Secondary Schools

First Place: Nardos Tilahun

Auckland Girls Grammar School, New Zealand

Exploiting Consumerism for our Planet

Many environmentalists claim that overconsumption is the root cause of the destruction of our planet. Capitalism is a system where profits are generated by things being (in Victor Lebow’s words) “consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing pace”. This famous economist once stated that “our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption”. He explains that “the measure of social status, of social acceptance, of prestige, is now to be found in our consumptive patterns”. However, I believe that Victor Lebow’s theory can be manipulated to build a sustainable future.

Businesses globally exercise Lebow’s theory to their advantage. They have adapted two strategies called ‘planned obsolescence’ and ‘perceived obsolescence’. The first, planned obsolesce, is where a product is created to be unproductive or out of date within a given period of time. Secondly, perceived obsolescence is where companies make people want to purchase the latest version of a product.

Part of planned obsolescence is reducing the price of a product to make people buy them more often. Most consumers would want to buy eco-friendly products but due to financial reasons, revert to buying cheaper non-recyclable goods. I suggest that governments should raise the shipping and duty taxes or introduce a new system of taxation on items that have un-recyclable components or release harmful toxins after being discarded. The revenue from taxation could then be used to subsidise the cost of producing eco-friendly items. The reduction of prices in shops would increase the consumption of sustainable products. This would also push companies to make their products more sustainable to minimise their costs and to regain former customers.

Perceived obsolescence is caused by companies advertising, telling us what is in fashion and encouraging us to shop in order to keep up by buying things, whether it be the latest iPod or the newest burger on the menu. This is what drives consumerism.

But, what if we were to make sustainability fashionable? We need to support and challenge designers to create things that last or can break down and be recycled into the next modern item.

And, what if governments regulated advertising so only companies that sold sustainable products could buy TV air-time? If this happened, consumers would be demanding more durable, environmentally friendly products and, over time companies would produce them.

And, what if we were to meet those demands for new products by relying on raw materials that come from landfills? We would be greatly reducing the damage on the environment while acquiring more land. Rather than destroying our natural environment by mining for minerals and oil, we should “mine” our landfills for things we can recycle. My research has found that waste materials can be processed to create a building material that is stronger, cheaper to produce and more sustainable than cement.

Our exceedingly wasteful way of life demands that we change our style of consumption to a more sustainable kind. If people seek self-satisfaction in shopping, it must be without compromising the environment’s ability to rejuvenate. Our “measure of prestige” should now to be found in our innovation and sustainable patterns. The ever accelerating growth of our population will increase our consumption of natural resources. Governments must work to ease this burden on the environment by making sustainable products and green technology widely available in everyday life. Our consumables need to be able to be re-consumed: a TV can be repaired, old jeans can be recycled, a forest replaced.

The fight for our environment is a struggle to save ourselves and the whole of humanity.




Second Place: Theo Toaldo

Oratory School, UK

Dear Mr UN Secretary General . . .

I am genuinely concerned about the future of our planet.

Our current behavior is unsustainable and we must find viable ways to limit air, water, land and noise pollution

I have an idea for the creation of a series of totally sustainable and self-productive communities – I call them EcoParks. They reduce pollution levels and the production of carbon dioxide in many ways and are designed to harness the Earth’s natural power.

There are many different parts of my community, which potentially could be very large. Each different component helps this ‘Park’ become more sustainable and eco-friendly.

The houses and offices have all been located to minimize the damage to existing eco systems. They have large solar panels on their roofs, which use the sun’s radiation to create energy, which can be used to power the lights. Trees and vegetation are planted on the tops of these buildings, to absorb the carbon dioxide in the air, and produce an abundance of oxygen. All the buildings are very efficient in terms of insulation, ventilation and heating levels. Rainwater is also collected at the bottom of the buildings, which can be filtered out and used to meet the needs of the residents.

Reservoirs can be found around the EcoPark, which will benefit all the residents. They act as a carbon sinks, absorbing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (know as sequestration). This means that pollution is minimalized. Also, the reservoirs provide a very useful storage of rainwater for the locals.

