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On April 22 we will celebrate earth Day. It has been almost four decades since the first earth Day was celebrated, but many of us are still unaware of the fragility of the earth. We still behave as if the earth's resources are unlimited. The human population is still growing. Many of us are still dreaming of having luxurious lives. Governments always pursue economic growth and we have apparently forgotten that we have only one earth to live on.

It is the only planet in the universe which provides all the resources we need, and which recycles or keeps the waste we produce - and its capacity is limited. Our survival depends on the health of our earth. Whenever the earth fails to function properly, our survival is put in jeopardy.

Human activities have two kinds of impact on the earth.

First, as we draw resources to meet our biological needs and to run our social activities, we deplete natural resources. Some resources, such as oil, are not renewable. Other resources are renewable, so they will regenerate again after having been harvested. Often, however, we consume renewable resources faster than the earth can replenish them. For example, we cut down forests faster than we replant them or let them grow naturally.

Second, we produce waste. Some wastes, such as food leftovers, are easily biodegradable. For example, if we throw putrid food out into our backyard, some creatures will happily consume it. However, our production of biodegradable waste often exceeds the capacity of natural ecosystems to recycle it, and this creates a big problem in every big city. Some wastes are not easily recyclable but not toxic, and others are highly toxic or have radioactive properties. When there is too much waste to be recycled or contained in safe places, then our environment will be unsuitable for us to live in.

Both resource depletion and environmental pollution jeopardize our survival. We must, therefore, prevent both from happening. The key is to keep resources consumption and waste production at minimum levels, without jeopardizing our quality of life.

If we follow the familiar slogan "reduce, reuse, recycle", we can do a lot to help save the earth. To reduce the consumption of electricity in the house we can design houses with plenty of sunlight and good air circulation.

The new group, bike to work, is another good example of how we can reduce energy consumption. Cycling does create carbon dioxide, but much less than that produced by a vehicle burning gasoline. Many diseases associated with sedentary lifestyles and problems of global warming could be avoided if we use to the bicycle as our primary mode of transportation.

We can further alleviate the pollution problem by reusing utensils several times. Using reusable plates and cups is much better for the environment than using disposable ones. Of course, disposable dishes are more practical, but they will pollute our environment. Recent studies also show that Styrofoam, used widely for disposable fast food containers, is also bad for our health. If we must use disposable utensils, then we should recycle them.

Many items, such as metal and plastic, can be recycled. Some people even make profits by recycling waste. We can also recycle organic wastes and use them for compost.

It is not an easy task to ask people to behave environmentally correctly. We have long known about environmental pollution and resource depletion, but we have not adjusted our behavior to prevent these problems. This is partly psychological and partly ignorance. Our mind is not sensitive to gradual changes and most ecological phenomena do not occur immediately.

Global warming, for example, has been known about by scientists for several decades, but has only recently gained global attention. Even today, many people have not done enough to prevent global warming because we have not felt its effects. Those who have made efforts to reduce global warming must be convinced of the danger of global warming.

Education is therefore key to keeping the earth habitable for humans. Our knowledge can guide us to decide on what we should do to prevent ecological disasters, although our physical perceptions have apparently failed to detect the danger so far.

Not only school children, but also politicians must be educated, because they have the power to control the exploitation of natural resources. The Environment Ministry, scientists and environmental activists must make concerted efforts to get politicians well informed in ecology. If they have a good knowledge of ecology, members of parliament and heads of regions will not issue regulations that are detrimental to the environment.

In addition to teaching ecology we also need to promote environmental ethics to government officials and the general public. An ethic would serve as a standard, which government policies or people could refer to and be accountable to.

Tribal and local wisdom regarding environmental management needs to be revived and protected. Religious teaching needs to include environmental ethics too. Religious foundations can become strong driving forces to motivate people. Even if people have not practiced religious teachings, at least they know what they should have done and would feel guilty for not having done so.

We have only one earth to live on. We must do our best to keep it habitable, otherwise we will disappear.

Contribute by head of the Forestry Department at the University of Bengkulu

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