Have you noticed how many people have been quick to jump on greener initiatives following the floods and the aired footage of garbage clogging our waterways? Following the news that the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) hauled 300 truckloads of trash from Manila Bay in the aftermath of Typhoon Gener and the monsoon floods, our social networking feeds were full of messages to adopt more eco-friendly practices and be more environmentally responsible.

This reaction is perfectly normal, according to a study published last month in the international journal AMBIO. The study’s findings ran contrary to the popularly held notion that the poor can’t afford to be environmentally responsible. In fact, researchers found that even those who are struggling to make ends meet are willing to forego economic gain in favor of going green when they are confronted with the devastating effects of pollution.

"The human and natural worlds are tightly coupled and we cannot protect the environment without empirical studies on how rich and poor people are understanding and reacting to the natural world around them," study co-author Jianguo “Jack” Liu, director of Michigan State University’s Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability (CSIS), is quoted as saying on Phys.org.

Another co-author, Xiaodong Chen, who worked on the study while completing his doctorate at CSIS, is quoted as saying, "Environmental harm could be more important than economic status in predicting environmental behavior. If people are affected by degraded environmental conditions, then even people with low economic status still may sacrifice some economic benefit in order to protect the environment."

The researchers based their study on information from China’s General Social Survey of 2003, in which around 5,000 urban dwellers responded to questions about their environmental behavior. In particular, they were asked whether or not they segregated their trash, reused plastic bags, discussed environmental issues with others, and so on. They were also asked to explain their understanding of environmental harm.

Based on the survey responses, the researchers were able to conclude that people generally act on their views on environmentalism in ways that seem doable to them, like reusing plastic bags or discussing environmental issues with friends and family.

"Basically, it means that if people are affected by environmental harm, they feel they should do something positive, and something they themselves can control," Chen is quoted as saying.

So if the past month’s floods have had you thinking long and hard about adopting a greener lifestyle, we’re here to cheer you on. Don't wait until the next disaster to do what you can for the environment. And if you’re not sure what you can do, you may want to check out the related links section below or check out the stories in our Green Living subchannel. In the meantime, start small—it’s okay to take baby steps! Try to remember that going green doesn’t have to be expensive. Also, teach your kids to be more eco-friendly as well. Discuss current events with them, especially while the floods are still fresh in their memory, and talk about why it’s important to take action.

(Photo by Dimitri Castrique via sxc.hu)

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