Transition to Sustainable Living
We are living in one the greatest eras of change in human history.
The unstable fuel prices, resource wars, the wobbling globalized economy and the growing evidence of the rapidly changing climate, are the most notable signs.
Inevitably, the challenges from Peak Oil and Climate Change, and their knock-on effects, will force us to rethink our current over-dependence on fossil fuels.
The good news is that signs of changes are happening in Hong Kong and elsewhere. Businesses and governments are now talking about and acting on sustainability and carbon-reduction. Communities are coming together, in ways that have not been seen for a generation, to seek cleaner air, waste reduction and nature conservation. Support for sustainable urban agriculture and social enterprise is growing. Farmers markets, community co-operatives, eco-living, and 'buy-local' are all back in fashion. These things are more than a trend, they are part of a profound shift in the way we live our lives.
We each need to seriously consider what we want our world to be like in 2030 and beyond and take action to make that vision happen.
Rather than ignoring the signs and sleepwalking into disaster, we must embrace the inevitable changes positively, in an organized way. We have an opportunity to bring our communities closer together to dream, to plan how we can live with less fossil fuel consumption, and to follow more sustainable ways of living, that are in line with the needs of our soil, soul and society.
To live well with less fossil fuels we have to seek ways to supply our core needs, such as food and water, as locally as possible. Shifting towards localization contributes to an overall energy-descent, which in turn enhances our community resilience by contributing to local economies, reducing our oil vulnerability and carbon emissions.
Here are some starting points for transition to sustainable living:
Localize Our Food System
The globalised food system relies heavily on long-distance transport, industrialized operations, and extensive input of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. The fossil fuel energy consumed in moving food far exceeds the food energy provided by the food and accounts for 1/3 of today’s global greenhouse gas emissions. This illogical system is coming to an end now together with the supply of cheap oil. There is an urgent need for us to rebuild a localized system to guarantee food security.
• Choose fairly traded organic food which has travelled the least distance.
• Support local agriculture by joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) scheme.
• Purchase food at a local Farmers’ Market.
• Support small local food stores and food production initiatives.
• Preserve traditional food culture and cuisine.
Diet for a Mindful Society
The World Health Organization tells us that about 20 million children under five years old, worldwide, are severely malnourished, leaving them vulnerable to illness and early death. At the same time, animals raised for food are fed with more than 80% of the corn and more than 95% of the oats produced by the US, which are grown largely with the heavy input of machinery and fossil fuel by-products in the form of fertilizers and pesticides. Additionally, many people in affluent countries over-eat. Four out of ten adults between the ages of 18 and 64 in Hong Kong are overweight or obese.
• Eat less meat and more fresh, seasonal, locally-grown organic produce
• Never waste food, and compost organic waste
• Refuse disposable utensils and food packaging
According to a local 2006 survey, 44% of the respondents had thrown away new clothes without even wearing them once! Mass production and mindless spending are twin evils fed by cheap oil, which has deepened our ecological and financial debt. The extraction of resources and discharge of harmful chemicals takes place in every step of the life cycle of consumer goods; during the manufacturing process, during transportation to the store, to the consumer, and finally, to the landfill. Compounding the problem is the planned obsolescence of goods, which creates a relentless demand for new clothes, the lastest electronics and all other 'must have' consumer items.
Peak Oil will force our society to face a new economic reality with a simpler “less is more” mentality (except those wise people who already live very simply). The energy and time we spend on acquiring “stuff” could be devoted instead to developing relationships with people and nature, which is, after all, ultimately a greater source of happiness.
* Take purchasing decisions seriously. Pause before you buy something - put it off for a week or so; come back to it at a later time and see if you still really need it.
* Donate what you don’t need (Freecycle).
* Buy used goods when you can.
* Purchase goods that are durable, useful, beautiful, practical, trustworthy, and simple.
* Take care of and repair the goods you own to extend their life.
* Choose to buy locally made products from small locally-owned shops.
* Support local enterprises with social and environmental goals, and fair trade goods.
* Be cautious about the product-life-cycle when buying – how a product is made, used, and disposed of after use all matter.
* Watch less TV, spend much less time on your smart phone, and go shopping less,
* Spend more time in nature and interacting happily with people.
* Always bring your own shopping bag (BYOB).
‘Mindful consumption is the way to heal ourselves and to heal the world.’ Thich Nhat Hanh
Direct Energy Use
Hong Kong, renowned as the Pearl of the Orient, is famous for the lights that burn brightly around the clock, many of them household lights. According to WWF, direct energy use (using electricity, gases and other fuels) and transport services account for over a quarter of our household-related Ecological Footprint. In 2008, Hong Kong’s Ecological Footprint exceeded its bio-capacity by more than 150 times.
- Seek energy-free alternatives first.
- Save energy – it is the most effective (and cheapest) strategy to cut our reliance on fossil fuel.
- Conduct a simple audit at home and at your workplace to find out how electricity is used, as well as ways to reduce energy consumption (learn more at www.climatechange.hk).
- Make use of FREE renewable energy – drying clothes by hanging, and reading by daylight are examples.
- Choose appliances and homes with high energy-efficiency.
- Over one-fifth of our energy is used in air-conditioning - you can cut it down by closing windows, setting the aircon at 26 degrees and supplementing this with a fan, and installing double glazing.
New Way for Transport
When Cuba lost access to Soviet oil in the early 1990s, one of the country’s immediate responses was to purchase 1.2 million bicycles from China, which were distributed along with another 700,000 produced in Cuba.
Today, in Hong Kong, cycling is regarded as a ‘recreational pursuit’ and not even a valid form of transport. It will have to play a stronger, even central role in Hong Kong.
- Urge the Government for a policy that incorporates cycling as a legitimate, safe mode of transport for mass transit
- Be a responsible cyclist and follow traffic rules for road users
- Save fuel on a journey by taking public transport and car pooling
- Cut your air miles! Spend more vacations relaxing and exploring nature in Hong Kong
We need multi-functional gardens everywhere
Today, in Hong Kong, over 95% of our food is imported, coming from over 150 countries. Feeding the population will be the immediate challenge when fossil fuels become increasing costly in the future. We have to transit towards a more localized and sustainable food system that is built upon small, less energy-intensive organic farms and community-based urban gardens. Apart from food supply, urban gardens will help us create a multi-functioning landscape that serves nature conservation, recreation, community-building, water and organic resource recovery.
Roof tops, balconies and parks are other potential places for growing our own food! Agricultural land covers only 6.1% of Hong Kong and is equivalent to the size of 6,800 football fields - we must act now to safeguard it from development, to assure some level of food security!
- Learn to grow food in an earth-friendly way
- Join a community farm and/or create one for your community
- Find space on a balcony, a roof or in public space for growing food
- Buy or rent land to grow food
- Learn food preserving and processing – it is fun and serves practical needs
- If you have children teach them to grow some of their own food and connect them to the soil
‘Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction’ Albert Einstein