Solving the Problems of Today Benefits the Generation of Tomorrow

A Chinese proverb states, “One generation plants the trees, and another gets the shade.” This may sound simple, but planting the trees to provide shade for the next generation is not always as easy as it sounds. At the Global Student Leaders Summit in Shanghai, students gained the tools necessary to plant the figurative trees of change and make the world a better place for generations to come.

Through speakers and workshops, students learned the design thinking process, which uses creativity and collaboration to develop solutions to the complex problems the world faces today. While students at the Summit used the design thinking process to focus on global issues, the same concept can be applied closer to home.

Locally, air pollution caused by wood smoke is a big problem that affects everyone who breathes in this polluted air. The people burning moist wood, which emits thick smoke, are most directly affected, but any neighbors downwind of a backyard bonfire breathe the harmful particles in wood smoke, since these particles are small enough to seep through closed doors and windows.

The challenge is to decrease the amount of wood smoke – which contains harmful toxins and particles that can cause cancer and other diseases – emitted from recreational bonfires.

Increasing the use of moisture meters – a tool that measures the moisture content of firewood – in urban areas where recreational burning is common could alleviate the issue: moist wood, when burned, releases more smoke than dry wood. By using a meter to make sure that the moisture content is less than 20%, people could reduce their footprint on the environment and help ensure the good health of both their neighbors and their own families.

The next challenge is spreading knowledge of wood smoke pollution and how the moisture meter can help alleviate the problem. Through community awareness, those who enjoy bonfires would realize that others around them are affected by the smoke their backyard fires produce; this realization could encourage people to have fewer bonfires. Raising awareness of the benefits of the moisture meter would increase the use of the device and thus reduce wood smoke pollution.

Implementing ideas starts with education. For instance, handing out a brochure detailing the harmful effects of wood smoke and what individuals can do to lessen their footprints is a good start to reducing wood smoke emissions. Handing out brochures would evolve into a more comprehensive campaign to build awareness of the health hazards of wood smoke.

Social responsibility can be active, such as encouraging people to use a moisture meter before they burn firewood; but it can also be passive, such as deciding not to have as many bonfires. Either way, our community as a whole benefits.

Just as planting a tree gives shade to the next generation, solving the problems our earth faces today will give generations to come a better world to live in.

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