Attaining sustainability through active citizen participation

Mohammad Saiful Islam | Monday, 5 June 2023

While 'World Environment Day 2023' is being observed across the globe, Bangladesh is facing unprecedented heatwaves with sweltering heat scorching the country. Small and low-land coastal countries like Bangladesh are the worst victims of climate change perpetuated by environmental pollution.
We can blame the largest carbon-emitting countries for the consequences, but that won't change our predicaments. Instead, we could channel our thoughts toward solutions. As green financing has been largely ineffective, thanks to the UN and other global authorities' failure to manage the world leaders, Bangladesh needs to focus on matters the country can solve itself. While it is a no-brainer that sustainability and green practices are the only solutions, the fact that is in question is who would be in the driver's seat for that move. Is it the government alone? Or can the nation's citizens be active proponents of the change?
Responsible consumption
In the face of mounting environmental challenges largely overlooked by the govt bodies across the world, mass people are realising the power of their collective actions in driving sustainability. They can make a transformative impact through green practices individually. There are hundreds of examples where citizens take the lead in attaining sustainability and demonstrate the incredible potential of citizen-driven initiatives. And this potential can be best showcased through responsible consumption.
At the core of sustainable living lies responsible and mindful consumption. In this case, Germany has made an illustrious case for discussion for a long time. Germany's Energiewende, or energy transition, is an inspiring example of citizen involvement in sustainability. The country's mass people have actively participated in its renewable energy revolution. They willingly invested in owning renewable energy projects, such as solar panels and wind turbines. The country has encouraged decentralised energy production and citizen engagement through feed-in tariffs and citizen cooperatives, leading to a significant increase in renewable energy generation.
Now, here are some findings from a study conducted by a researcher from the US-based institute, the National Bureau of Asian Research, to complement the example from Germany. The study found that Bangladesh could produce 12,000MW of renewable energy just from solar panels on rooftops. This could save the country almost 1 billion USD annually, omitting a huge amount of carbon production. And it all depends on the citizens to make the first step.
Practising 3Rs
Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle - the 3Rs of sustainability serve as a guiding principle for citizens striving to minimise waste generation, which is vital to achieving sustainability. Again, these sustainable practices - reducing consumption, reusing products, and recycling wastes - require a collective community effort. Government can ensure the 'sustainable' tag written on plastic bottles, but recycling is the responsibility of the citizens. Cities like Curitiba in Brazil have established comprehensive waste separation and recycling programs, actively involving citizens. Coupled with extensive public transportation systems and preserved green spaces, citizens have helped reduce traffic congestion and air pollution, creating a more sustainable urban environment.
Two very important elements of practising the 3Rs are water and energy resources. With depleting water resources, groundwater levels falling and fast salination in the coastal areas, drinking water is getting scarcer in the country every day. Immediate policy-level measures are required, but citizens can adopt simple yet impactful practices at the mass level. In China, people have started to utilise used water from various home chores in toilet flush, saving millions of litres of fresh water daily. Countries like Australia and Singapore have implemented initiatives to engage citizens in water conservation campaigns, significantly reducing water consumption. Similarly, as we are facing acute load-shedding problems with energy production falling due to coal import constraints, reducing consumption should be our best course of action as it will reduce production also, leading to less carbon emission. By turning off lights, utilising energy-efficient appliances, and maximising natural light and ventilation, citizens can actively reduce energy consumption.
Opting for sustainable transportation
Transportation is a significant contributor to carbon emissions. Citizens can make sustainable choices by using public transportation, carpooling, cycling, or walking whenever possible. Such practices can help reduce carbon footprints and contribute to a cleaner environment, gifting good health to the people as a byproduct. These actions are exemplified by communities worldwide that prioritise sustainable transportation options.
Local initiatives
In the Philippines, if a student can show proof of planting 10 trees and properly caring for them, s/he will be given special waivers in graduate school. Many European countries run community projects, such as community gardens or clean-up campaigns, to make the citizens foster environmental stewardship and promote sustainable practices. The Transition Towns Movement, which originated in Britain in 2006, has gained global popularity with its focus on local resilience and sustainability, empowering citizens to initiate projects like community gardens and renewable energy installations, strengthening local economies, and building a more sustainable future.
Youth can lead the change
Can Bangladesh emulate these examples? The answer is yes, and it should begin with the educational institutions. Students must be informed and taught about sustainability issues, climate change, and environmental conservation. By sharing knowledge with their friends and family, they can inspire others to adopt sustainable practices. Universities can especially encourage students who are more responsible and mature enough to comprehend the gravity of embracing sustainability in their personal lives. Students and aware citizens -- all can actively participate in community programs held by NGOs, environment activists, and nature preservation organisations to make a stronger drive toward beating environmental pollution and achieving sustainability.
Sustainable lifestyle
The bottom line is that citizens must embrace a lifestyle encompassing various choices, such as consuming locally sourced and organic food, minimising the use of plastics, and adopting a minimalistic approach to possessions. Citizens who embrace such practices make a personal commitment to sustainability and set an example for others to follow.
We must remember that nature is not dependent on us; rather, our very existence depends on nature. If we don't care for mother nature, it'll come after us, and there is no way to survive nature's wrath. Therefore, the greener we think, the cleaner our practices are, the better it will be for humankind to sustain life on Earth.

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