caring for the environment
Water flows through Fourche Maline Creek at Robbers Cave State Park near Wilburton, Oklahoma. (Michael Duncan)

To paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi, this Earth provides enough to satisfy everyone’s needs but not everyone’s greed.

As an environmentalist and a minimalist, I cannot help but think that during this global pandemic shutdown, God is telling us to slow down the pace of urbanization and industrialization. Maybe we are killing too many animals, destroying the beauty of nature, producing too many plastics and consuming food in unsustainable ways. Consequently, the balance of nature is in need of restoration. 

Gaylord NewsThis story was reported by Gaylord News, a Washington reporting project of the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma.

The current situation is heart-breaking, as nurses and doctors risk their lives to save lives, recession is on the way and we are losing thousands of people. But something like this also reminds us that mindfulness is important. As we pay attention to the little things surrounding us, we realize we can never take for granted our loved ones, our safety or our health.

While paying attention to the environment, we are experiencing significant improvement as a result of the shutdown and the ongoing efforts of people who care about the planet. Air pollution in cities across the globe is lessening. Birds are singing. Insects are being protected from destructive agricultural practices including land-grazing, logging and deforestation. Fish are swimming freely, less likely to choke on plastics. Trees are meditating at peace as large-scale logging is cut back.

The importance of eco-friendly lifestyles

The third week of April would have been Green Week on the University of Oklahoma’s Norman campus. I have been a nature lover since my childhood days in Tokyo, making a secret base near a river and catching insects in the woods. I was a member of the Green Week committee, which met weekly to plan the event and reached out to local farmers and organizations who would have come on campus to teach students about the importance of eco-friendly lifestyles, sustainable farming practices and environmental consciousness. We were planning events to teach students about recycling and other ways to help keep our air, land and water clean. 

As we strive for environmental justice, we can all create new habits. Individual efforts really do matter. 

Reducing carbon emissions can be achieved by riding a bicycle, using public transportation and turning off electricity as often as possible. Single-use plastics are demons for the environment since they harm wildlife, degrade public health and threaten the future of the Earth. Furthermore, the way we handle such plastics can result in destabilization of international relations as developed countries ship plastic waste to countries with poor management.

Rather than disposable paper towels and paper plates, we can switch to cloth towels and multi-use containers, bottles and coffee cups. Take a reusable bag with you for grocery shopping and a refillable cup to your favorite coffee shop. I never buy bottled water; instead, I carry a reusable bottle everywhere. 

Research your local recycling facility. Plastic, compost, aluminum cans, glass — we are surrounded by so many types of resources that can be recycled.

We should invest in ethically-made products. Instead of paying for fast-fashion that might be poorly made in sweatshops, we can support local boutique stores and wear their quality clothing for a longer time. We should be mindful of the source of materials and how our spending might affect our friends on the other side of the world.

Modern agriculture results in soil erosion that causes flooding, and artificial fertilizer pollutes rivers and streams as well as fish and plants. Organic products are good for a sustainable society, but they are not affordable for everyone. I have been a college student who would happily jump into the donuts my boss brought to the office. But that makes me think: How can we create a society where everyone has access to organic and safe products? 

Where would that money come from? Should we raise taxes on large companies that mistreat the environment? But would that discourage free markets?

Collaboration is key

Free markets encourage entrepreneurs and creativity. But regulation can cause corporations to implement renewable energy and green technology practices that are more environmentally friendly and more affordable than fossil fuels, generating more employment opportunities.

We use too many types of chemicals and preservatives in our products and food. It is important to be a clever consumer who knows which ones are potentially harmful to ourselves and the environment.

The ratio of crops grown to feed a vegetarian for a year compared to a meat eater is 1:10. People are free to eat whatever they want, but maybe it’s time for more social responsibility and a taste of collectivism. 

Having lived in the United States for four years, I have witnessed many people not considering what they consume into their bodies and how it will affect them in the future. Fast food, for instance, is believed to be addictive. Let’s eat more vegetables, reduce the amount of meat that we consume and boost our immune systems against disease. The stronger our immune system, the better chance we have of recovering from things like the novel coronavirus. I have not been sick in four years, nor have I seen a doctor in 10 years. We can do this.

Local businesses and markets contribute to the empowerment of communities. Let’s support local farmers who provide organic, healthy products. Visit family-owned restaurants in your local community. Ethically-made products have palpable warmth. 

My favorite coffee beans are fair-trade certified. My favorite green tea is organically grown. I bought my favorite pair of yoga pants at a local store when I visited Thailand. I rarely go shopping, but when I do, I make sure I do not already own a similar product.

The fewer possessions, the more enlightened one can be, enjoying the simple life. Health is a gift, and contentment is wealth. Craving more fame and more material possessions is an eternal greed that can be never fulfilled.

We can search for environmental organizations in the community and advocate for good environmental policies. Change is possible. Individual awareness really matters. 

Fight for policies that regulate recycling, control corporate waste and implement green technology. We can put pressure on companies to stop polluting our air, water and land. I am a political science minor, and I have complicated feelings about politics and laws that make me both astonished and disappointed on a daily basis. But I try to keep the faith and be engaged in advocacy. 

Collaboration is the key: There is no time for conflict or war. To coexist with nature in the same ecosystem, we need green technology, renewable energy, empowerment of local businesses, support for fair trade and sustainable agriculture. The world is connected. Love your neighbors. We are all in this together.

Manatsu Ueno is a senior at the University of Oklahoma with a degree in journalism with an online emphasis. After visiting 11 countries, she came to believe a better environment can contribute to world peace. She became interested in minimalism after she and a friend started backpacking together and became aware of what few possessions they could get by with.