A message on the occasion of Earth Hour

Media have covered the topic of global warming extensively in recent months, but an important message is being overlooked: the role of the individual.

It’s easy to get lost in the controversy around the topic, to get sidetracked by the negotiations, and become distracted by attempts to create a stronger governance system to address this, and other environmental issues.

Allow us to put aside the complex, global discussion of climate change and look to ourselves.

The celebration of Earth Hour aims to do just that–highlight the role of the individual in addressing environmental issues. Earth Hour, which was celebrated on Saturday, required each individual to switch off the lights for one hour as a symbol of being conscientious about energy consumption.

While the impact of one hour without lights may not be enough to stop climate change in its tracks, this is a great starting point for further discussions about what we can do to lead more environmentally sustainable lives. By highlighting small steps in the right direction, we can trigger a ripple effect as more people join in.

But I believe we have to start by changing our philosophy and our understanding of nature. We need to come to terms with the fact that we are not masters of this planet and this means we must give the environment its due respect. Only then will we be able to actually change our lives to sustain a balance between our interests as human beings and the protection of the environment.

We cannot act on the doom and gloom scenarios that many environmentalists often talk about. Our understanding must be more basic and fundamental than that. The problems facing the environment are real and must be dealt with immediately, but it will take a change in attitude and lifestyle. We will be required to make sacrifices.

But no one will make them without understanding why they are necessary, why we’ve reached a point where we can’t ignore the numbers.

We cannot ignore the population increase that we are witnessing today, the increase in consumption rate, and how we produce much more than we need. We cannot ignore how the conflicting numbers of a drastic distribution problem prove that our mass production is unfairly distributed to this massive population.

At the same time, we must bear in mind the most important facts: that the natural resources we rely on are, in fact, finite. Never, in the history of mankind, have we been so out of sync with nature.

When we change our frame of mind about our relationship with the environment, the drastic changes that must be made will come naturally. It is time to understand how to calculate our environmental footprint.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term footprint, or ecological footprint to be more precise, this is a measure of human demand on the Earth’s ecosystem, or the planets’ ecological capacity to regenerate in order to meet this demand.

If each of us calculates our own footprint, we become aware of how environmentally unsustainable our lifestyles actually are. Our eating habits, travel itineraries and excessive energy consumption can be added together, in figures, to calculate how hard the Earth must work to recover from our usage.

According to available figures, humanity’s total ecological footprint in 2006 was estimated at 1.4, which means that humanity "uses up" the eco-system 1.4 times faster than the Earth can renew it.

If you want to calculate your own footprint, go to carbonfootprints.com. The website can also give you preliminary steps to take as part of your lifestyle to help lessen the effect you have on nature. More generally, there are a number of rules of thumb that will make a considerable difference, such as making the switch to energy saving light bulbs, carpooling  and dividing garbage into organic and non-organic.

Despite the vastness of the Earth and the number of people who populate it, each individual action makes a difference and many individual actions make a wave of difference.

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