As I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed this morning, I came across a video of a plastic straw being removed from a turtle's nose by a group of marine biologists in Costa Rica. My family, as a rule, has always been environmentally conscious and we diligently recycle, compost, use less water, keep our lights off, turn our heating down, shop at thrift stores, donate our old clothes, use environmentally friendly cleaning products and use reusable water bottles.
Unfortunately, years and years of environmental awareness from our family alone has not had a significant enough impact. There's a saying that goes 'be the change you want to see in the world' but no matter how hard some families try, problems in our Earth are still visible, and worsening. In fact, a 2013 study estimates approximately 6.4 million tons of debris enters the marine environment every year, of which 80% comes from land sources.1 This is heartbreaking.
Sadly, the videos are very real. They show a world where we have become lazy, wasteful creatures, surviving off of a consumerist economy where having an iPhone 5 is no longer good enough even if it works perfectly well and having last seasons shoes is looked down upon. They show a world of people who can't be bothered to scrape the food waste out of their containers into the compost so that plastic can be recycled and instead would rather chuck the whole thing in the garbage. They show a world where we have created products we don't need yet marketed them in such a way that we think we do.
Every year there is what is called an 'Earth overshoot day'. It is on this day each year that our demands exceed our supplies in terms of natural resources. August 12 was 2015's Earth overshoot day. As of two days ago, we have officially consumed what we should be consuming in a whole year. This year's overshoot day came six days earlier than last year. We consume the equivalent of 1.6 Earths every year.2 Based on our demand for carbon emissions, cropland, fish stocks and timber and compared with Earth's ability to regenerate and absorb emissions, we are doing more permanent harm than ever before. Harm that cannot be reversed.
If we continue with our current habits, by 2030 (only fifteen years from now), we will be consuming two planets worth of stuff in a year. The result? Deforestation, soil erosion, water depletion and greenhouse gas accumulation on a global scale. We are, as a race, single-handedly destroying this planet. Some of the biggest culprits rely so heavily on industry as their main source of economical income that it becomes a difficult path to navigate on finding the best way forward that both reduces pollution but does not damage people's lives in other ways. For example, China's pollution rates have reached crisis levels prompting a government-led war on pollution. The cleanup of China's air, water and soil is imperative for the survival of our planet.3
I think we, as humans, have become so attached to the idea of convenience and of constantly comparing ourselves to others and trying to outdo one another in the easiest way possible, that we have forgotten how little relevance these things have when we compare them to the problems we are leaving in our wakes.
On Earth Day this year, I posted a photo to Instagram captioned "buy experiences, not things." I believe so strongly in this statement. I rarely go shopping. I love the outdoors and would rather spend a day hiking a mountain than at a mall or in a movie theatre. Everyone needs to find what they enjoy, granted, and I have no intention of convincing others to suddenly give up what they enjoy but I do intend to try and convince people to reduce their harm and impact on the environment with whatever they do. I compiled a list after some research (which took about 10 seconds typing 'reduce waste' into Google) that I have included here. Most of these things I already do, but I am committing myself to all of them, and I hope others do too.
I commend world governments, international institutions and various non-profit organizations for doing their part in making significant amendments on environmental issues (see Japan's Environment Ministry objecting coal and Kiribati's discussion against coal expansion and Indian Mining Company Adani crediting activists for saving the Great Barrier Reef).
But for all you individuals:
- It isn't necessary to buy products that you intend to upgrade and replace next season. The iPhone 6 is cool, but if your iPhone 5S works just as well, that's even cooler.
- When you're buying groceries, avoid individually packaged stuff and products that are sold in non-recyclable containers.
- Bring reusable bags when you're shopping. Saves you 5 cents on plastic bags too. Win-win.
- Compost your food scraps. Take the extra three seconds to dump it out of the container into the green bin. And if you make more than you can eat, store it for leftovers.
- Reduce the amount of mail coming to your address. Banks offer digital statements and Canada Post has a no-mail list for junk mail.
- Buy clothes second-hand. Thrift stores are awesome. While you're at it, donate your old clothes back to them for someone else to love. (At least half my closet is from Sisters Thrift Boutique, my local favourite, and all my stuff goes back to them when it's time for someone else to give them some lovin'.)
- Buy recycled products when you're stationary shopping for notebooks and the likes.
- Fix broken things. Don't just chuck and replace. And it if is beyond repair, recycle it so it can be made into something new that does work.
- Stop using disposable stuff with your food. We don't need straws, plastic wrap, plastic forks, paper plates, red solo cups, etc.
- Bring a reusable to-go cup to coffee shops. If you're sitting down there, ask for your drinks in mugs and your food on plates rather than in paper cups and bags.
- Keep a stack of plastic water bottles in the back of your cupboard for emergencies, but carry a reusable water bottle everywhere else you go.
- Store food in reusable containers. We don't need plastic wrap and brown paper bags to hold our sandwiches.
- Buy non-toxic cleaning products for both your house and yourself ie. shampoo.
Just take a minute to appreciate the world we've got and the world we don't want to lose.
1. Qamar Schuyler, Britta Denise Hardesty, Chris Wilcox, Kathy Townsend, "Global Analysis of Anthropogenic Debris Ingestion by Sea Turtles," Conservation Biology, 28-1, 2014, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cobi.12126/full.
2. Emma Howard, "Humans have already used up 2015's supply of Earth's resources - analysis," The Guardian, August 12, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/aug/12/humans-have-already-used-up-2015s-supply-of-earths-resources-analysis#.
3. Deborah Lehr, "How Cleaning up China's environment can also be good for its economy," South China Morning Post, August 14, 2015, http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/1849565/how-cleaning-chinas-environment-can-also-be-good-its-economy.