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Friday, November 14, 2008

Go Green? What the hell does it mean?

All this fuss about global warming. Slogans saying “Go Green” turns up everywhere. Do we, especially us in Indonesia, know what it actually means? What it is to fuss about? I wonder…

I found a lifestyle magazine adding a “Go Green” logo next to its name, while the papers it uses are not even recycled papers. I read a sign on a furniture store that sells mostly wooden stuff saying “we only use environmentally friendly products”. I found a report in a newspaper that a government official in a small town was making this statement, “Our town doesn’t need to worry about greenhouse effects. We don’t have any buildings with many glass windows in this town.” WHAT? *…sigh…*

What the hell does “Go Green” actually mean?

Well, let’s start with global warming. All of this started with global warming. Ever since people all over the world started talking really seriously and loudly about it, Indonesia feels that we need to do that too… without really understanding what it is or why… As usual, we are obviously not a bunch of clever people… yet very ignorant and stubborn.

Let’s stop here. If you don’t feel like reading this long (yes, it’s gonna be very long) article, I suggest you find the movie “An Inconvenient Truth” or “Earth” and watch it. You’ll get the explanation about global warming without reading this. And you’ll save me from ever getting menacing text messages saying, “Still trying to save the world, huh?”

No, for your information, I’m not trying to save the world. I’m just trying with all my might not to become too stupid because my stupidity might end up hurting others. That’s all.

The Things We Can’t Live Without
Anyway…before I talk about global warming, let’s review a bit of elementary school science. You all know that the atmosphere covers the Earth, right? Please say you do… Please… Okay, if you don’t, the atmosphere is a thin layer of mixed gases which make up the air we breathe. Aaah… now you understand, right? *…praying that you do…*

This thin layer also helps the Earth from becoming too hot or too cold, much like clothing does for us. So global warming is not actually a new concept. It has been happening for millions of years. And it’s actually a good thing because the Earth needs to be warm enough to sustain life. Yes, including our lives. How does this thin layer keep the Earth warm? The mixed gases that I told you about, the ones that make up the atmosphere, are actually what we now know as the greenhouse gases. Some of these gases occur in nature, such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, while others are entirely human-made… you know, like the aerosols from the hairspray that we girls like to use to look cool for a weekend afternoon at the mall and the carbon dioxide from the cars we depend on to get places and from many other human-made sources. BUT THOSE ARE THE THINGS I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT!!! Beauty products, car, air conditioner, airplane… AARRRGGHH!!! Okay, calm down. We’ll get to that soon.

The greenhouse gases are not the villains here. That must be clear from the start. These gases allow sunlight to enter the atmosphere freely. When sunlight strikes the Earth’s surface, some of it is reflected back towards space as infrared radiation. Greenhouse gases absorb some of this radiation and trap the heat in the atmosphere. Over time, the amount of energy sent from the sun to the Earth’s surface should be about the same as the amount of energy radiated back into space, leaving the temperature of the Earth’s surface roughly constant. And that’s exactly what we need. A constant temperature.

For millions of years, the Earth had succeeded in keeping the temperature just at the right level to let us live and grow and work and have fun and have sex and have babies and die. Our children then repeat that wonderful life cycle on Earth. Everything was pretty much under control… until around 150 years ago, when large-scale industrialization began.

My Wonderful Lifestyle
Now let’s not lie. The results of industrialization are mostly wonderful for us human beings. Because of it, we enjoy technology advances, better and longer living expectancy, easier and cheaper ways to travel and a level of comfort unimaginable before. I myself thank God everyday that I get to live in the era of electricity and technology, and I get to witness so many great inventions that now I can’t live without either. Namely my cell phone, my laptop, my car, my TV and the internet. Not to mention the things that define my “comfort zone”. They are the air conditioners in my house, in my car, at work and almost everywhere I go in my crazy town of Jakarta, my microwave oven, my toaster, my fridge, hair and beauty products, clothes and shoes, accessories, numerous books and magazines, cigarettes, good food, good wine, good beer, other alcoholic beverages and so many more! Oh, let’s not forget those feminine napkins that allow us women to annoy the hell out of you men with our PMS because we don’t have to worry about washing our undies anymore. We simply use a napkin, then dispose it. Ah, thank God for that.

Yes, yes… wonderful… all wonderful… just fantastic. I love my lifestyle.

But you see, we have been way too comfortable. While it is wonderful to have such lifestyle, and you’re gonna have to kill me to give it up, we forget that the more we consume, the more we need to conserve. Let me repeat this point. This is very important. Especially since I myself, like most of you, is a self-indulgent, pleasure-seeking and materialistic being. CONSERVATION DOES NOT MEAN LESS CONSUMPTION.

