Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Earth Day 2015; It's our turn to lead

Author; David Richards, Images; Neil Hinds

The world’s first official Earth Day was held on the 22nd April 1970, a day widely credited as the launch of the modern environmental movement. Fast-forward forty-five years, and you begin to realise just how significant this day was. This year, it is expected that over a billion people will participate in Earth Day activities, which makes Earth Day 2015 one of the largest civic observances in the world.

As part of this year’s celebration, the Earth Day Network are spreading the message, ‘It’s our turn to lead’. With this message in mind, Blue Temple Conservation decided to explore our impact on the planet and assess whether we could implement any changes to our lifestyle here in Pulau Perhentian. The first step in this exploration was to calculate our ecological footprint. Each of the ecological footprint calculators we used assessed aspects of our lifestyle including our diet (namely how much food we consumed and where it was produced), travel patterns (primary means of transport and overseas travel), home (the number of people in our household and our use of energy efficient lighting and appliances) and consumption (our demand for new items, such as clothing, furniture and 'stuff' in general). It's important to note that many of the questions featured in the ecological footprint calculators available online were not particularly relevant to us. For example, the primary means of transport that we use here in the islands (boats) was rarely listed or assessed.

Travel is our biggest source of Carbon, followed
by food and secondary living items!

Though the results varied depending on the particular calculator used and the methodology adopted, one thing remained clear. If everyone in the world were to adopt our current lifestyle, we would require a lot more than one planet to provide the resources that we use and to absorb the waste that we produce. To be completely honest, this came as no real surprise to us as long-distance air travel is an unavoidable aspect of our lives. We are located halfway across the world and a single return flight from London's Heathrow Airport to Kuala Lumpur contributes approximately 1.69 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per person. To put this in perspective, based on 2010 World Bank data, the average global citizen emits 4.9 metric tonnes of CO2 annually.

We may be unable to commit to changing our location, but we are very willing to commit to other changes that may help mitigate our impact on the planet. The first change that we are willing to commit to, and our first 'act of green' as part of Earth Day 2015, is to eliminate meat (including seafood) from our diets on both Mondays and Fridays. Did you know that one calorie of meat requires more than twenty times the amount of energy as one plant calorie? By reducing our consumption of meat, we can contribute to a reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions, a reduction in our dependence on fossil fuels and a reduction in water usage. This relatively minor change to our lifestyles may also have a positive impact on our health with the benefits of reducing meat consumption becoming more evident and scientifically-proven.

Our second commitment as part of Earth Day 2015 (which was inspired by our recent visitors from Reefcheck Malaysia, Sue and Alvin) is to discontinue using plastic bags. Estimates suggest that each year between 500 billion and 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed, amounting to approximately one million plastic bags per minute. Further, on average, a person will use a plastic bag for only 12 minutes. In our opinion, plastic bags are a perfect example of the 'single-use' mentality, which provides the foundations for the problematic consumption patterns plaguing societies in both the developed and developing world. Together with the image of all the plastic we collect on our regular beach cleanups, these statistics should provide all the encouragement we need to make this commitment. The only reason we currently accept plastic bags from the stores throughout the village is convenience. By instigating a relatively minor behavioural change in our lives (namely taking a reusable bag or back pack with us whenever we go shopping), we will be able to set a positive example within the community here in Pulau Perhentian and also, reduce our contribution to the amount of plastic waste currently crippling the world's natural environment.

Our third and final commitment as part of Earth Day 2015 is to reduce the amount of waste we produce. Essentially, this is an extension and expansion of our second commitment and, in our opinion, presents our biggest challenge. This being said, we have already taken one big step in the right direction by installing an aerobic compost system for our organic waste matter, which consists primarily of fruit and vegetable scraps, egg shells and tea bags. In addition to this, we will also be making a conscious effort to reduce the amount of water, cleaning products, plastic bottles and non-recyclable packaging we use in our day-to-day lives. To achieve significant reductions, we will need to be thinking about this commitment each and every day, which is why we will be creating and introducing signs throughout our house to remind us of our commitment and provide the encouragement necessary to achieve change.

Our pledges for Earth Day 2015

Do you remember the message attached to Earth Day 2015...? 'It's our turn to lead'. As the state of the environment deteriorates, it becomes easier and easier to accept defeat and adopt a pessimistic attitude, specifically the 'what difference can one person make' mentality. However, Blue Temple Conservation refuses to lose sight of the impact (however small that may be) that individual acts can have on reducing carbon dioxide emissions and supporting the future sustainability of contemporary society. Since the introduction of Earth Day, more than one billion 'Acts of Green' have been pledged by individuals and businesses making it the world's largest environmental service campaign and providing ample evidence that we aren't the only ones willing to make a change to our lives. Collectively, our acts of green, our commitments, can make a difference.

Further Information:

Ecological FootprintCalculator powered by Global Footprint Calculator

The largest environmental service campaign in the world – inspires and rewards simple individual acts and larger organizational initiatives that further the goal of measurably reducing carbon emissions and supporting sustainability. 

To celebrate Earth Day 2015, along with our pledge, we conducted an early morning village clean up. What will you pledge to do for your planet?

One and a half hours, three people, six bags. Barely scratched
the surface of the trash in the area.

A lovely local lady even got involved and helped Sabi clean up
some trash too!

In the shadow of the new impressive Mosque, lies a
graveyard of plastic, glass and metal

From the small Jetty to near the Mosque we cleaned