Irony is simply delectable; there’s something so sinfully enjoyable about the paradoxical nature of reality, our obliviousness to the contradictions between how our mouths and hands are moving. For that reason alone, I take much more delight in Earth Day than almost anyone else I know.
On Monday, April 22, the International School of Beijing (ISB) hosted an entire-school event in celebration of Earth Day. At 2pm, students congregated in the stadium, choking on the fine grey smog above, and passed seven massive plastic balls around the track. Two meters in diameter and emblazoned with spray-painted continents, the blue orbs represented the responsibility we all share in caring for the planet, the burden we are forever destined to carry, as sentinels for life on Earth.
Which is by and large horse manure, because the passing of giant plastic balls is completely contradictory to environmental sustainability. Plastic consists a fourth of the world’s landfill, taking 450 years just to begin to decompose. Every year, plastic waste dumped in the world’s oceans kills up to one million seabirds and one hundred thousand marine mammals. So yes, let’s hoist onto our shoulders the one material that continues to degrade our planet year after year, carrying forth proudly the tradition that has bought us to where we are today.
Student environmental group Greenkeepers organized a sleepover, to gather people and have them sleep under the stars, as an effort to appreciate the Earth we live on, and usher us all to the cradle of Mother Nature. They advertised heavily by plastering perfectly new A4 printing paper all over the school, ordered three dozen pizzas (pizza boxes are notoriously unrecyclable due to the residue of grease and oil), and later, moved the campout from the fields to the gym because it would be too cold at night.
I’m not sure how much environmental education a sleepover in the gym and passing balls around the field provides. I’m definitely unsure of the lasting impact of anything that happened on April 22. And as much as irony brings a tingle of excitement up my spine, I simply cannot stand for any more of this faux-education that contributes very little to the issue at hand.
I think there are two fundamental misconceptions at work here. Firstly, despite the administration’s best intentions, passing seven plastic balls around the track for half an hour probably won’t be enough to change wasteful habits that have been ingrained in our lifestyle for so long. The second misconception is that awareness without actual education or action does anything. Knowing that 11 percent of the global population is without access to clean water actually doesn’t help those 11 percent of the global population.
What would I do for Earth Day? I would default the school’s printing system to double sided, and I reckon that single act would help the environment far more than all this hullaballoo. Having students sit through the film An Inconvenient Truth would probably also be a good idea. It’s less wasteful, far more informative, certainly more emotionally moving, and features a president of the United States. At one point in time, our school used 600,000 kWh per month on lighting alone, which is enough to power 120 homes for a year. The implementation of automatic switches almost halved that.
Now that’s some real change worth learning from.
Photo courtesy of Hal Jin
Hal Jin, 16, is a student at ISB. Born in Nanjing, Jin lived in Vancouver until the 5th grade, when he moved to Beijing. The Editor-in-Chief of ISB’s school newspaper, Jin is also a captain of the Forensics team, the chair of a charity group, and an advisor for the middle school math team.
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