(MENAFN - Jordan Times) The first of this month celebrated the fourth awards ceremony of the Teachers and Students Environment Art Competition. The competition is organised annually by the Centre for Energy Strategic Studies and the Energy Conservation Society, to honour the best works in visual arts by schoolchildren expressing the importance of environmental conservation and clean renewable energy. Awards are also given to the winners' teachers.
This is a modest activity; but a perfect example of how a modest effort can have a substantial impact. It has raised awareness of the vital need for environmental protection among scores of students and teachers, with special emphasis on schools in the governorates (provinces).
Funnily enough, Jordanian society was traditionally very conservationist. Nothing was allowed to go to waste, down to the stones of olives pressed for oil, which to this day are collected, ground and molded into blocks that are burned for warmth.
And when tinfoil came to Jordan, people washed the used sheets and folded them away carefully to use them again and again.
On Friday mornings, children scurried to hummus shops bearing large plates to fill them and return to their family, waiting impatiently for breakfast.
These recollections do not spring from nostalgia, which makes me impatient. They come from my curiosity when and why consumerism spread in Jordan.
Today, if you buy a pizza or a cake, it comes packaged in layers of plastic and cardboard, which are painfully wasteful to throw away; but the recycling industry in Jordan is still unable to cope with the rising volumes and variety of household waste.
And as with all nouveau riche societies, conspicuous consumption and waste are important status symbols in Jordan. This social outlook will take time and effort to reverse.
In countries more advanced in recycling, such as Austria, where more than 80 per cent of household waste is recycled, getting to this result took about 15 years of sustained public awareness messaging, supported by municipal tax incentives for recycling households.
We need a similar effort; but unfortunately Jordanian officialdom prefers punitive fines to incentives, particularly tax incentives. Also, it does not believe in sustaining communication efforts for longer than a few weeks.
And yet, it is amazing what can be achieved through sustained communication. When I was an undergraduate in the UK, the only people who bought second-hand clothes from charity shops, such as Oxfam, were the poor, including impoverished undergraduates.
Today, conversely, affluent people buy second-hand clothes but with the difference that they make a conservationist fashion statement through 'vintage shopping', and upgrading of clothes items.
You see, conservation is not about stinginess. It is about common sense to keep the earth able to sustain human life, and ironically, the greatest danger comes from human activity.
Change is vital and it cannot be left for governments alone. The Environmental Art Competition is an example of the belief that action by a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, such action is the only thing that ever has.