BUT… before you feel too happy for not having to give up anything, listen to this first.

Stuff We Need To Breathe
Better and longer living expectancy means exponential increase in human population. There are now so many people on Planet Earth with whom we need to share our natural resources with. Oxygen, water, food, land and so on. While technology advances mean we now have all those wonderful things I mentioned. You follow this? Lots of people. Lots of wonderful things. Everyone wants everything. Everyone wants to make lots of money in order to own an air-conditioned house, a car, a fridge and etcetera.

But many of these wonderful things that we want and can’t live without, emit carbon dioxide, bringing its concentration in our thin atmosphere to a dangerous level. The petrol for our car. The fuel for the airplanes that we get on frequently. The woods, the coal, the air conditioners. And many of these wonderful things were also created from elements in nature that we actually need to protect us!

Instead, we destroy them to create space for us to live, work, study and hangout. We destroy them to produce the things that make our lives comfortable and convenient. And we destroy them some more to make more money and have more wonderful things.

Never for a second that we think about this. Those trees that we cut down to create space and to produce things, have the power to absorb carbon and without protest transforming it into oxygen. Oh wow, that’s the stuff we need to breathe! Exactly.

Producing oxygen and being a carbon sink aren’t the only things the trees are good at. They also prevent soil erosion and thus give us a natural flood barrier. They help regulate our climate too. So they are the most effective weapons to fight global warming.

But guess what? In Indonesia, forests the size of six soccer fields are gone every minute. Yes, you heard me right. EVERY MINUTE. That’s SIX SOCCER FIELDS. Not every year, not every month, not every week, not even every day. But EVERY MINUTE. For what? Yup, for all those things we can’t live without.

The Water World
I have just been talking about the trees. I haven’t even mentioned the oceans. Oceans cover about 70 percent of Earth's surface. Their large mass and thermal properties, enable them to store vast quantities of heat. Oceans, just like the trees, also buffer and regulate temperature. The atmosphere and ocean constantly exchange energy and matter. For example, water evaporates from the oceans into the atmosphere. This moisture then falls back to the Earth as rain, snow, sleet and even the morning dew on the grass.

But guess what? In Indonesia, the largest archipelago in the world, a maritime country that once supposedly always triumphed at sea, totally SUCK at protecting our oceans. Only 40 percent of our reefs remain pristine. And more and more are destroyed every day. Fish bombing, cyanide fishing, over fishing and loads of other problems. Not to mention the other important marine ecosystems that we also destroy, such as mangroves and sea-grass beds. For what? Yup, for all those things we can’t live without.

While the land covers 27 percent of Earth’s surface, now I also have to mention about ice, which is the world’s largest supply of freshwater, covering the remaining 3 percent of Earth’s surface, including most of Antarctica and Greenland. Because ice is highly reflective and because of its insulating properties, ice plays an important role in regulating our climate. And the world’s ice is melting at an alarming rate. Why? Yup, because of global warming, because we insist to have all those things we can’t live without and yet fail to do it wisely.

Animals and Us
And of course there is the animal kingdom, on land and at sea. To some of you, they are probably just… animals. Some are cute, some are yummy, some are vicious and some are simply disgusting. But what we almost always fail to realize is that how our lives are dependent on them. Their existence determines our own survival. Their health determines our own wellbeing. Their behavior determines our opportunity. Every single change in their existence, health and behavior pattern thus determines our own future. Here are a few simple examples.

Orangutans, the largest arboreal animals in the world, are our closest living “relatives” in the animal kingdom. In the (few remaining) tropical jungles of Sumatera and Kalimantan, orangutans spend 99 percent of their time in trees. Their diet consists primarily of fruit but they also eat leaves, flowers, bark and insects such as termites and larvae. Cute, just cute creatures. But these cute creatures have very important functions in the forest. They spread seeds through their feces and by spitting out the seeds of the fruits they eat, which will then germinate and maintain diversity in the rainforest. In fact, their seed dispersing activities are vital to maintaining the ecosystem, which in turn is also needed to establish a long-term sustainable forest-related industry that we need to indulge ourselves with the wonderful things we can’t live without.

Sadly, orangutan population in Sumatera and Kalimantan has decreased by almost 50 percent in only the past six years! Irresponsible logging, insensitive wildlife trade and rampant hunting are all to blame. Consequently, less and less of them are available to offer their services to us. We can no longer easily take advantage of their seed dispersing activities to scatter and sow the seeds of durian trees, palm trees, cinnamon trees and many other trees that actually have high economic values for us. So orangutans’ existence, health and seed dispersing behavior are essential in determining whether or not we can still have and enjoy various forest-related products we love so much.

