Young people are deeply concerned about the destruction of our environment and the complete lack of consideration for their own futures shown by the previous generations. They find it disturbing that those in positions of authority have not only lacked the courage to take on the serious challenge of modifying their own behavior, but also have not even taken the simple step of advocating for policies aimed at the long-term interests of our shared planet. Too often, the environment has been brought up with reference to polar bears, glaciers, and other things very far away from daily life. It is suggested that the only thing that youth can do is to hope that high government officials and the super-rich will sign agreements that will magically transform our world. Youth are led to believe that only through donations to Greenpeace can they have some impact, and that only the highly paid government experts on the intergovernmental panel on climate change are in a position to make a difference.
Youth rarely have a chance to learn about how their daily actions and decisions can have an impact on the environment. Many of those professors and government officials you see on TV have ceased to play any meaningful role and are rather misleading you, giving you the false impression that something is being done. Even education is aimed not at focusing attention on critical issues, but rather at distracting the public from the overwhelming threat.
The crisis of a growing global population, desertification, the contamination of water, the destruction of ecosystems, over-fishing, unsustainable farming, and damage to the atmosphere itself demands a radical change in our society at every level. But the thinking of leaders is so far away from what is needed that the international community is not taking even the first baby steps toward real change.
Instead, the previous generation consumes resources for its enjoyment during its lifetime with little thought as to what your fate will be.
Consumption for many of us stems from trying to satisfy our desire for happiness, but it doesn’t make you happy at all. You are rather compulsive and distracted, rushing around trying to make yourself feel like you are doing something that will make your mood better. This compulsion comes from absorbing norms and values from advertising or peer pressure.
However, if you have the bravery to insist on knowing the truth and on making your own decisions, then even if you have nothing at all, you will be happy and free in that moment in a sense that you could never achieve by eating expensive food or living in a big house. And if you know that consuming expensive food or living in a big house can only be done by sacrificing the environment and depriving other people, you cannot do it with an easy conscience.
Here are some suggestions for what you can do today to help the environment and to change the thinking of those around you. You should expand on these points and add others, then tell them to your friends, parents, and neighbors. You not only need to demand change, you must also propose what that change should be.
1) In every moment of your life, wrestle to take control of consumer culture
As long as we think about things and people as something to consume and assume that consumption is positive, we are in trouble. You can take steps to refuse to consume, and also you can resist the pressure to buy.
All citizens should be taught about the dangers of consumer culture starting in kindergarten. Warnings against the destructiveness of a narrow interpretation of human experience must be reiterated in what we read, watch, and listen to.
You can make consumerism, and the terrible spiritual cost it entails, a central topic for discussion. We must use our imagination to come up with ideas for what our society could be, to lay the foundations for a “conservation culture.” You can also engage in creative and intellectual activities that offer a powerful alternative to this consumer culture of death.
2) Recycle as the second best approach
Not only is there no effort made to make sure that everything used is collected for recycling, recycling pickup locations are poorly planned and what can be recycled is often ambiguous. And, the materials that are “recycled” are ultimately used to create lower-grade products in many cases, not reused for the same function. Often, the resulting product cannot be further recycled into something of value after use. It would be much better to avoid using it from the beginning.
Materials like plastics can only be reused in a very limited sense and their negative impact is immense. They should only be employed in limited cases where absolutely necessary. If a product has a component that cannot be readily recycled, then its sales should be limited to absolute necessity.
3) Build to last
The first step toward a 100% recycling society is making products that are built to last. We need shoes and hats that can last for twenty years. Many other products, like tables, chairs, china, pots, and pens, if well-designed and well-made, can last for even longer.
To make such a system work, we must make the resale or donation of products, of used clothes and furniture for example, an absolute requirement of all citizens. Reusing products is not a sign of poverty or lack of means, but rather an ethical act of respect for this Earth. A system for reselling items quickly to a broad range of possible buyers is essential. An exchange of this kind could generate income for people at the local level. We must move beyond a consumer culture to a culture of preservation.
