Global warming is a real threat to the future of the planet, humanity, and millions of other species that inhabit the earth. Scientists have unequivocally pointed out that this ongoing process and impending calamity is due to human intervention and the imbalance in nature. We are stripping the earth of resources, vegetation, and livable space at a rate that is not sustainable. On top of that, humans churn out massive amounts of waste, greenhouse gases, and pollution. Due to global warming, weather systems have changed, resulting in hotter summers, colder winters, and extreme weather patterns. What used to be normal typhoons have now evolved into super typhoons, much like Haiyan, which ravaged the southern Philippines a few years back. Extreme snowstorms in Northeastern United States were due to increased moisture in the atmosphere, again, a result of global warming. The recent heat waves in India and Pakistan, which have caused hundreds of deaths, is yet another example of how human activity has resulted in major climate change and loss of life.
Our society has become focused on the consumer, with a myriad of products manufactured to suit every palate and taste. This feeds on the underlying human traits of greed, ego, and ignorance. Our lifestyle is in strict contradiction to the Dharma, which focuses on the Middle Path (a path of moderation) and the taming of our desires.
As a Buddhist, I have had an interest in environmental protection and green technologies for a long time, as I feel that we must live in harmony with our environment. We have the privilege of hearing and learning the Dharma, so now we know that due to our ignorance and greed, we continue to destroy the earth without thinking of the consequences.
I was very fortunate to have attended the Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) Conference held at The Matrix@Biopolis in March 2015, the first such conference outside Taiwan. The talks focused on many different topics, ranging from humanistic medicine and nursing to education. However, what left an indelible impression on me was the talk on green health care; its topic was “What Everyone Ought to Know about Green Health Care”. Dr Lin Chin-Lon, CEO of Tzu Chi’s Mission of Medicine, Ms Merci Ferrer, Asia Director of Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), and Mr Chen Fan-Lun, Manager of the Industrial Technology Research Institute in Taiwan, were the speakers, and they certainly enthralled the audience with their energy and enthusiasm. I was particularly impressed with the use of green technologies in Tzu Chi hospitals in Taiwan, and also with the use of these technologies in Tzu Chi’s humanitarian relief work. In particular, DA.AI Technology’s recycled bottle technology, which spins recycled PET bottles into yarn, and subsequently uses the yarn to make blankets for disaster relief.
When it comes to environmentalism, a lot of people believe that they have little or no ability to effect change in the world. However, such a mindset is incorrect. Personal change leads to societal, and subsequently to global change. It is always easier to change our own behavior before changing others. From the TIMA Conference, I learned that more had to be done to save the Earth. I was greatly inspired by that particular talk, and wondered how I could go about making changes to my workplace and home environment. I had already tried to optimize the home environment by increasing recycling, shutting off all non-essential devices and switches, and using the air-conditioner only when the weather is warm. Also, rain water is used to wash the floor and wipe down surfaces. Showers are kept to as short duration as possible, and the water is not heated. In a tropical climate, using heated water to shower seems counterintuitive.
However, I noticed that in the workplace, there were few or almost no green initiatives in place. At that time, I was serving my National Service as a Medical Officer (MO). My fellow MO and I were in charge of the medical centre. Being in charge, we were in the position to make effective changes to the running of the centre as long as they did not compromise patient safety and treatment.
I noticed that at the medical center, like many others, much of the energy consumption came from computers that were not powered down after use, air conditioning that was kept on the whole day, and lighting. The air conditioning was also set at a very low temperature, 18 to 20 degrees Celsius, which was really unnecessary. Also, being a medical centre, we run through a lot of paper. Hence, a lot of paper products are discarded every day. We also use a lot of medical equipment, from needles to intravenous (IV) cannulas, to IV drip sets or dressing sets.
Therefore, I decided to change the workplace to one that was more environmentally friendly and set up a green initiative at my medical centre. Keeping the lessons and pointers from the TIMA Conference talk in mind, I implemented a few key changes there. The two main areas of focus were on saving energy and recycling.
The medics at the centre were asked to switch off all lights and air conditioning after office hours, except in essential areas. Also, all computers were required to be shut down and the switches to be turned off. The rationale is that even computers plugged into the wall sockets are still utilizing electricity; only after the wall sockets are switched off that more energy can be saved.
As the medical centre has a lot of sensitive paperwork, used paper is separated into confidential and non-confidential information. Confidential paperwork is shredded and sent for recycling or disposal, whereas non-confidential documents are reused as scrap paper.
Equipment wise, for used plastic equipment, they are collected in a bag and sent for recycling. Equipment tainted by use is labelled as biohazards and disposed of.
As this initiative is relatively new, there are still a lot of processes and workflows to be worked out. However, I do believe that this is a step in the right direction, to save energy consumption.
Environmentalism and Buddhism are complimentary. Through the Dharma we are reminded to be compassionate, have loving kindness, and approach life with mindfulness and wisdom. It is just as important to apply such teachings to daily life. Just as every cause has an effect, we must be especially mindful in our actions to avoid causing further destruction to the earth. Just like how I was inspired and galvanized by the TIMA Conference, we, too, can inspire others to change. Once we make environmental protection an integral part of our lives, it will show through our daily thoughts and actions.