Our Ocean Earth
Do you love seafood? I LOOOVE SEAFOOD. Where do you think seafood come from? From the sea, you idiot! Well, yes… they’re from the sea. But do they just exist in the sea forever and ever? They’re just there. They’re always available. NO. Just like in the forest, there’s life cycle in the ocean too. If the delicate balance of that life cycle is disrupted or disturbed in any way, we may lose the joy of eating one or two types (or all) of seafood.

Life at sea depends on the wellbeing of mainly three ecosystems. The coral reefs, the mangroves and the sea-grass beds. To keep consistent with the previous subtitle “Animals and Us”, I’m going to focus on just the coral reefs. Why? Because here’s something that’s probably a brand new knowledge for most of you: coral reefs are ANIMALS. They may look like an elaborate cluster of colorful and artsy rocks under the sea, but they are actually animals. Living, breathing, breeding animals. They live in colonies. So one shape of coral may consist of hundreds or thousands or even millions of these creatures.

These living, breathing and breeding animals provide a beautiful and colorful empire for marine creatures all over the world, big and small, visible and invisible, pretty and ugly. For marine creatures, coral reefs are a nursery where they eat, find mates, make love, have babies or simply find a safe little corner to rest and sleep. Even humpback whales would endure an epic 4,000-mile journey to reach the clear, safe and warm waters of the tropics just to have their babies, before returning to the forever cold and rough ocean of Antarctica. So the reefs are where life begins at sea. Without them… well, there will be no seafood. Ever.

That’s the simplest explanation about reefs. Of course there are other functions of the reefs that are also very important. But I know you would find it a lot easier to understand when it relates to food. So I’m not going to get too technical and scientific by explaining the other functions. I just want you to realize how important it is to protect and conserve our reefs, if you still want to enjoy seafood. And get this, about 75 percent of the world’s coral species live in the waters of INDONESIA. Our once pristine tropical waters are at THE HEART OF THE CORAL TRIANGLE. The richest waters in the world. Yes, our waters. Our oceans. Our seas. Yes, the ones that we pollute, the ones that we bomb, the ones that we spray with cyanide, the ones that we exploit greedily with total disregard for the future. Well then, our grandchildren may never know what seafood is anymore…

We have forgotten that water is the most essential element in our lives. We have taken it for granted. We have forgotten that water is THE ONLY THING that keeps us together. While the lands are separated by thousands of miles. The seas are all connected under the great blue sky. The seas keep us connected as one planet. Planet Earth. Our Ocean Earth.

The Rubbish Country
I have yet to mention about the by-products of our lifestyle, namely rubbish. Lots and lots of rubbish. Inorganic, non-biodegradable rubbish that the Earth do not know what to do with. You know, the various types and brands of containers, bottles and other creative packaging for our liquid soap, shampoo, detergent, cosmetics and even condoms. Zillions of things are made of plastic. Zillions…

“But…,” you protest, “I don’t throw my rubbish everywhere. I always throw them in a dedicated rubbish bin.” Well, that’s good. At least you have played a part in keeping our environment clean. However, I have to tell you that that’s not enough. Especially in this country, it’s definitely not enough.

First, there are still MANY, MANY of you in this country who still throw rubbish everywhere. Mineral water bottles, food wraps, cigarette boxes, cigarette buds and many other types of packaging are EVERYWHERE. If you can read this, I’m sure you’re not blind. I’m sure you’ve seen the garbage EVERYWHERE. On land, in the river and in the sea. On the streets, in the cities, in the remotest villages. They are EVERYWHERE. To make matters worse, the ever-stupid Indonesian government so far does not have a waste management system to process our rubbish wisely. No rules and regulations. No law. Or at least none that’s being enforced.

And so it is up to us, it is up to each individual in this country, to make an effort to reduce our own rubbish and sort out our own rubbish. The biodegradable ones can go back to Earth as composts. The rest MUST BE RECYCLED.

You get the big picture by now, right? Basically, we are in deep shit…

The Conspiracy Theory
There is such a lack of concern about global warming… I have to ask what it would take to set off the alarm bells to make this a top-of-mind priority. I’ve even heard that some people actually think that this whole global warming fuss is a conspiracy. It’s a trick created by well-developed Western countries to control us in the east. WHAT?!!

