‘When those red berries come in springtime,
Flushing on your southern branches ,
Take home an armful , for my sake ,
As a symbol of our love.’
As I read Wang Wei’s fantastic poem, One Hearted, in class the other day, I wondered what he would write if he was born in the 21st century? Wang Wei was a Chinese poet who often depicts beautiful scenery like waterfalls and mountains in his poetry. While reading about Wang Wei, I wondered if there would be garbage on the ground in spring instead of petals. No more fragrance of flowers, just fumes. Gloomy skies with dirty particulates, contaminated water in the rivers and hazardous waste… are these the things that define a developed country?
Murky skies, honking horns from traffic jams, swimming with plastic bags, can you just keep avoiding these problems? Air pollution is very serious in China. So serious that people have started buying fresh air from America to survive. People who live in Beijing can’t even open a window without wearing a mask. Isn’t it strange that people know the causes of climate change and that emissions from factories, shipping, planes and vehicles affect not only the environment but also their health, still, many turn a blind eye to the issue as if it won’t affect them? Isn’t it strange that people know that eating more meat and wasting food is causing obesity and clogging up our landfills as well as contributing to climate change, still, many think this won’t affect them? Are they all from another planet?
Hong Kong has educated the younger generation about protecting our earth, but it seems that their words speak louder than their actions. For example, at lunchtime at school, what I see is a huge amount of wasted food in the bins for food waste. Many students think that they are actually helping the environment as the food waste is used for feeding pigs or is composted. Although this is true and is better than dumping it in the landfills, wouldn’t it be better if the food suppliers modified the portion size according to student demand? Students also buy takeaway food in plastic and polystyrene containers as it is convenient even though they learn in class that plastic is non-biodegradable. Landfills in Hong Kong are filled up with waste and the public seems to be waiting for the government to take some action. Aren’t we responsible for the consequences of our actions?
Electronic waste has also become a very serious problem throughout the world and especially in China. Every year, there are over 20-50 million tons of e-waste generated worldwide, from discarded electronic devices. All of us embrace the latest gadgets on the market and throw away our old devices without thinking about what will happen to them. Many people have the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ attitude when it comes to disposing of their rubbish, especially their e-waste. They think the problem is already solved the second they go into the rubbish bins.
In fact, over 60% of the waste is shipped to impoverished countries like China and India. However, these devices leak toxic chemicals like mercury, lead, and cadmium into the environment and the workers who must deal with this waste end up suffering from chronic diseases, for instance cancer. Some of them don’t even know that these chemicals are toxic. What they know is just that the prices have been increasing day by day and therefore, this is a suitable job for them.
Guiyuzhen, a city in China, has become an e-waste dump. You can see old electronics everywhere. People are employed to break down old cell phones and computers in a vile atmosphere. These people are doing their job without any safety equipment or training, including children and pregnant women. For a small salary, they are asked to burn or dismantle our unwanted electronic products.
The workers have a higher risk of miscarriage, birth defects and lead poisoning and the residents endure pollution of their waterways and land.
Buying new electronics, like the latest phone or tablet and showing them to your friends is very cool, but if we don’t think about whether these purchases are really necessary and control our wasteful habits then we are not only killing the environment but also ourselves.
My friends in Hong Kong think that grey skies, 9 degrees in March and rubbish all around are normal. Maybe they have not been lucky enough to see the true beauty of nature. I have been to India when I was young. I have seen the spectacular waterfalls, peaceful lakes and the beautiful fields filled with flowers. But will I still meet Mother Nature if I visit India now? Will I still see the birds flying through the clear, blue sky like it’s their kingdom? Will I still see the petals falling just like Wang Wei’s poem? I really hope all of us do!