Many trees will be planted around the community to perform photosynthesis and replace carbon dioxide with oxygen, and also to provide natural shade for those in the adjacent buildings.

Cars can still be utilized, however with a great difference – the ‘Hydrogen Fuel Cell’ will be introduced. This is a revolutionary development, which uses hydrogen gas and oxygen to create electricity and water as a by-product. Unlike batteries, fuel cells never run out and do not produce carbon emissions. This means that cars can operate without harming the environment!

Vertical Farms will be established. These are tall, layered structures with a different crop grown on each floor. The walls are made of glass, to produce the greenhouse effect, allowing the crops to grow. This concept allows us to produce crops efficiently and sustainably while leaving the natural environment untouched.

Aquariums will also be found next to the Vertical Farms, as they provide a way in which we can protect endangered sea life. We can protect certain species, so that they will be present for the years to come.

I have learnt from my studies the importance of protecting the planet today, crucially though, we must also think of the future generations who will inherit not just the earth but also the consequences of our actions.

I hope you find my idea interesting and feel it has potential to help us build a more sustainable world.

Yours sincerely,

Theo Toaldo

Third Place: Ksenia Bashlykova

School Gymnasium #6, Kazakhstan

Let’s join our hands

Dear Mr. UN Secretary-General!

I would like to share the dream which I have recently seen.  I was flying in an endless space. Everything around me was filled with soft light and beautiful music. All around there were stars and planets. I could fly up to any of them and see what was happening there. I enjoyed myself and was as happy as one can be only in a dream, but suddenly through the charming sounds of music there came a faint groan and an urgent scream: “Help me, please!” The voice was sad and full of pain! Turning around, I saw a fragile planet that was glowing blue. It was our Earth!

I flew closer, and suddenly a small ball of the planet turned into a young woman. But how awful she looked! Her face was eroded by chemical waste; her blond hair was gray with dust and acid rain. And her beautiful eyes of crystal seas and oceans were covered with a film of oil, and cloudy tears rolled down her face. She was almost blind!

“Oh, dear! What’s the matter? “- I cried. “My dear girl, help me, please! Look what my careless children have done to me! My face has become ugly but it’s nothing compared to what has happened to my body.  My arms and legs are broken by thousands of bulldozers, my back aches of cars and skyscrapers.   People pump out millions of tons of my blood and sell it at the oil markets. My heart can’t stand it and my whole body is twisting in convulsions causing disastrous earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and devastating floods. People die, but nothing can stop them, nothing can teach them a lesson.

The spasm passed all over her body. She got the fits of coughing but catching the breath, continued her story.

“You see, I am out of breath. My lungs are overfilled with exhaust fumes and emissions from factories. The ultraviolet radiation burnt my lungs out and no doctor will ever be able to mend these holes. The people cut down the rain forests which are supposed to restore the air and everybody is doomed! Radiation causes terrible diseases for my children. And I can not protect them!

The tears rolled down along her wrinkled face.

“Climate changes, my body temperature rises, glaciers melt, and much of the land will be flooded soon. Where will my children live?

“But, the worst is ahead. Look, I’m expecting a baby.  But what a child can an ugly and sick mother give a birth to?! And besides, I’m so scared to let him into the cruel and selfish world. The people mercilessly kill birds, animals and their cubs. And it’s all for money! Money has seized the minds and souls of men! What is awaiting my baby? Fear, diseases and hatred? ”

The earth gave a loud groan of despair and pain.  “In any case, it is too late. I’m dying, dying … Farewell, my dear child! ”

The woman turned into a blue ball again, which was no longer glowing and started to fall into a black abyss. I instinctively stretched out my arms to catch it.  And suddenly, from nowhere, hundreds of children’s hands stretched out to help the Earth. We picked it up  and the globe lit up again, turning into a beautiful woman, stayed for a while in the cradle of our hands breathing in love and care and flew to the Sun. And, what a miracle! – She had a smiling child in her hands.

I woke up. I was so glad that in my dream we, children, managed to save the Earth.  But it is up to the adults to release the kids from the nightmares. Let’s join our hands together, children and adults, to keep our Planet safe before it is too late!

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