Taking Care Of Our Planet Essay

Saturday, 25 August 2012 15:53 Tzu Chi Foundation

[Master's Teachings]
"As inhabitants of the earth, we are nourished and sustained by Mother Earth who provides us our food and all the resources for life. If she is healthy and well, we will be healthy and well. Our fates are intertwined." —Dharma Master Cheng Yen

In Malaysia there’s a family of four who, for over 30 years, used to run a noodle shop selling meat noodles. They turned to vegetarianism and switched to selling vegetarian food, despite a decline of earnings as well as customers. In Taiwan, a volunteer who was running a very lucrative business selling disposable tableware closed it down, forgoing the profit. What made these people change?

These are people who love the environment and Mother Nature. They're making adjustments to their lives so they can better protect the Earth. This is because they understand how our life is connected to Mother Nature and how our daily lifestyle impacts the environment—something that Dharma Master Cheng Yen often tells us. Below is a summary of the connections and impacts that Dharma Master Cheng Yen has spoken about, which can open our eyes to why it is important to care for our planet, our home.

Beautiful planet undergoing destruction

Our Earth is a very beautiful planet. Among all the planets in the universe, the Earth is the loveliest, with mountains, oceans, and all manner of environments, each a home to many kinds of creatures. Mother Earth sustains all life on it, including us humans. She provides all the food we eat and the material goods we use.

But her health is declining and she's losing her ability to protect and provide for the creatures living on the land. Natural disasters, such as floods, mudslides, wildfires, drought, and earthquakes, cause damage to the Earth. Crops are destroyed as a result of drought or flooding, leading to food shortages and famine. People lose their lives and their homes as a result of natural disasters. Mother Nature can no longer provide a safe environment for us to live in.

Global warming is causing natural disasters to happen more frequently. The rising of the Earth's temperature has disrupted the order of Nature, resulting in abnormal climates and natural disasters. The increasing global temperature is caused by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere trapping the Earth's heat. Despite the call by the United Nations to industrialized nations to cut down on their greenhouse gas emissions, in the past few years, we've seen a continued increase of greenhouse gases. If this goes on, our planet will continue undergoing destruction, jeopardizing the lives of all creatures, including us humans.

What can we do to help?

Did you know that eating meat contributes to over half of the greenhouse gases? World Watch Institute has reported that 51% of greenhouse gases are attributed to livestock and their byproducts1. If we can cut down on our meat consumption, we can help reduce the problem. Mother Earth supports a very large human population of seven billion. Imagine how much food we have to eat every day. For example, a whole chicken can be eaten in just one meal, but it takes months to raise. Imagine how many animals need to be raised in order to feed people. Raising animals, such as chickens, pigs, and cows, produces wastes, such as excrement and methane gas. Scientific research has found that methane is 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 so, the amount of greenhouse gases has also greatly increased. This is why scientists are telling us that the quickest way to mitigate global warming is to eat vegetarian.

Eating Vegetarian

For a long time, Dharma Master Cheng Yen has been urging people to eat vegetarian. By not eating meat, it helps nurture kindness and compassion in our heart, as we don't take the lives of animals. Vegetarian food is also good for our health. And now scientists are telling us that eating vegetarian can save the Earth. By eating vegetarian, our demand for meat will decrease. Hence, farms won't need to raise so many livestock. When the number of livestock is reduced, greenhouse gases associated with raising animals will also reduce. Therefore, to help our planet and the whole of mankind, it's necessary that we eat vegetarian and encourage other people to do it too.

The family in Malaysia that turned vegetarian and stopped selling beef noodles did so after watching Da Ai TV, Tzu Chi’s TV channel. It broadcasts many programs on environmental protection, vegetarianism, and protecting the life of animals. Through Da Ai TV, they learned the harm of killing animals, eating meat, and its negative impact on the environment. So they turned to eating vegetarian and courageously made the switch to selling vegetarian food even though it hurt their business. But they insist on doing it because it gives them peace of mind in knowing that they're no longer doing harm to the animals and the Earth.

Here is another example. There are two Tzu Chi volunteers who became vegetarian after taking part in the sutra adaptation of the Water Repentance Text last year. This was an activity Tzu Chi held last year which required participants to eat vegetarian for at least 108 days. The two Tzu Chi volunteers who participated were husband and wife. The husband was very keen on eating vegetarian, but the wife was very resistant to it. Despite her objection, he took the initiative to eat vegetarian anyway. To get his wife to follow suit, he went to learn vegetarian cooking and started cooking for her every day so that she would not have any chance to cook and eat meat. The wife, meanwhile, was learning about the harm of eating meat through the sutra adaptation activity and has become repentant of eating meat and the harms she has done to animals. After much struggle to overcome her initial resistance, she finally became a vegetarian. Now, the whole family, including the children, is vegetarian.

