I’m almost late for the UK, but not quite for the rest of world westwards. It’s been a fairly hectic weekend for me, being on an outdoors/field work first aid course. Anyway, it’s World Environment Day today, celebrated every year on 5 June, and the theme this year is Go Wild for Life, highlighting the illegal wildlife trade. It seems slightly odd to me that we need a day to remind us about the environment that our lives depend on – I doubt we’ll ever need or have a World Money Day – but that is a major part of the reason why the UNEP marks a special day for it I guess. We take it for granted and don’t usually think about how everything we do or own is linked to the environment.
The focus this year is on wildlife crime – trading wildlife illegally – and rightly so. Wildlife crime has been on the rise, and is estimated to be as high as $258bn, coming in after drug smuggling, counterfeiting and human trafficking. Wildlife crime isn’t just about ivory poaching or killing rhinos for their horn, it also includes the wildlife pet trade. Most of us aren’t into traditional medicine (the main reason for the loss of rhinos and pangolins), but many do like animals, especially ‘exotic pets’. I’m always slightly apprehensive when people tell me of their non-dog/cat/goldfish pets, because I always wonder where those come from.
The environment is not just about wildlife though, but everything that supports life on this earth – our life support system. Everyone should be strongly encouraged to live in an environmentally-friendly way, and to be honest, I sometimes think that shouldn’t even be a choice. I do think regulations and monetary policies should be implemented to enforce a less-damaging lifestyle, like taxing 5p for plastic bags, or turning certain areas of cities into car-free zones. Lightening our (first world) footprint on the earth is not just about the amount of carbon we emit, but also about the amount of waste we generate, the amount we consume (water, food, minerals, energy etc.).
Most coffee places here in the UK/London give disposable cups when you purchase a hot drink, with labels on them saying they’re made from recyclable materials or are recyclable etc. Great, but I do wish we didn’t have to produce/use them in the first place. The cafes in Imperial College London and University College London, to my disappointment, always give disposable cups, unlike in Cambridge where they’d give a mug unless you asked for a takeaway. And if you brought a reusable cup (which I often do), you get a 50p discount. The library cafe in Imperial did sell reusable KeepCups at £7 (I bought my reusable coffee cup from the Grads Cafe in Cambridge for £1, though they’ve stopped selling the ones I have and started selling KeepCups at £5, and the discount is apparently just 20p now…). I seldom buy coffee from the cafes in Imperial/UCL, but I had been buying more often recently, and the amount of waste generated got to me sufficiently that I went online to search for the feedback form, and told the counter staff that perhaps a discount for bringing reusable cups would be a good idea.
Apart from trying to generate less waste (I try not to use single-use disposables, having switched to a Mooncup, and bringing my water bottle/coffee cup around with me, but I’m far from achieving a zero-waste status), I really wish more people in the UK wouldn’t waste water. It’s remarkable how effective the
brain-washing teaching in Singapore has been, that even after almost four years here, I still find it very difficult to let a tap run free, even for a short while. Most people here just let the tap gush while they pot around clearing the table or whatever. And let the shower run while they’re lathering. When I’ve asked people why do they not just turn it off and save some water, I usually just get a nonchalant ‘we’ve got lots of it anyway’ answer. Okayy, but I don’t think that’s a good excuse for wasting resources anyway. Especially when it doesn’t belong to you, but to every living thing on this planet.
Perhaps the best way of trying to adopt a more environmentally-friendly lifestyle is by starting with our food choices. Making sustainable food choices isn’t terribly difficult – simply reducing meat consumption, eating food that is in season, and preferably obtained locally can go a pretty long way. The best piece of research I’ve heard so far this year was that just reducing meat consumption to within health guidelines (not even having to go completely vegetarian; I find that incredibly difficult myself) would greatly decrease global greenhouse gas emissions. It’s not that difficult to not eat meat at every meal. Plus meat substitutes are getting increasingly better – my friend and I found out recently that Quorn’s chicken style nuggets taste amazingly similar to McDonald’s chicken nuggets. I’d take Quorn over McDonald’s anytime.
We don’t have to live an austere lifestyle to be environmentally-friendly, but I think if we all try hard to incorporate bits of it into our life such that taking the more environmentally-friendly choice comes automatically, we soon wouldn’t need a World Environment Day. I’m not coming at this from a moral high ground either – with my terrible flying and buying (outdoor/climbing gear) habits, I have absolutely no right to. But as this writer claims George Monbiot says, I’d rather be hypocritical than cynical any day.