From caring for houseplants, to taking care of our blue coal. We explain some of the aspects of environmental awareness.
What does it mean to take care of the environment? First, we need to change the way we relate to nature.
Fabián Carvallo, biologist and president of the Mexican Environmental Journalists Network, warns that environmental awareness is urgently needed from the Mexican population in order to take care of the environment.
Carvallo says that we haven’t learned to coexist with other species, including those that are in danger of extinction, nor have we succeeded in stopping deforestation of sites that should be nature reserves.
The expert says that this education must be based on scientific evidence, to inspire young people through personal experience.
In order to do so, it’s important for them to go out onto the field and experience the environmental services that ecosystems provide to humans, such as climate control, flood control, disease and pest control, clean water, and raw materials.
“Nature is not only spiritual sustenance that allows us to disconnect when we go on vacation. We exist because of it.”
Although the pandemic has forced millions of people to stay at home, which meant a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from transport, there has been an increase in the use of face masks, latex gloves, and disposable packaging from meal deliveries.
That’s why it’s important to analyze what we consume and why.
Edgard Mason, from the Institute of Ecology at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), explains the term ‘greenwashing’, a marketing strategy that certain companies use to change their product’s image to make it look more eco-friendly without making any positive changes.
“We citizens have to use our own judgment and investigate if they really are ‘green’.”
Reusable grocery bags are just one example. They’re more difficult to produce and produce much more pollution than plastic bags (whose sale was banned in Mexico City along with forks, spoons, plates, balloons, and single-use utensils).
“We need them to be reused 150 times to be worth the environmental cost,” he explains.
“We use far more resources than the planet can produce,” says science communicator Marjory González, who adds that we’ve been living with a carbon dioxide concentration of over 400 parts per million since May 10, 2013, “A figure not seen for 800,000 years (according to fossil and glacial records), and human beings are directly or indirectly responsible for this concentration.”
Our lifestyle demands energy, resources, biodiversity, and water in such quantities that we’ll leave a mark in the fossil record.
If this continues, life will be unsustainable for future generations, which is corroborated by Global Ecological Footprint: humans demand the equivalent of 1.6 planets a year.
To raise awareness and modify consumer habits towards a more sustainable world, concepts such as the environmental footprint and the ecological footprint (which includes the carbon footprint and the water footprint) have been devised, based on the calculation of the impact of product manufacturing, and human, business, and government activity.
The environmental footprint measures the impact of a product throughout its life cycle, from extraction of raw material for its manufacture, during its use, and until its final disposal. It’s a smaller measurement that the European Union has already put into effect.
Meanwhile, the ecological footprint is a more comprehensive measurement. It estimates the amount of nature that an individual uses for food, shelter, mobility, goods, and services.
It takes into account the carbon footprint, or greenhouse gas emissions, the water footprint, or the water used to produce consumable goods, fishing grounds, grazing land and cropland, built-up land, and forest produce.
It’s a concept that was conceived by William Rees and his student, Mathis Wackernagel, at the University of British Columbia in 1996.
Mathis Wackernagel is the founder of Global Ecological Footprint, a non-profit organization that provides the National Footprint and Biocapacity Accounts of over 200 countries, and the Ecological Footprint Calculator that can be accessed to calculate individual footprints.
Carlos Galindo, from the National Commission for Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO), suggests finding out how what we consume was produced, where it comes from, and the energy consumption involved.
The next step is to buy from local producers who are committed to sustainability; and at home, replace conventional light bulbs with LEDs, install water-saving faucets and solar panels, implement rainwater harvesting systems, vegetable gardens, and green roofs.
According to Jerónimo Reyes Santiago, plants capture carbon dioxide (CO2), lead, vanadium, mercury, manganese, zinc, and chromium, which are highly polluting greenhouse gases, while releasing oxygen in the process, which contributes to a healthier environment.
They absorb and process 2.5-micrometer suspended particulate matter from the environment, which are the smallest particles that can penetrate the skin, adds the manager of the collection of Sedum and Cacti in danger of extinction at the UNAM’s Botanical Garden.
Beyond providing an ecosystem service to filter the air we breathe, houseplants provide us with peace, harmony, and hope.
By seeing their different stages of growth, by watering them, changing the soil, and removing dry leaves, we become emotionally involved, we learn from them, and we feel happy when they bloom.