It's not hard to eat 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.

Human consumption, the burden of Mother Earth

Cars, computers, houses, and clothing, are some of the things that we use every day. We drive around in a car to get us to where we need to go. We use computers for work. We live in a house to shelter us from the elements, and we have to wear clothes every day. All these require natural resources: fuels for the car, various metals for computer parts, brick or concrete for houses, and synthetic fibers for cloth. The Earth provides the resources for us to transform into these various material goods. With our growing population, she's trying very hard to support us. There's only one Earth and her resources are limited. Inasmuch as she tries to provide us what we need, her resources are dwindling. The Earth is also becoming more and more polluted.

Take oil or petroleum for example. Our demand for oil keeps on increasing, so we keep pumping it out of the earth. The process of refining oil and then making products derived from oil, such as synthetic fibers, releases a lot of pollutants into the atmosphere, land, and water.

The houses we live in also come at the expense of pollution. Many houses are made from bricks and concrete. To make bricks and concrete, we mine for clay and various types of rocks. The process of making them involves very hot kilns which produce air pollution. After excavating clay and rocks, we leave permanent tunnels or holes in the mountains. The mountains cannot regrow, so the tunnels won’t fill themselves again with the same clay or rocks that were excavated. It's the same with metals, such as gold, iron, and copper. Metals ores excavated from the earth are processed to obtain these metals. During the process, toxic waste is generated.

Many of the material goods that we enjoy in our daily life come at the expense of environmental damage and pollution. As the human population grows, the demand for resources becomes greater, and we also create more pollution. If we continue with our current lifestyle of consumption, and continue over-extracting materials, the Earth's resources will be depleted within 30 years2. If we deplete all the available resources now, we won't have resources left for our children or our future generations to use.

Developing a Heart of Appreciation and Recycling

The Earth provides so much to us, from food and housing to all the material goods that we use. How can we help her and minimize the harms we're doing to her? One very tangible way that Dharma Master Cheng Yen tells us we can help is by doing recycling. By recycling what we would otherwise simply throw out with the garbage, we can reduce the need to extract new raw materials from the Earth and better protect the Earth from being damaged. When recyclable materials are sorted by type, they can serve as raw materials to be remade into new products.

In many countries, Tzu Chi has recycling programs to educate people about environmental protection and encourage them do recycling by saving items such as cans, plastic bottles, and cartons, and keeping them clean. By keeping the recyclables clean and already sorted, it makes the recycling easier for volunteers and also saves water in cleaning.

In the programs, we share with people how to develop a heart of appreciation when using things in our daily life through cherishing what we have. Take drinking juice for example. When we hold a bottle of juice in our hand, let’s think about how much labor and effort went into producing it. First, farmers need to grow fruit trees, and they need to take care of them by applying fertilizers and tending to them. Mother Nature, with her sunlight, water, soil, and air, makes the trees grow and produce fruits. When the fruits are ripe, workers harvest and process them. Drivers then transport the juices to the supermarket to be put on the shelves. So much effort went in so that we may enjoy the juice, we should be grateful and appreciate it.

After we finish drinking, there'll be some drops left at the bottom of the container. To cherish those drops of juice, we can pour some water in it, shake it a little bit to rinse the few drops, and drink the liquid. That way, we won't waste any drops of juice that so many people worked hard to provide. Also, by rinsing the container with water, it keeps the container clean so that it won't attract ants, flies, or cockroaches to our home. We can do this not just for juice containers, but for milk cartons and other things that can be recycled.

When the recyclables are brought to the recycling stations, our recycling volunteers sort them by their material type. If the recyclables are dirty, they have to be cleaned before being sorted. Take a PET bottle for example, the volunteers separate the cap and its plastic ring from the bottle, then take off the label wrapping, leaving the bottle as clean and free from impurities as possible. By keeping the recyclables clean and sorting them in detail, they can be turned into high quality products. For example, recycled PET bottles can be turned into fabrics, which are then made into clothing and blankets. It takes 70 PET bottles to make one blanket. We then distribute these blankets to people in need around the world, such as disaster survivors and the poor. Instead of obtaining raw materials to make the blankets, through recycling, we are able to turn "garbage" into valuable resources and reuse them to make useful products for people.

Many residents in the community take part in our recycling effort. When they participate and personally get involved in doing recycling, they see for themselves firsthand how much waste we generate, how many things we throw away, and how much we are consuming.

