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Fighting climate change is a marathon, not a sprint

By Kathy Zhang | HK EDITION | Updated: 2021-12-28 10:00
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I completed a 14-day challenge in late November, trying to see how challenging living a low-carbon life in Hong Kong can be, and exploring what the average resident can do to reduce his or her personal carbon footprint in the dense urban areas.

The bewildering, depressed or joyful moments did make me realize that fighting climate change is a marathon, not a sprint, and everyone's effort matters.

What inspired me to take up the challenge is that an increasing number of people around me have begun asking the same question: "Are we doomed?"

Hong Kong, after recording its warmest year in 2019 and the hottest summer in 2020, reported its hottest September this year. In July, a "once in a thousand years" rainfall hit my hometown, Zhengzhou, a city of more than 12 million people in Central China's Henan province.

Mother Nature keeps hitting the world with hotter and longer summers and a growing trend of more climate disasters — catastrophic climate change has stopped being alarmist anymore.

Given that, I talked to many environmental protection pioneers. Based on their advice, I made a list of "dos and don'ts" for my low-carbon life challenge.

Difficulties are everywhere

On the first day when I started the challenge, my ambitious plan almost collapsed. After I ordered a restaurant's sole vegetarian lunch set and paid for it, I was told the set had been sold out. But fortunately, after some twists and turns, I finally unlocked the restaurant's secret menu — a dish of fried vegetables with only two small plant-based meatballs left in the kitchen.

Another confusing and head-scratching moment came when I bought some veggie sushi rolls at a supermarket. Plastic plates and several layers of plastic film tightly wrapped around the products made me frustrated and feel like all my efforts had been in vain. But then, I suddenly realized they were sort of "takeouts".

There was another nuisance — my challenge clashed with the annual "Double 11" online shopping festival. I had to make double the effort to control my impulse to make some "hand chopping", or shopping spree, decisions.

Quick showers, and calculating how much time and carbon emissions I saved every day, also made me uptight. All these explained why I lost 5 pounds within two weeks.

But the good always comes with the bad. I learned how to maintain a green and more-balanced diet. I started taking my own reusable bottle when I hang out and bring a lightweight, collapsible cloth bag with me every time I shop for vegetables. Now, I would give it a second thought when I want to use food delivery apps or buy takeouts. I can firmly say "No, thank you" to shop assistants when they try to give me plastic bags for milk or bread.

Paulina Wong Pui-yun, an assistant professor at the Science Unit of Lingnan University, told me that "minor things do matter" and "start from easy things". She suggested that I keep it up and explore the most suitable low-carbon lifestyle for myself.

"The journey of exploring how to reduce personal carbon emissions in a fast-paced modern city, sometimes, is like getting lost in a maze. After you have made tons of efforts, you will find yourself walking back to the starting point. But the most important thing is — don't give up before you find the right way." This is what I jotted down in my notebook.

"Dos and don'ts" for Kathy's low-carbon life challenge:

- Go on an ovo-lacto vegetarian diet for at least eight days within a two-week time frame.

- Say no to beef and lamb.

- Say no to all bottled drinks and takeouts.

- Use only public transport.

- Finish every shower in five minutes.

- "Chop off my hands" if I try to buy anything online.

- Don't buy new clothes.

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