4) Repair houses, clothes, bicycles, furniture, and just about everything else
Nothing, except food and medicine, should be produced if it cannot be repaired. We need to create a section of our economy that is engaged in the maintenance and restoration of products, from household utensils and clothing to furniture, bicycles, and cameras. Products, even minor ones like pens and staplers, must be crafted in an attractive manner and be designed so that they can be repaired easily. New goods should never be thrown away.
5) Use realistic sanitation
We need a new system for providing cheap and environmentally friendly sanitation in public places. Currently, we wrap, refrigerate, and package foodstuffs, medical supplies, and hardware far more than is necessary. People should not think that every product must be wrapped in many layers of plastic before it is clean. After all, chemicals and plastics employed in and around many products intended to keep us safe from germs are themselves hazardous to the environment, and sometimes hazardous to the products being protected. Rather than wasting resources on unnecessary rituals, we can learn from traditional cultures—so-called “primitive” communities—about how to practice realistic sanitation with the absolute minimum of resources consumed.
6) If you must cut down a tree, you must plant three!
We deceive ourselves and others by thinking that, if we plant a tree in a visible place, the massive destruction of trees around the world is lessened. But we need to keep careful records of what is actually happening to trees around the world and to demand, by law, that if a tree must be cut down, then at least one tree must be planted to compensate. If a square meter of soil is covered up with a building here, then a square meter of soil must be uncovered somewhere else.
All impositions on nature must be strictly regulated, and we should set long-term goals to reforest large parts of our world. This goal can only be achieved if we are made constantly aware of how our actions impinge on the rest of the world. There is plenty of room in our world to plant more trees and thereby to help remove carbon from the atmosphere. Yet there are few incentives to make every empty space a forest. Any building that is not occupied should be torn down immediately and made into a green space. The imposition on green spaces to put up new buildings should be prohibited.
7) Establish a GDE (Gross Domestic Environment)
It is essential that we create a system for monitoring and calculating the state of the environment, both globally and locally, and that system should calculate and publish the GDE (Gross Domestic Environment) and GGE (Gross Global Environment) at regular intervals, thus making them a part of the news presented to citizens. It should not be permissible for a policy or practice that harms the environment for the sake of short-term profit to be presented in a positive light. We must move away from the misleading statistics we currently use, which, do not account for the costs of massive environmental damage, do not represent the true long-term economy.
8) Slap a display on it
We live in blissful ignorance of just how much energy our self-indulgent behavior consumes. We see nothing around us that suggests what the overall cost is for the energy that we use, let alone the cost for the environment, or for future generations. We must require every person to be made aware of how much energy he or she uses every minute, and how. Every instrument and building that uses energy must have a display built into it that indicates exactly how much energy is being used and the value of that energy. The application of these displays should go hand and hand with strict rules for efficiency in all appliances.
9) Allow people to produce their own energy and let them sell it to others directly
The best way to encourage alternative energy is to set up systems that allow individuals to create energy, even in very small amounts, and to sell it to others. Even tiny payments will be sufficient to encourage people to set up solar panels or to stay on an exercise bike for a couple of hours to make a bit of cash.
10) Mindfulness: Learn to sit still
We waste so many resources simply because we cannot sit still. Driven by a relentless need to consume, we wander the house consuming snacks we do not need, then watch movies that do not interest us, and then take off in our cars to drive across the city looking for things to buy, eat, and waste. But it is possible, and far more fulfilling, to spend the entire day practicing yoga, meditating, reading books, and writing. In between those activities, you might spend time talking with a few friends about what you have read, or about how it can be applied to improving the community. All this can be done in a small room without consuming much of anything. If we can just have meaningful conversations, play with our children, and enjoy our lives we will save an amazing amount of energy.
We cannot act in this manner because we lack mindfulness, a deeper awareness of how our thinking works and an ability to understand and control our impulses. Although meditation and yoga practice may seem very far away from environmental policies, that sort of a shift in our thinking could make all the difference.