Environmental issues remain a perpetual subject in today’s century news. NGOs, corporate businesses, schools, governments, and every other entity have highlighted great attention to the topic of the well-being of the environment, albeit any commitment to improve the condition of our Mother Earth. Because of the severity of the condition of Earth that has been highlighted often as our daily life choices contribute to the current condition of it, it is significant to understand the necessity of gaining as much knowledge and information as to how we can aid in improving the well-being of the environment that surrounds us directly which correlates to our own health and sustainable future. The sub-themes in focus are animal rights, climate change, eco-friendly products and zero waste practices, and lastly, the issue of plastic.
They are our neighbours. They cohabitate the extraordinary space we were given, and were meant to be given a fair share to the natural resources we were given as well. However, this is not the case we see today. Often discussed on a global scale, animal rights revolve around issues on how animals are being used and exploited by humans in an immoral manner. Two basic principles that the animal rights movement embrace include the rejection of speciesism, and the knowledge that animals are sentient beings. Within the discussion of sentience, which is defined as the quality of being able to experience feelings, it transpires a logical yet ignorant fact to many that animals have the ability to feel suffering. Jeremy Bentham, a known philosopher mentioned, “The question is not ‘Can they reason?’ nor ‘Can they talk?’ but ‘Can they suffer?” which states that the capacity for suffering serves as the essential characteristic that gives a being the right to equal consideration. Speciesism on the other hand is the idea that humans are better and deserve more consideration to have greater moral rights than their non-human counterparts. It is a prejudice in favour of the interests of members of one’s own species and against those of members of other species. Animal rights issue that are most pertinent in today’s society are animals in entertainment, animal testing for cosmetics, poaching, wildlife trade, factory farming, hunting & shooting, and animal used for clothing. Animal rights is not about fighting for equal rights since human rights such as freedom to vote and freedom of religion are irrelevant to animals. Animal rights focus on whether humans have the right to exploit animals for their own benefit. As humans, we can be proponents for animal rights in many ways:
- Reduce our usage of plastic products. Try bringing reusable bags when you shop, reusing containers, and disposing plastics using the correct method to prevent them from ending in the ocean.
- Recycle and buy sustainable products. Avoid buying products made from limited resources such as wood from endangered trees to reduce the continuous production of products.
- Avoid using herbicides and pesticides. These non-biodegradable hazardous pollutants accumulate in the soils before disseminating throughout the food chain, poisoning animals, and affecting the ecosystem in the long run.
- Volunteer your time to protect wildlife in wildlife refuges, parks, and other places that may be underfunded and desperate for help.
- Do research on your consumer brands. Withdraw your support from businesses who exploit nature and are pollutants. This will prompt them to make nature-conscious choices in the long run.
- Educate your family about the endangered species in your area. Start raising awareness about the endangered wildlife, birds, fish and plants that live near you.
- Reduce personal footprint by using public transport or walking rather than driving. Use biodegradable products and eat whole foods from your farmers market.
The effects of climate change is widespread – from global warming to rising sea levels, a greener way is needed to be approached to tackle this problem. Here are a few ways which you can do to fulfill your part as a responsible earthling!
Green your commute – do you know that vehicle emissions lie in the top 2 causes of climate change? In this hustle and bustle of life, it’s easy to own your own personal vehicle to get to school, work, grocery shopping, or even to just grab a cup of coffee. Now, it is time to make a change to your daily lifestyle and join the movement to reduce the use of personal vehicles. For instance, you can take public transport whenever convenient! Public transportation such as trains and buses are easily accessible with a fairly low cost as well. By using public transportation, the quantity of vehicles on the road and traffic congestion can be reduced. Next, walk instead of driving if your destination is less than 1km away. Take walking as leisure and exercise to keep your fitness in check. Furthermore, take up a carpool option whenever possible. Going to the same university or workplace? It is the right time to start carpooling and foster better relationships with people even during your car journey!
Be more energy efficient – do you know that energy efficiency lowers the production of greenhouse gases? Here are a few tips for you to increase energy efficiency: cut down on energy usage in your household. Instead of working at your usual spot with the fan switched on, try working in the balcony during a windy and sunny day! Besides, you can switch off the lights and unplug devices that are not in use as unplugging devices can prevent electricity drainage and ensure user safety. Next, replacing your light bulbs with energy-efficient light bulbs such as LED light bulbs is more energy saving and less toxic than tungsten light bulbs. Also, unplug fully charged devices from their outlets as this can preserve the life span of your devices by preventing it from overcharging and battery draining.
