It’s a torrid summer in Mumbai but Bittu Sahgal, Editor of Sanctuary Asia, our reenheart columnist and perennial eco-worrier manages to stay cool while minimizing his carbon footprint. “I wear light clothes, use the fan and drink a lot of water,” he says. “This way, I largely avoid using the air-conditioner.”
In London, England, another noted journalist and writer on environmental issues is Lucy Siegle. She says she dreams of balloons, as she imagines circus clowns do. They’re her way of visualizing the tonnes and tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) that the world’s households produce each year: enough to inflate balloons by the millions. Living in Europe, where CO2 emissions per head are much higher than for India—ironically, higher CO2 emissions are also a measure of development for any country—Lucy says her plan is to “reduce the number of balloons I’m responsible for at the rate of 960,000 balloons, four percent of my CO2 emissions, each year. I want to get down to just 2.2 tonnes or 4.8 million balloons.”
If we all cultivated the “green” habits following Lucy and Bittu, wherever we may live, we’d reach a sustainable CO2 level for the planet. Take India, a fast-growing economy. Having recently pushed Russia into fourth place, India is now the world’s third biggest emitter of CO2, after China and the US. Even so, we average just 1.38 tonnes per person annually (it’s 7.14 tonnes for Europe), which looks good until we realize how we get this small figure: only because of a very large population. Indian households alone aggregate more than 82 million tonnes, with urban households accounting for the big chunk. But think about it. Even the 1.38 tonnes per person (which includes both household and industrial emission), is enough to inflate, every year, three million balloons. Even a small Indian family could fill a dozen million balloons!
It works like this. You don’t actually cause all that gas emission yourself. A carbon footprint is defined as “the total set of greenhouse gas emissions caused by an organization, event, product or person.” And greenhouse gases mean more than just CO2. There’s also methane, for instance, but for simplicity, it is often expressed in terms of the amount of CO2 emitted—which could in turn contribute to even more global warming with disastrous consequences for the planet, as scientists fear.
Most of our carbon footprint comes from “indirect” sources: fuel, for instance, burnt to produce electricity or goods far away from you, the consumer. Indeed we also need to add emissions that come from burning fuels directly, as when you drive your car, switch on the geyser for a warm bath, or cook using a gas stove.
But how, day-to-day, are you to achieve any lowering of carbon emission? It is time to take stock, from dawn to dusk.
Bittu starts his day by saving water. “I keep the tap on a trickle, never a strong stream, and turn it off when shaving, brushing my teeth or even lathering my hands,” he says. And when he takes a bath, he actually cuts down on the use of soap. “Rub your skin briskly with soapy hands,” he recommends. “This way, you can restrict shower-time to two minutes or so.”
Saving water has to be a 24x7 effort. If the water pressure is good, go to the mains under the sink and leave it only half or three-fourths open. This saves water all the time, since you’ve cut the rate of flow. And be sure to fix any leak in the plumbing—you’ll be amazed at how many litres of water any continuous drip can waste every hour. “Fix a leaking tap like you would try to stop blood flowing if you got hurt,” says Bittu.
Shower or bucket-and-mug bath, it’s important to reduce the water—especially hot water—used. “A bucket bath,” says Bittu, “can be most efficient, without a shadow of doubt.” You’re in control, and a 25-litre bucket needs no more than four litres of hot water mixed in for a warm bath.
Lucy Siegle has done the maths, but her choice is between shower and bathtub. “Years of received eco-wisdom tells us that ‘shower’ is the correct answer,” she says. “But that may not be correct. An average eight-minute shower uses around 62 litres of hot water, but faster-flowing showers can use 80 litres of hot water in
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