It’s easy to wax philosophical about the best way to conserve energy, save water and reduce pollution, but it’s another thing to put those words into everyday action. For example, would you give up taking long showers, using the air conditioner, riding in taxis, or eating meat? beijingkids sat down with four Grade 9 students from the Western Academy of Beijing to discuss population control, saving endangered species and just how much each of us is willing to sacrifice for the Earth.
What would you be willing to give up for the environment?
Amelia: Jocelyn and I are vegetarians. In humanities class, we saw a movie about animal slaughtering.
Jocelyn: I’ve been a vegetarian since seventh grade because I read a book with horrifying facts that changed me forever. Did you know that cows raised for slaughter consume the amount of food that could feed people in Africa?
Wentao: I love meat, but for the environment, I’ll be vegetarian one day a week. I’m interested in science and how to save energy, so my way might be different from others.
Are you willing to give up other comforts, like using the air conditioner or taking long showers?
Amelia: I don’t take hot showers. Ever. Heating the water is kind of ridiculous. I take a cold shower instead, and that way I don’t take as long, either.
Wentao: I would not be willing to do that.
Ray: For summer break, I go to Tucson, Arizona. They have to use air conditioning or the houses would just melt. It’s really hot, and when the temperature gets too high, the air conditioner automatically runs.
Wentao: At WAB, I think at least 1,000 watts are used for air conditioning. It’s too much. The good thing is that during summer, there’s no school. At home, I just wear less clothing, and I don’t really use the air conditioner.
Ray: That’s what most Chinese people do. I used to live in a hutong, and we drink a lot of water and eat fruit to cool down.
How do you feel about having smaller families to conserve resources?
Amelia: The one-child policy in China prevented three to four hundred million people from being born – the size of the US population – which would have been way too many people. There wouldn’t be enough education, food or healthcare for all those people. And we’re already running out of resources.
Jocelyn: What if those kids that haven’t been born could have been the ones with great ideas to solve some of the issues?
Wentao: We need to reduce the size of families, but that means we need to change policies. But I also think the more the merrier.
Jocelyn: If you bring up kids and don’t teach them about the environment, that’s going to be bad.
Do you think it’s worth saving plants and animals from extinction?
Amelia: Definitely. If an animal becomes extinct, it upsets the balance of the ecosystem and food chain. It’s important to maintain that balance.
Wentao: But we have a lot of extinct animals, and we’re still doing fine.
Ray: As humans, I don’t think we have the right to stand here and not do anything about it. We caused those animals to disappear, and we’re changing things too much.
Jocelyn: Maybe the animals could get used to the new conditions, although I’m not saying pollution is a good thing.
Amelia: Once we’re gone, you know what’s going to be left? Cockroaches.
What are your concerns about parts of the world running out of clean water?
Jocelyn: It’s already happening in Africa. In the US, they use water that Africans could be
drinking to wash their cars. I don’t know if countries will learn to share or if it would cause a war. It all depends on who’s in charge.
Amelia: The UN won’t allow one to suffer while the rest are living happily. They need to team up to find technology to help clean the water.
Ray: Realistically, if there isn’t enough water for all of us to drink – and I don’t think it’s the right thing to do – but in an extreme situation, we have to let some of us survive and get to the next generation.
Wentao: Water running out is a big issue, but it involves many things. Salt water intrusion, people wasting water, unsuccessful use of technology – how can we solve all of these problems? We have to improve our technology, but the technology source is not clean. In order to gain clean water, you need clean energy, but we don’t have it yet.
How do you feel about nuclear energy?
Wentao: I don’t think nuclear energy is the best source.
Amelia: There’s still contamination in Chernobyl, so a nuclear disaster could have horrible effects on the environment. We have to find a way to store nuclear waste safely.
Wentao: We have to find a new source of energy. Coal and nuclear energy are not sustainable, and we need more hydrogen and fuel cell research. Not a lot of people know about fuel cells, but it’s clean energy. We need to give it time to develop instead of trying to fix the coal and nuclear energy situation.
What other steps do you think we should take to save the environment?
Wentao: The environment must be saved by new technology. Meanwhile, we should prevent disaster, save the ecosystem we have and maintain everything that we have now.
Jocelyn: When you educate people, they can take action.
Amelia: I think it’s important to educate people. In China, we’re used to having people pick up after us.
Ray: If Earth’s history were 24 hours long, the human race would only have been around for the last 30 seconds. No matter what we do, there are ultimately questions we have to answer. I control my lifestyle, but I don’t know if it’s going to have much of an effect.
American Jocelyn Zimmeran, 14, has lived in Beijing for ten years.
Wentao Xiao, Chinese, is 15 and has lived in Beijing for six years.
American Amelia Wills, 14, has lived in Beijing for two-and-a-half years.
Ray Jin, 15, is from China.