February 10 was the start of the new year, according to the Chinese lunar calendar. In China, the days before the New Year often mean a mass exodus of 200 million back to their home towns (the largest annual human migration in the world) to close and open another year.
As traditionally celebrated, Chinese New Year is a not the greenest of holidays. Parades to celebrate the New Year are colorful and noisy, with lion dances and drummers. But setting off long strings of firecrackers leaves bits of red paper and the smoky smell of gunpowder behind. Gatherings with family and friends are centered around banquets replete with special foods, sometimes including shark fin soup made from endangered wildlife.
There are signs that China is trying to be more environmentally conscious, though. Last year, after an “hours-long firework ignition spree” in Beijing on the eve of the new year, air pollution rose dramatically. As China.org says, ”the prolonged smog that shrouded many parts of north and east China in January sparked debate over fireworks during the Spring Festival” and, this year, Beijing authorities are asking people to limit how many fireworks they set off or forego doing so entirely.
Chinese New Year is also called the Spring Festival as, in the lunar calendar, it marks the beginning of spring. In the spirit of celebrating new beginnings, here are four ways to start your Year of the Snake seeking to be kinder to the planet and all creatures in it.
1. Enjoy a sustainable Chinese meal.
Fish is often served at a Chinese New Year meal as it is associated with prosperity; the Chinese word for fish (魚) sounds the same as that for “abundance” (both are pronounced yu). But due to the pollution of the oceans and overfishing, the numbers of too many fish are dwindling.
If you’re planning to eat fish, make sure it’s from a reliable, valid source for sustainable seafood. You can also go meatless — there’s plenty of protein in tofu. As one chef notes, cooking a Chinese feast does not mean you have to look for specific classic Chinese ingredients for a dish (such as certain Chinese vegetables imported from elsewhere), but use what’s grown locally.
2. Ask your local Chinese restaurant to use recyclable containers.
If you routinely eat out at a Chinese restaurant, check to see if it uses recyclable, eco-friendly containers. If not (and you’re still finding yourself spooning noodles out of styrofoam), consider asking the manager to (1) cut down on the number of plastic bags used and (2) switch to containers made from recyclable plastics or similar materials, especially if the restaurant has a heavy take-out business (think of how many containers are used).
3. Keep up the pressure to ban the sale and distribution of shark fin.
In China itself, a younger generation has started to have reservations about shark fin soup. The Chinese government has announced that it plans (but has not yet followed through on) banning the soup at state banquets.
Outside of China, we need to keep up the pressure to ban sales of shark fin. Hawaii, California, Illinois, Maryland and Guam have banned the sale and distribution of shark fin; the city of Toronto has passed similar legislation. Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey and New York have proposed bans as have the cities of North Vancouver, Langley and Calgary.
Find out if such legislation is in the works in your community. If not, take steps to raise awareness about why a ban on selling and distributing shark fin is desperately needed to save sharks from going extinct.
4. Restore some balance to your own home environment.
It is traditional to give one’s house a thorough cleaning to clear out any bad luck before Chinese New Year occurs. As the Year of the Snake began on Sunday, that time has passed — but it’s never too late to clean and organize (and if you start now, you’ll be ahead of the time you’re supposed to do your spring cleaning in the Western calendar, right?)
Even more, besides cleaning, consider applying some principles of feng shui to your living space. Feng shui (meaning “wind” and “water”) is an over 3,000-year-old practice that seeks to help people balance the “energies” of a place. It is the “Asian art of placement” and the “original ‘green design,’” as Anjie Cho says on Inhabit. As anything broken represents “stagnant or broken energy,” try to fix it or have it repaired of, if you are not sure how to do it yourself, consider learning how to.
What better way to begin a new year than by learning a new skill?
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Photo by Joe Mabel/Flickr