Mr. Chen is a recycling volunteer in Taiwan who used to run a wholesale business providing disposable tableware and plastic bags. In 1990, there was an increase in demand for disposable tableware in Taiwan due to people using it to prevent contracting hepatitis B when eating out. Mr. Chen's business bloomed.

Later he came into contact with Tzu Chi and got involved in recycling work. He would help transport recyclables to the recycling station and sort them out. After doing this, he came to realize that the disposable tableware his business provided end up in the garbage after use. As Tzu Chi was promoting environmental protection by cutting down on the use of disposables, his business was doing the exact opposite. He felt very bad.

As he still needed to support his family and it was hard for him to switch, he continued to run the business. Many years later, in 1997, when his financial situation became more stable, he finally was able to fulfill his wish to close his disposable tableware business of 26 years. Knowing how important recycling is to protecting the Earth, he helped set up a recycling station in his community five years later and worked there every day.

Many people who volunteer at the recycling stations have similar experiences to Mr. Chen. After participating in recycling work, they come to examine their lifestyle, begin to cut down on their consumption, and buy only the things they need. They also cherish material goods by using them for as long as possible instead of pursuing the latest fashion by throwing things out and replacing them with a newer model. They come to appreciate the goods they’re using and appreciate the Earth for providing them with the materials that make their life comfortable. They become more aware of the need to protect the environment and take actions to protect it.

Since Tzu Chi started its recycling work in 1990, many people have joined our effort in protecting the environment. As of 2011, we have over 100,000 recycling volunteers in 15 countries and regions working to protect the environment.

Conserving Water and Electricity

In addition to recycling to conserve resources, we can also cherish other resources, such as water and electricity.

With the damage done to the environment, Nature's capacity to retain water is becoming diminished. Water isn't going into rivers and many are drying up. When it doesn't rain, we may face a water crisis. Though many people have turned to using groundwater, over-pumping of groundwater has already caused land to sink. As there are so many people who need to use water in this world and water resources are limited, if every one of us can use less water, the limited water resources can last longer.

There's one volunteer who did just this. In her home, she keeps many basins and buckets, which she uses to collect used water. She saves the water from washing vegetables and reuses it to water plants. She also saves the cleaner, non-soapy water from the shower and uses it again to flush the toilet and mop the floor. When it rains, she collects rain water and uses it to do everyday jobs too. By doing this she is able to cut down water consumption for her family of five by more than half. We can also do the same in our homes by reusing water wherever possible.

We can also save on electricity. Besides the environmental reasons for conserving, do you know how much labor and human effort is involved in bringing electricity to us? To have this electricity, workers have to set up transmission towers to transmit electricity from the power plant to where it's needed. They also need to maintain them. When there's a problem with a tower, technicians have to go up to fix it, climbing very high and risking their lives. They do it so that our lives won't be affected by the loss of electrical power. We can show our appreciation by turning off lights and electrical products when they are not in use to save electricity. It's even better if we can pull out the plugs as well so that no electricity is drawn at all. These are some ways in which we can cherish electricity and be grateful for it.

Caring for the Earth

We all live on the same planet, so we all share the same resources. Depletion of the Earth's resources will impact the whole humanity, our collective quality of life, and our own collective resources. Let us do something for Mother Earth. If we change our consumerist lifestyle and become more environmentally friendly, we can improve the condition of our environment. By not eating meat and eating vegetarian, we can help to reduce greenhouse gases. By reducing our consumption and doing recycling, we can help reduce pollution, conserve resources, and prevent mountains from being destroyed. Conserving electricity and water also helps prolong these resources.

Dharma Master Cheng Yen often says that "grains of rice can fill up a basket and drops of water can form a river." When we switch to eco-friendly living habits, we reduce our part in the harm done to the Earth. Our eco-friendly living habits may seem insignificant in tackling the planet's environmental problem, but when one person changes to an eco-friendly lifestyle, that's one person protecting the Earth. When two, three, five, a hundred, or a hundred thousand people switch to an eco-friendly lifestyle, that's a hundred thousand people protecting the Earth. When more and more people switch to eco-friendly living habits, our collective efforts can protect our planet. One person alone cannot do this; it takes the joint efforts of all people. When everyone switches to eco-friendly living habits we can really curb pollution, mitigate global warming, and save the Earth's resources. As inhabitants of the Earth, let us protect her so that she can remain safe and well. Only when our planet is well can we humankind be safe and well. To give back to the Earth for all that she has provided to us, let us all take care of our planet together.


