Global warming has led to an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events and disasters. The rise in global temperature is primarily due to an increase in greenhouse gases brought about by human activity. Despite the call by the United Nations to industrialized nations to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, we have seen a continued increase in these emissions. If this goes on, our planet will continue to undergo destruction, jeopardizing the lives of all creatures, including us humans.
In addition, many of the material comforts that we enjoy in our daily lives come at the expense of environmental damage and pollution. As the human population grows, the demand for resources becomes greater, leading to even more pollution and environmental damage. If we continue to pursue our current lifestyle of consumption, the Earth's resources will be depleted within a few decades.
What then can we do to conserve the environment and protect Mother Earth?
Environmental Protection Starts at the Individual Level
For more than 20 years, the Tzu Chi Foundation has been relentlessly promoting the green cause. Its numerous volunteers around the world lead by example, using reusable eating utensils and grocery bags instead of disposable ones, choosing a vegetarian lifestyle, and cherishing and saving Earth’s resources. Not only do they keep their carbon footprints small, they also actively do recycling work in the community. These are people who love Mother Earth. They understand how our lives are intricately connected to Mother Nature and how our daily lifestyles impact the environment, so they make adjustments to their lives in order to better protect the Earth.
In fact, environmental protection is much more than mere recycling. It is a noble mindset that promotes high-quality green living as well. We can improve in our environmental efforts by living simply and reducing our desires. For example, we can cut down on purchases by buying only what is needed, make the most of every consumer item instead of constantly replacing them, and buy eco-friendly products whenever possible. We can also cook meals at home instead of eating takeaways. Doing so reduces the use of disposable packaging, which in turn decreases the volume and cost of waste disposal.
The prolific use of polystyrene and plastic packaging products increases pollution and harms the delicate ecosystems. No matter how many recyclables are reclaimed, the most effective strategy is to reduce the consumption of such products. Recycling is the last resort; reducing the amount of waste that we produce should be the first priority in environmental protection. By cutting down on consumption and reducing waste, we can all help to foster a better and healthier world.
Conserving Water and Energy
As a result of the damage done to the environment, Nature's capacity to retain water has been greatly diminished. When it does not rain, we may face a water crisis. As water resources are limited and fast diminishing, more than ever, we need to conserve water.
Many Tzu Chi volunteers keep basins and buckets at home, which they use to collect used water. They save the water from washing vegetables and reuse it to water plants. They also save the cleaner, non-soapy water from the shower and use it to flush the toilet and mop the floor. We can also do the same in our homes by reusing water whenever possible.
To save on electricity, we must switch off lights and electrical appliances when they are not in use. Using less air-conditioning, taking the stairs instead of the lift are also ways to conserve electricity. Instead of driving a car, we can take public transportation or ride a bicycle, which not only saves precious energy but also helps to reduce harmful emissions.
Go Vegetarian to Protect Our Planet
Did you know that eating meat contributes to over half of the greenhouse gases? Livestock is a major threat to the environment. World Watch Institute has reported that 51% of greenhouse gases are attributed to livestock and their by-products. Farm animals produce enormous amounts of waste, such as excrement and methane gas. Scientific research has found methane to be much more potent in warming our planet than carbon dioxide. Due to the increase in human population, meat consumption has increased five-fold in the past 50 years, and correspondingly, the amount of greenhouse gases has also increased greatly.
By eating vegetarian food, our demand for meat will decrease, and greenhouse gases associated with raising animals will also decrease. Therefore, all Tzu Chi offices, schools and hospitals serve only vegetarian food. To help our planet and the whole of humanity, it is best that we adopt a vegetarian diet and encourage other people to do so too. It is actually not difficult to go vegetarian. Once we make the switch and get used to our new eating habit, it can go a long way toward protecting our environment and caring for the Earth.
In many countries, Tzu Chi implements recycling programmes to educate people about environmental protection and to encourage them to do recycling. The aim, however, is not just to reduce trash and recover resources, but to raise environmental consciousness. While doing recycling work, volunteers witness the consequences of a consumerist lifestyle. The experience makes them reflect, and they start living a less wasteful lifestyle, curbing unnecessary consumption.
By keeping the recyclables clean and sorting them out in detail, they can be turned into high quality products. For example, the Tzu Chi International Humanitarian Aid Association (TIHAA) has developed the DA.AI yarn, which is made of used PET bottles collected by recycling volunteers. The yarn is then woven into eco-blankets, which are distributed to people in need during Tzu Chi’s humanitarian aid missions.
By the end of 2015, Tzu Chi has set up more than 6,600 recycling stations/points worldwide with over 100,000 recycling volunteers involved. Earnings from recycling are also channelled to good causes. In Taiwan, recycling earnings fund Tzu Chi’s Da Ai TV station.
Green Buildings & Green Living
Tzu Chi also incorporates green concepts into its construction projects, such as in rainwater catchment systems and solar panels. Buildings constructed by Tzu Chi are designed to maximize natural air ventilation and lighting to reduce electricity use. Instead of non-permeable concrete pavements, the ground surrounding the buildings is paved with inter-locking bricks laid on gravel so that rainwater can be returned to the earth.
The Jing Si Abode (Tzu Chi’s HQ and the residence of Master Cheng Yen and her monastic disciples) is not only a fine example of green construction, but the people who work/stay there also live eco-friendly lives. To save power, everyone has to make do with fans during the hot summer months. In the winter, they simply put on more clothes and shut the windows to keep themselves warm. Electricity is used sparingly, and rooms are often dimly lit.
The complex collects rainwater and stores it in an underground tank, to be used in the fields. People hand-wash their clothes instead of using a washing machine. There are no trash bins in the Abode. All discarded items are sorted for recycling and there is only one trash bag for non-recyclables in the entire complex. Food is never wasted; what is uneaten is kept and served at the next meal or made into compost.
As Master Cheng Yen often says, the work of protecting the Earth is akin to that of a farmer cultivating his field—it requires long-term effort. By focusing on our needs instead of our wants and living a simple, frugal life, we will be able to help decrease pollution and reduce damage to the environment. In this way, everyone can play a significant role in safeguarding Mother Earth, our one and only precious home.