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Eight bits of green wisdom for World Environment Day
By Simon Chau (HK Edition)
Updated: 2009-05-30 07:44

Eight bits of green wisdom for World Environment Day

World Environment Day is coming up again (June 5). What can we do as a community?

And you think 'the end is near'?

Since Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth, there has been a general consensus time is running out. Through government policies, words addressed to school assemblies and from many other forums, the general public is becoming increasingly aware that unless we act now, Doomsday awaits. Psychologists and PR gurus remind us that people, on average,have to be told five to six times a message before it becomes clear and its meaning internalized.Nevertheless, hitting the panic button probably is not the best response.

Having worked in the green movement over the years, I have noticed a number of responses people tend to adopt to put off immediate action. It's time to bust some of these myths.

Grey myths & good green reality

1. Pollution is part of the price of civilization - "Since we are now enjoying the convenience of modern technology, it is inevitable that the environment has to suffer a bit."

FACTS: It is not convenient that people should die prematurely of cancer or swine flu, or be condemned to breathing foul air or drinking toxic water. There ARE more sensible means to ensure everyone enjoys abundant health without associated ecological compromises.

2. Technology will fix it - "Since the pollution is caused by modern technological advances, surely more advances in technology can overcome old technological shortcomings."

FACTS: Pollution is a result of irresponsible use of outdated technologies. Eco-friendly technologies are all there, but they are not quite in place owing to economic, political and cultural reasons. Scientists can provide us with green innovative means to satisfy our needs - if we place the orders.

3. We will surely survive this crisis - "Prophecies of collective doom have been around for millennia. Humans managed to overcome every one of them. Why should the present one be any exception?"

FACT: Think of the example of a guy falling from the roof of a 49 story building, and during his descent keeps reassuring himself this isn't so bad as he plummets past the windows of the 42nd floor, the 35th, the 21st and the 4th floor...?

4. Enjoy now, clean up later - "We have to get rich first. We all deserve a good life (i.e. modern conveniences). Then we will have the money and the will to clean things up."

FACTS: The price will be too high by then (in terms of human lives, irreversible ecological damage, or even global calamity). We would certainly be required to spend many times more to clean up the mess than it cost to create it. To "develop" in a clean way makes economic, social as well as ethical sense.

5. It should be left to the experts - "What do we know? Why should we bother? Experts are responsible for solving our problems. Why are we not paying them to save our trouble?"

FACTS: Our so-called "experts" are typically technocrats who specialize in problem solving within their limited, rational, academic domains. To resolve global problems involving complex political and ideological factors, we need wisdom and common sense from all quarters, including yours and mine. More importantly, our emerging ecological disaster is a result of the way we live (and think). There's not much the experts can do about that.

6. It should be left to government - "Are we not paying taxes to ensure that we have a clean environment in order to live in bliss? Is there not a Minister or Secretary in charge of the Environment? Only the government can introduce legislations and policies to protect the environment."

FACTS: Again, there is precious little governments can do to transform individual lifestyles which are the crux of the problem. Governments can only carry out the will of the people even while forced to pander to special interest groups (including the business community).

7. What difference can I make? - "What is the point of my saving a few plastic bags while everyone else is throwing away billions of them every hour? How can a common citizen like me save the world? Why should I put the gigantic task on my fragile shoulder?"

FACTS: More and more of us are putting green ideas into practice now. Every action you and I take has a snowball effect. You are not alone.

8. We are doomed anyway - "Every indicator and trend published these days points to ever more imminent total collapse. We will perish together anytime. Why shouldn't we enjoy life while we still can?"

FACT: I would not listen to anyone who declares with certainty that the point of no return has already passed. Future development depends on every action you and I take NOW.

Dr Chau chairs the Green Living Education Foundation. He may be contacted at

(HK Edition 05/30/2009 page3)