1. To read the World Watch Institute report ‘Livestock and Climate Change’:
http://www.worldwatch.org/files/pdf/Livestock%20and%20Climate%20Change.pdf
2. To read the Global Footprint Network report ‘World Footprint’:
http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/page/world_footprint/


Written by the Jing Si Abode English Editorial Team
Based on Dharma Master Cheng Yen's Talks



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“The history of life on Earth has been a history of interaction between living things and their surroundings. To a large extent, the physical form and the habits of the earth’s vegetation and its animal life have been molded by the environment. Considering the whole span of earthly time, the opposite effect, in which life actually modifies its surroundings, has been relatively slight. Only within the moment of time represented by the present century has one species -man- acquired significant power to alter the nature of his world.” – Rachel Carson (author of Silent Spring)

Are you aware of the impact that you have on the environment? If you aren’t, continue reading. If you are, and you know your impacts are negative, but you don’t care enough to do something about it, continue reading. If you are, and you live eco-consciously and admire, protect, and preserve our environment, you’re amazing!… and you can continue reading too.

For those that don’t know, caring for the environment doesn’t require you to become an environmental activist – just care for the environment and make eco-conscious decisions. As someone who cares, is aware, and is concerned, I’d like to help you understand why you should care about our environment.

Here are 6 reasons why I believe you should care:

1) A clean environment is essential for healthy living

The more you don’t care about our environment, the more it will become polluted with contaminants and toxins that have a harmful impact on our health. Air pollution can cause respiratory diseases and cancer, among other problems and diseases. Water pollution can lead to typhoid, diarrheal diseases, and other waterborne/water-related diseases.

Although we have treatment systems and other mechanisms to take care of some of these issues, you never know what faults may occur. Air sustains us and water is a basic necessity, so we should just do what we can to prevent pollution.

“When the earth is sick and polluted, human health is impossible…. To heal ourselves we must heal our planet, and to heal our planet we must heal ourselves.” – Bobby McLeod (Aboriginal Activist & Poet)

2) The overall temperature of Earth’s atmosphere is increasing

Global warming is causing climate patterns to change. Yes, climate change is real and we (us humans) are largely responsible because our activities have released large amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Yes, small changes in the average temperature can lead to frequent occurrences of dangerous weather patterns and devastating storms, so for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods—all are now more frequent and intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science—and act before it’s too late.” – President Barack Obama (44th U.S. President), 2013 

3) Your great-great & great-great-great grandchildren will appreciate it

Unless you have some superpower that I am unaware of, you are not going to live forever. So, what type of world do you want to leave for your future family? If you know the dangers that future generations will face due to the problems we have now, why wouldn’t you make sacrifices and do something to prevent them from happening?

“But there must be the look ahead, there must be a realization of the fact that to waste, to destroy, our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed.” – President Theodore Roosevelt (26th U.S. President) 

4) Biodiversity is important

Biodiversity refers to the variety of plants, animals, and other living things in our world. It can be negatively influenced by habitat loss and degradation due to human activity, climate change, and pollution, among other things.

We have many of the basic necessities that we need to survive because of biodiversity. We need food that various species provide to eat, water to drink, air to breathe, and materials to provide shelter and other necessities. There are many natural processes that have been formed by various species to provide these necessities. If something happens to a certain organism, an unwanted chain reaction may occur and that may negatively affect us. Loss of biodiversity could also cause other problems.

The greater the diversity of life, the greater the opportunity for various discoveries that could make our world a much better place, so let’s do what we can to prevent the loss of biodiversity.

“We should judge every scrap of biodiversity as priceless while we learn to use it and come to understand what it means to humanity.” – E.O. Wilson (American Biologist)

5) It’s a reflection of your character

One of my life mottos is, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Nature gives us so many things for free – clean air, clean water, beautiful landscapes, breathtaking views, and the list goes on… We take so much from nature, but what do we give in return? Pollution?

The least we can do is show our appreciation by protecting and preserving our environment.

“What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.” – Mahatma Gandhi (Indian civil rights activist)

6) Earth is our home

It’s where we live, so we better take care of it! Would you rather live in a polluted dump?

“Out of all those millions and millions of planets floating around there in space, this is our planet, this is our little one, so we just got to be aware of it and take care of it.” – Paul McCartney (English musician) 

Check out these EcoAdmirer recommended products!

As an individual, there are many ways to show that you care about our environment. Some of the most common ways are the 3 R’s:

Reduce

Reuse

Recycle

No matter how small or insignificant your actions may seem, they matter. It only takes 1 person to start a movement that could possibly lead to a major environmental breakthrough.

Are you going to be that person?

 

 

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