar material for artwork and decorations both at school and at home?
- Am I one who needs to constantly buy bottled water because I fear unreasonably that water everywhere is contaminated? Am I comfortable drinking purified water at home and school at least conscious that this is a good way to build up immunity?
- Do I try to ensure that nothing useful is thrown away and that I segregate so-called ‘garbage’ [plastic-paper-glass-aluminium] so that whatever can be recycled can be kept aside to be reused or be sent to a ‘recycling facility?’
- Do I use water and electricity responsibly? Do I let the water run needlessly while I am brushing my teeth or having a shower? Do I switch off lights and fans when I leave a room?
- Can I do some advocacy, together with my companions, at the local level to ensure that ‘grey water’ in my home, apartment complex, or school may be recycled and appropriately purified to be used to water a garden or to wash vehicles?
- Is my wardrobe full of clothes and shoes which I have perhaps used very little? Am I ok with using secondhand clothes and shoes that have been passed down from my other siblings or cousins? Or am I one who needs new and branded clothes and shoes every season or every year?
- When I go to the park or the beach do I ensure that I leave a place better than I found it? Do I pick up dry litter and put it in a wastepaper basket or something similar to ensure that what is collected can be recycled?
- Do we wash and clean bedsheets, towels, furniture and covers on a regular basis at home, without at the same time becoming paranoid? Or is it that we allow these things to gather dust and become shabby more out of neglect than out of overuse?
- Do I get shoes, clothes, backpacks, spectacles, repaired or am I one who is most happy to throw away things that I must have used very little but now am too ashamed to repair and recycle so that these can be reused?
- Similarly, what about Televisions, computers, food processors, ovens and refrigerators? Can I encourage those in my immediate family to take them to a service center where they can be repaired so that their lifespan may be extended? Are these service facilities available in my neighbourhood? Or is it that, in my home, these things get discarded immediately at the first sign of wear and tear? Am I one who is happy when things get spoilt because it then gives me the possibility to [personally buy] or encourage my folk to buy the latest, newest, state-or-the-art gadget available in the market?
- Does your school or neighbourhood have an e-waste recycling policy? Can you collect e-waste and take it to a recycling facility where you could perhaps even earn a little stipend to be used for other small environmental projects in your school or neighbourhood?
- Does your home, school or neighbourhood have a composting facility so that leaf litter, fruit peels and other green plant material can be used, after due processing, to enhance soil quality at home, school or public gardens?
The above questions can be answered with a simple yes or no answer. After we answer these questions, we could raise our hands in resignation saying, ‘there is nothing we can do’. Or we could adopt a different stance altogether of blaming everyone else but oneself. Both these stances help no one. The best thing we can do to make this examen of consciousness different is to ask ourselves each time ‘what can I do differently.?’ And after we have identified what we can do, we need to decide and say ‘this is what I will do’ and then actually do it!
At the turn of the millennium in many parts of the world, ‘the power of one’ campaigns were launched. Each of these campaigns may have had different goals but what united these campaigns was the belief that ‘one single-minded, passionate, enthusiastic person committed to a cause can make a big difference. One person can change the World!! There is much cited African proverb that says so succinctly, “You are either part of the solution or you are part of the problem.” As each one of us makes our personal eco-examen we could conclude by asking ourselves very plainly, “What about me? Am I part of the solution?”