Chiu-Nan Lai, Ph.D.
Every concerned person when faced with the ecological and environmental changes taking place on the earth will try to protect it from further contamination. These challenges to the earth’s ecology and environment are directly related to consumerism. Because we are all consumers, we should try our best to adopt a spending lifestyle that best protects the earth and that will encourage the development of ‘green’ business aimed at rejuvenating the earth. How do consumers effectively improve the environment? The Union of Concerned Scientists has some suggestions. These suggestions are based on information from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and California research reports and focus on damage to human health and the ecology.
Problems attributable to human activities include air pollution, global warming, habitat alteration, and water pollution.
The major sources of outdoor pollutants include ozone and micro-particles that come from combustion of petrochemicals such as fuel and gas from power stations. Research reports from California estimate that 3000 people die annually from these causes, 60,000 to 200,000 children have lung infection, and 2 million children suffer from asthma. In the U.S.A, 64,000 of the deaths are caused by pollutant particles that are smaller than 10 micrometres.
Other toxic pollutants come from evaporation of chemicals used in farms, and waste from chemical and metallurgic processes, sewage treatment plants etc. Although the direct impact of these pollutants is not clear, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that more than 2000 of cancer cases every year are attributable to about 20 kinds of uncontrolled pollutants. Air pollution leads to acid rain that destroys forests and wildlife. In the U.S.A, about 1200 (4%) lakes have become totally acidic and cannot support any life forms.
The earth’s temperature has been increasing by about 0.5oC to 1oC every 100 years. Melting glaciers and rising sea levels are indications of the extent of global warming. Man-made factors are primary reasons for this phenomenon. If the discharge of carbon dioxide continues, experts predict that the temperature in the 21st century will increase by a few degrees Celsius. On the surface, it may seem that there is little harm in having the temperature rise by a few degrees. However, there are serious consequences – the distribution of rainfall may be adversely affected, sea levels may rise, and coastlines may be changed. In addition, the ecological balance may be affected: man’s health can be harmed by more air pollutants (which increase when temperature rises), and both water and food can also be polluted. In this aspect, the U.S.A. has the greatest reponsibility – although it only has 5% of the world’s population, it generates 20% of all greenhouse gases that lead to global warming.
Damage to the natural ecology of wildlife comes from reckless destruction of forests, use of agricultural chemicals, and marine fishing. Water usage by the farm industry and urbanization are also contributory factors. Wild animals and plants play a critical role in cleaning our water and air, preventing floods, cleaning pollutants, and pollinating seeds. Needless to say, they provide the emotional and spiritual benefits to humans.
Pollution of Water Supplies
Some industries continue to dump toxic chemicals into our water supplies, poisoning the water and the fish living inside, and killing the plants there. Some of these toxic chemicals include mercury, cadmium, heavy metals, petrochemical waste, and pesticides from farms and homes. In Florida this year, a chemical-contaminated lake led to the death of about 1,200 water birds. In addition, soil eroding to the sea and lakes from farms, logging areas, and construction sites block out sunlight, and lead to the destruction of waterborne plants. Discharge from chemical fertilizers and animal waste from livestock also result in water contamination.
These problems arise from seven activities of the consumer:
- Use of automobiles and light truck
- Production of meat and poultry
- Production of fruits, vegetables and grains
- Use of air conditioners, heaters, and hot water in the home
- Use of home appliances and lighting
- Construction of houses
- Use of water in the home, and sewerage
The first of these activities cause the greatest damage to the environment; the last of these activities cause the least harm. In terms of global warming due to the discharge of exhaust fumes, 32% come from transportation, 35% from homes, and 12% from food production. In terms of production of toxic fumes, 51% come from traffic, 20% from homes, and 9% from food production. In terms of water pollution, 23% come from traffic, 14% from homes, and 22% from food production. In terms of ecological damage due to water usage, 2% come from traffic, 11% from homes, and 73% from food production. In terms of ecological damage due to land usage, 15% come from traffic, 4% from homes, and 45% from food production.
Effective environmental protection must, therefore, target at transportation, food production, and household operation.
- Choose to live in a place that reduces the need to drive.
- Consider carefully before buying an automobile. If one does not need to buy an automobile, don’t buy it.
- Use automobiles that are fuel-efficient and low polluting.
- Plan to have fewer vacations.
- To the extent possible, walk, ride bicycles, or use public transportation.
- Consume less meat
- Use organic products
- Carefully choose your home – the smaller the better. The home need not be big and should be designed to save on heating and air conditioning.
- Minimize expenses on heating and hot water.
- Use energy-saving lights and electrical appliances.
- Choose energy sources derived from the sun and the wind.
In our daily lives, we should reduce spending on activities that damage the environment. We should also encourage ‘green’ business and use products that protect the environment. Here is an illustration.
Effective Micro-organisms (EM) comes from the combination of 80 beneficial microorganisms, including bacteria that are either aerobic (oxygen-loving) or anaerobic (oxygen-hating). Many of these organisms are derived from making of soy sauce, sauerkraut, and the process is similar to making wine and yoghurt. EM was accidentally discovered by Professor TeruoHiga in 1982, and is now used in natural farming, health maintenance, cancer cures, raising animals, treatment of garbage and sewerage systems, cleaning of ponds, rivers, and lakes, and neutralization of damage caused by acid rain. Thailand and Brazil’s farms are the largest users of EM. EM can decompose man-made chemical pollutants. For example, it can rapidly restore land that has been poisoned by chemicals and improve production quantity and quality. EM can remove the odour in the home compost, and rapidly decompose kitchen waste. If every family converts their kitchen waste to compost, problems associated with garbage disposal will be eliminated. Every family can then grow their own vegetables and beautify their surroundings with the plants and flowers they grow. EM can also clean sewage ponds and reduce pollution to the rivers and seas.
Other ‘green’ examples abound, and await the discovery, introduction, and discovery by all of us. This is the time for us to find a means to save the earth and take practical actions.