Fist of all, for those of you who are so anti-western-civilization, please take this quiz. Count how many things in your house that have western brands. Count how many things in your office that have western brands. Count how many restaurants and fast food places where you sometimes eat or drink that have western brands. Done? Now count how many ideas or solutions that you have in your brain to help us avoid using western brands and still have the qualities and services we seek for. None? Zero? Okay, just count how many things you actually have in your brain. Still nothing? Zero? No wonder…

Secondly, Indonesia is in the Guinness Book of Record. No, not for a great achievement, but for an achievement after all. We are in the Guinness Book of Record for being the number one country with the fastest rate of deforestation. It doesn’t take a genius to see that WE ARE the number one country causing global warming. You know that a human body has two lungs? So does Earth. One is our forests. The other is the Amazon’s forests. By destroying our forests, we have amputated one of the Earth’s lungs. Fewer forests, less oxygen, more carbon, more heat, you’re dead. Get it? GLOBAL WARMING IS NOT A TRICK! IT IS NOT A CONSPIRACY! It’s happening and it’s happening NOW! Recent natural disasters and weird diseases in the world are the proofs. How stupid can you be?

Conservation ≠ Less Consumption
So after knowing that we are in deep shit, I really hope… Dear God, Dear Father, I REALLY HOPE… that you show a little more concern and act accordingly. I’m actually hoping that you would fall in love with Planet Earth, but I would be happy enough if you at least make every little change that you can in your lifestyle in order to save our forests, to save our oceans, to save our flora and fauna, to save us, to save Earth.

Remember, conservation does not mean less consumption. I’m NOT telling you to stop eating this and that. Stop using this and that. I’m just asking you to be wiser and smarter. If you want to keep the lifestyle that you have and enjoy, be aware of the environmental impacts that you’re causing. And be ready to manage those impacts in the smartest and most environmentally friendly manners as possible. Remember, you’re not the only one who would like to have a certain lifestyle. You’re sharing this Earth with billions of other living beings, humans and non-humans, who also have the right to live. And lastly, you need to remember that your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will still need to continue this life after you’re gone. They will need a healthy Earth too. Please don’t make them pay the consequences for the horrible things we choose to do today.

Now, let’s go back to the term “Go Green”. If conserving doesn’t equal less consumption, how do we “Go Green”? This is how.

1. Count Your Carbon Footprint
Count the amount of carbon you produce based on your lifestyle. Calculating your carbon footprint is not hard. There are hundreds of websites that offer calculators and some even offer ways to offset your sins. Kind of like the church or the mosque. It’s neutral and it’s up to you to make the difference. According to calculator and based on my own hedonistic lifestyle, I owe Mother Earth 4 trees. How about you?

Try one of these websites:
- http://www.wwf.or.id/cfootprint/?l=id (this is a great one for Indonesians)
- http://www.conservation.org/act/live_green/carboncalc/Pages/default.aspx
- http://www.econeutral.com/carboncalculator.html
- http://www.nature.org/initiatives/climatechange/calculator/

2. Offset Your Carbon Footprint
Once you know the amount of carbon you produce (it’s a LOT, isn’t it?), now all you have to do is offset it. You know, make it zero. Balance it out. You can achieve this by planting trees (the number of trees you need to plant will depend on the amount of your personal carbon footprint) or by donating money to a conservation organization and let them save the environment for you.
3. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!
Then make a pledge to Mother Earth to love and protect it by changing your habits. Yes, you can still shop ‘til you drop, but don’t accept any plastic bags from the stores. Bring your own reusable shopping bags. Recycle and reuse as much as you can. Save energy. Use environmentally friendly products. Use both sides of the papers to print stuff. Don’t buy pre-paid vouchers to refill credits of your cell phone provider. Use electronic refill instead. Reduce your garbage. Separate biodegradable garbage and non-biodegradable ones. REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE!

There are many websites where you can find how to make your life more green without sacrificing too much of your lifestyle. But nonetheless, a sacrifice is a must if you love someone or something, right? I just hope you love Earth enough to make that sacrifice. A small one to save this lovely Planet. The ONLY home that we know and have. And to save this beautiful jewel of the equator. The lung of the world. The heart of the coral triangle. The largest archipelago in the world. INDONESIA.

Then the term “Go Green” will make sense. Then you can say, “I AM GREEN.”

No, I’m not trying to save the world. I’m just trying not to be stupid because my stupidity could hurt and kill others, including my loved ones and the ones that aren’t born yet…

Happy Earth Day 2008, Mother Earth! I’m your daughter and I love you… © Rini Sucahyo

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