Friday, 17 April 2015

Global Warming: What do we do?

November 7, 2007: I’m thrilled at the amount of awareness and concern there is on the issue of Global Warming. And I am delighted that Al Gore and Dr R K Pachauri won the Nobel Prize, as they have brought an enormous amount of global awareness to this cause with the movie, An Inconvenient Truth, and the IPCC’s report.

However, I’m also alarmed at how much our thinking gets tripped up by petty technicalities, political ideologies and ego tussles.

Some of us seem to believe that this entire Global Warming thing is a scare, a shibboleth, an urban myth motivated by faulty science, bad politicians, crackpot activists and sloppy journalists who don’t check their facts. This particular post is not intended for people who hold this opinion.

This post is intended for those who believe that our collective burning of  hydrocarbon fuels has brought us to a grave situation, and are wondering what mitigating responses would make a meaningful difference without being too painful to implement.

For those of us who accept that there is indeed a problem in terms of our collective burning of hydrocarbons, I want to propose an approach which may be broadly stated as:

CONSUME WHATEVER REQUIRES MINIMAL
MANUFACTURING & TRANSPORTATION.

I am detailing this approach with five points each as to what we can do at three levels or spheres of influence.


  INDIVIDUALS:  

  Be aware of your carbon footprint, and make choices that minimize it.

Watch what you eat and drink. Serve your guests home-made lemon-sherbet instead of the contents of a PET bottle of coke to save money and reduce your carbon footprint. The manufacturing process of PET bottles and soft drinks involve combustion of large amounts of fuel, and so does the transportation from the bottling plant to your grocery store. Similarly, an apple imported from China involves air transport. It is more eco-friendly to consume fruits grown in Nasik or Mahabaleshwar. Anything that is home-made and does not come out of a bottle or can is more eco-friendly.

Watch what you wear. Imported clothes brought to your neighbourhood store through a complex distribution chain involve large amounts of transportation. Choose clothes that have been produced geographically as close to you as possible. Also, every additional set of clothes lying unused in your wardrobe is a wastage of global resources involved in manufacturing them. For every new dress that you buy, discard an old one so that someone else gets to wear them and does not have to buy new ones.

Watch how you entertain yourself. A walk in the park, talking with friends at home or in the neighbourhood, playing a game of chess or cards etc. involves no external energy sources, and is also good for health. Listening to music, watching television, phoning a friend is also relatively low on energy consumption. Compared to these, driving to the multiplex, the shopping mall, the bowling alley or the restaurant involves consumption of large amounts of hydrocarbons. Please minimize environmental cost of your enjoyment.

Watch what you drive. Avoid buying or driving oversized status-symbols. Step down to modest vehicles that have better fuel economy. Also, use public transport during non-peak hours, and walk or use a bicycle over short distances.

Watch your power and water usage. Switch off lights and air-conditioners when you are leaving the room. Avoid recessed or concealed light fixtures that absorb rather than emit most of the light, or cast light at the ceiling rather than directly. Minimize heating bathwater in summer, and do not waste water by leaving your tap running unnecessarily.


  CORPORATES:  
  Play a leadership role in mitigating the problem.

     Organize employee commute programs to minimize costs.

    Reduce business travel emissions. Consider combining trips, and the taking the aid of technology (video conferencing) to create virtual meetings.

     Set your A/C thermostat as high as you comfortably can (around 24 degrees C). Instead of air-conditioning, open the windows of offices as often as you can and enjoy fresh air. While designing office interiors, choose openness over enclosed settings, ceiling fans over air-conditioners, and some natural lighting over a complete dependence on artificial lighting. Minimize having light fixtures for aesthetic rather than functional reasons. Avoid recessed light fixtures that absorb rather than emit most of the light. Avoid installing "caverned" light fixtures that direct light at the ceiling.

     Assign a department to audit your company's energy and transport (including flight) kilometers etc, and devise ways to achieve a 2% reduction in these costs every month.

     Incentivate junior staffs to walk, use bicycles and scooters. Also, encourage all employees to choose the stairs over the lift as often as they possibly can.


  MUNICIPALITIES:  

  Legislate and regulate for lower fuel costs.

Reduce motorized transportation within residential neighborhoods and office localities. Vehicles, including public transport, must be discouraged from entering neighborhoods and office localities. Passengers should be dropped off at well-planned nodal points with large parking lots. People should be encouraged to walk the last half kilometer to their destinations. This will improve the air quality in work and living environments, give people peaceful zones for walking, bicycling etc and improve people�s health overall. It will also considerably reduce traffic jams and reduce per capita petroleum consumption.

Maximise the facilities for pedestrians and cyclists. Wide, continuous footpaths unobstructed by clutter, parked vehicles and hawkers, should be a norm to encourage walking. Create a bicycle lane for at least two kilometers on roads near schools. Children who enjoy walking or taking the bicycle to school will not have to be dropped to school by car or scooter.

Dim the traffic lights between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. every night to save electricity. Also, switch off the lights on all advertisement hoardings after midnight.

Meter the water usage of individual flats rather than entire buildings in order to encourage more thrifty utilization of water, in order to conserve both water resources and the power used for pumping them to the taps.

Incentivate vehicle owners to reduce the size and number of vehicles they own. Road tax on households owning two or more four-wheeled vehicles must be fixed at disproportionately higher rates. Road tax on luxury vehicles that occupy more space and give a low mileage should also be hiked up. On the other hand, tax on smaller vehicles and two-wheelers should be slashed, and purchase of bicycles should be cross-subsidized.

I realize that implementing these measures would have some negative effects on the economy, and on some sections of people in particular. While we can discuss those side-effects, I welcome ideas that are more painless and more easily implemented than the ones proposed here.

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