Power up on plants – do you know that the livestock sector accounts for 14% of global climate-changing emissions which is as much greenhouse gases emissions as all road vehicles combined! You can start by developing a “meat-conscious” mindset by reading and keep up to date with news related to the livestock sector. By doing this, you can educate yourself and can be part of a good impact to reduce meat consumption. Through this, you can gradually reduce your level of meat and dairy intake per week and try new recipes using plant based food. You can also power up on fresh fruits and vegetables in your daily diet and it is recommended to consume two fresh fruits and three vegetables on a daily basis. When sourcing for fresh fruits and vegetables, why not support your local sustainable or organic fresh produce farmers? By doing so, you can promote the farm-to-table concept, and support local and small-time farmers by helping them to generate income.
Practice moderation – do you know that Malaysians waste approximately 16,688 tonnes of food daily that could feed 12 million people 3 times a day? Food waste can lead to climate change as food waste generates methane gas, which absorbs more heat than other greenhouse gases. Hence, food waste is responsible for speeding up the process of global warming. To tackle climate change, you should be mindful and plan ahead during grocery shopping. Try to make a to-buy-list and refrain from spending on unnecessary items. Besides, while dining in restaurants and buffets, never order and take more than you can consume. While attending a buffet, always take a small portion of each food to try and taste first before going for more to prevent food wastage.
Start a climate conversation – it starts with you! Solving climate change is an equation that is only complete when all of us work together towards the common goal. Here are a few insights for you, leverage your personal relationships with peers and family members by talking to them in ways that scientists and environmental organisations can’t. Besides, you can voice out your concerns on any social media in a polite and constructive way to raise awareness such as sending messages that you care about the warming world.
Here is a poem on zero waste titled “0”.
eyes set on the front
the road that unfolds
like the track to an endless end
we make the first stride
towards a glimmering hope
towards an imagination that slowly takes shape
towards a splendid scenery
a mountain that breathes in peace
a meadow that blooms with joy
a lake of mirror
in which our souls dream
but the end keeps ending the end
the ambitious track on the fecund earth
each horizon gives birth to a new beginning
and again we climb to the middle of the sky
casting warmth over the fading night
embracing tears of the land
tears we sentimentalise
and rehearse mechanically
in face of a suffocating life
this is what we call preservation
the end keeps annihilating the end
as corrosive as the gastric acid
of the industrial leviathan
digesting the juicy flesh of nature
disgorging the rapacious lava
of this impoverished era
that will disintegrate
the verdant memories
and fresh invigorating future
into voiceless streams of
“I’m a Barbie girl in a Barbie world
Life in plastic, it’s fantastic…” ~ Barbie Girl by Aqua
These well-known lyrics were probably what everyone was thinking when the rise of plastic use began. That living a life surrounded by plastic would most definitely be fantastic… and yet more than 100 years from the date of the birth of plastic, the world now finds itself deep in the clutches of this enemy of nature.
Let’s go back in history, and re-discover the journey of plastic into society.
1869 → the year when John Wesley Hyatt successfully invented the first synthetic polymer.
1907→ the birth year of Bakelite, the world’s first fully synthetic plastic, creation of Leo Baekeland.
1939 – 1945 → the breaking out of World War II, in which usage of plastics greatly expanded. Nylon, plexiglass; all served a purpose in the ongoing battles. Even after the war ended, the future possibilities of plastics seemed boundless, and production did not halt.
Plastic was inexpensive, safe, sanitary, and could easily be used to form various things. From dolls to everyday household appliances, it really was a fantastic life in plastic.
Then came the time of reckoning, Mother Nature seemed to have kept it in for too long, and now she wanted the world to know. As the saying goes, too much of a good thing is never good, and it seemed like mankind’s endless perusal of plastics would come with a cost.
1960 → The first signs of plastic debris were noticed floating in oceans, and society’s view on plastic had also taken a turn for the worse. Now plastic was seen as synonymous with fake, flimsy and cheap.
1970s – 1980s → Plastic’s reputation took a further turn as anxiety about waste increased. Plastic had long been used for making disposable products, but now it seemed that although it could be easily gotten rid of from a consumer’s life, it was not that easy to rid the world of the trace of plastic.
As times changed, and paradigms shifted, mankind is now ever more focused on achieving sustainability. In this, society hopes to eliminate unnecessary waste, utilise whatever resources are at hand without generating after-effects on nature or other humans.
The era of plastic is far from over, and scientists have managed to power through with new, and ‘healthier’ options of plastic. By definition, plastic originally referred to the characteristic of ‘pliable’ but now it is more commonly known as a reference of polymers. And like polymers, which consist of many parts, so too does the world and its inhabitants. There are many cogs turning in this wheel of life, and only time will tell if mankind can turn plastic into a beneficial addition or a deal-breaker for life.
Written by: Trinity Chin Jean Vern, Stella Anne Teoh, Ngoi Hui Chien