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JUne 30th, 2010

Discussing pollution is something that I've meant to do here for a couple of months now. I've kept putting it off because there were other interesting things to talk about and also because I care so much about this topic that I wanted to do it justice. Everyone knows about pollution. Drive less, walk more, recycle, yadi yada... But people still keep doing what they've always done or only make minor changes. Because unless people really understand why they have to change their behavior, they won't.

My students knew about pollution too. It's a very popular topic in our books. So I approached the topic differently with them. I simply asked them, "What do you need to live? List as many things as you can think of." And while, they worked, I drew three Earths on the board. Some of my students only had 2 or 3 items in their list (maybe they knew where I was going with this assignment!). My student John listed "air, water and a weapon" so that he could defend himself against a predator and hunt for food.

"Oh really, you wake up every morning and hunt for your food?" I challenged him.

We don't live like Neanderthals anymore. As we become more developed and more middle class, our needs start to change. We need cell phones, to keep track of our whereabout and in case of emergencies. We need computers to keep in touch with one another and to purchase cheaper goods. We need hairdryers, cars, ipods, rice cookers, pans, air conditioners....

The girls in my class recognized that and their lists were longer than John's. As each of them shared their necessities list, I added a post-it on my drawing of the Earth. By the time my last student was sharing his needs, I was starting to fill in the second Earth.

That's exactly where we stand right now. There are more of us on Earth, more of us wanting more things but unfortunately, the Earth doesn't have enough resources to meet everyone's needs. Especially when the quenching of our needs is accompanied by waste! I still believe it's important to drive less, walk more and recycle. But above all, I think it's important to rethink what we REALLY need. It's unrealistic to think we can make do without modern appliances and amenities. We still need phones and microwaves. But do we really need to change cell phones or cars every six months? Do we really need to use the AC? Could we not put on an extra layer in winter instead of cranking up the heat to tropical? Do we need this many clothes? Each time I walk into one of China's gleaming new malls, I feel ambiguity. I want to shop for the latest fashions but I'm also saddened by what all this consumption means for our future.

Mike claims that the human species only has a 100 years left to live. That the damage we have done is irreversible, even if we start driving solar cars or bury extra CO2 under the ground (as I recently read some geoengineers want to do!). Mike is actually looking forward to being wiped out by an environmental apocalypse (he finds chaos entertaining!). But even if the die are already cast, I'm going to continue bugging my colleagues about recycling paper and wearing my old clothes. And who knows, maybe I'll even become a vegetarian!

Posted by Evil1 02:13 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad

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