China Daily/ Asia News Network
Sunday, Mar 20, 2016
Every day, every person on this planet makes many decisions. From the moment we wake up to the time we fall asleep, we make choices that range from what we will wear to how we will get to work and where we will shop.
More than a dozen of these decisions are about food: what to eat, where to buy food and how to cook it.
Today, as people all over the world get ready to show their commitment to the health of the planet by turning off their lights for one hour, it has become even more important for us to realise how each of these decisions can have a huge impact on the world we share.
The need for this is as clear as the air we want in our cities. Within the next 35 years there will be an extra 1.5 billion people to feed, each with his/her own dream and aspiration.
By 2030, humanity will need the equivalent of two Earths to support itself. This is clearly not viable in a world where climate change will make it even harder for the natural world to provide for our needs.
It is tempting to ignore these problems, partly because we feel that one person cannot make a difference.
But we are not alone in this world, and individual action forms part of a greater whole. As Xunzi, the famous Confucian philosopher, once said: "No river or sea can be formed without the streams."
But how can we make our individual streams flow the way they should? A large part of the answer lies in making wise decisions about the things we do every day.
For example, we can think about how and what we eat. I was shocked to learn that it takes more than 16,000 liters of precious water to produce just 1 kilogram of beef.
Most of the forests we chop down are destroyed to make way for animal agriculture, which makes meat production the leading cause of species and biodiversity loss.
And, as if this wasn't bad enough, the meat industry accounts for almost one-fifth of all the man-made greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change.
So, something as simple as eating less meat can help save two of the world's most precious resources - our water and our forests - while combating climate change.
We also need to be better at conserving food. Every year, humans throw away about one-third of all the food we produce - about 1.3 billion tons.
This is particularly horrifying when you think of the millions of people who don't have enough to eat. By shopping smartly, planning our meals and creatively using our leftovers we can prevent this shocking waste of food, and save money too.
Another way of saving money and the environment is to replace the light bulbs in our homes and offices with more energy-efficient ones. If everyone on the planet did this tomorrow, we'd stop the equivalent of 138 coal-fired power stations from spewing out harmful carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year.
With China's electric car market set to more than double in 2016, we can also think about buying an electric car when it's time to trade our old one. Or we can choose to ride to work on a bicycle, use public transport or share a ride to work.
Each day here in China we face the consequences of failing to make these simple, educated choices: we are reminded of this failure every time the government issues a smog alert and every time our children can't go to school because of the harmful air pollution.
For our health and well-being, the cost of failing to act is as damaging as the smog that shrouds our cities.
Confucius taught us frugality and thriftiness, and these two principles need to be in our minds whenever we go out shopping - we need to use our financial and natural resources wisely as "Green Consumers".
When we need to buy new appliances and goods - be it a washing machine, refrigerator, car, cosmetics or electronics - we need to buy ones that carry the government's eco-label.
By making these small, smart and simple changes to the way we live, we can start to enjoy better health, a better environment and a better bank balance.
Today, as the world marks Earth Hour, we must realise that making the world a better place isn't just about switching off our lights for a short time.
It's about changing the way we live; it's about changing the way we consume so that the billions of decisions we make collectively don't destroy the planet but help to protect it instead.
By setting our hearts right and by cultivating our personal life, we can put the world in order.
This is not only about being kind to future generations; it's about being kind to ourselves and our communities today.
The author is a goodwill ambassador of the United Nations Environment Programme.