HEMA VIJAY suggests ways to reduce, if not erase, our carbon footprint

Forget the Mayans. Today, our collective carbon footprint makes a more urgent doomsday prophecy. It threatens to warm the globe so much so as to make the earth uninhabitable even by the year 2030.

“Carbon footprint refers to the emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that we generate directly or indirectly,” explains Professor of Ecological Sciences Dr. Alladi Krishnan. Not just vehicle exhausts, almost everything we do or use leaves a carbon footprint — be it the paper we use, the computers we work on, the packaging of our groceries, or the disposables such as cups, cartons, and plastic bags that are so much a part of our life. Leave alone the carbon footprint left by the raw materials used in manufacturing these goods, their manufacturing process consumes fossil-fuel generated electricity, while the transportation process causes more emissions by way of vehicle exhausts and so does even the tarred road if one were to take into account the emissions caused by the tar refining process. Obviously, it is impossible not to leave a carbon trail. The trouble is, our carbon footprints exceed all limits and needlessly so.

“A carbon footprint of up to one tonne per person per year is sustainable globally, but the average city dweller far exceeds this,” says Dr. R. Annamalai, Chief Conservator of Forests and former director, Department of Environment, Government of Tamil Nadu.

Collective action

Chew on this. Carbon Trust, an independent carbon foot printing agency, measured the carbon footprint of a popular two-litre packaged orange drink and found it to be equal to a carbon dioxide emission of 1.7 kg! This came from the emissions during its processing, packaging and transportation. On the other hand, munching an orange grown locally would have caused a negligible footprint. The point is, what is needed is not one single action but a comprehensive lifestyle change.

Then of course, we can enlist our green allies to battle greenhouse gases. Dr. V. N. Rayudu, environment consultant, recommends, “Each of us should plant one leafy tree or nurture four potted plants to offset the greenhouse gases we emit as individuals.” At a corporate level, firms can wipe away their carbon footprints by spending funds towards developing clean energy or forestation efforts — what is termed ‘carbon offsetting'. But obviously, it is simpler to avoid a footprint, rather than wipe it away.

Ultimately, governments can only do so much. Real change can happen only when there is a mass movement, especially when we are collectively responsible for the looming trouble. M. B. Nirmal, founder of Exnora International, insists, “The role of the people is crucial. Saving the planet is our collective responsibility. Each of us must pitch in.”

Be the change

Using 1KWhr of electricity leaves a 10 kg carbon footprint. While some energy-saving methods would entail initial investments, even these would pay off over one to four years through energy savings. For instance, invest in energy saving CFL bulbs or LED lamps. Replace your old fridge if it is over 15 years old with an energy-efficient one. Use solar lamps and cookers if possible. And then, there are other things you can do, that don't cost you a paisa. In fact, you stand to save money in the process. And the planet!


* Use the fridge sparingly. Switch to clay pots to keep the water cool.

* Use fans, not the A.C. Cool your home with a terrace garden and external wall creepers, and you even enjoy fresh vegetables.

* Turn off lights and other electronic gadgets when not in use; don't put them on standby mode.

* Turn down your refrigerator setting; even a two-degree change results in significant energy savings.

* Run washing machines with a full load — this saves water and electricity. Sun-dry clothes rather than spin-drying them.

* Use less water. Recycle your grey water. At least, use it to water plants and trees, which would reduce your carbon footprint by absorbing some carbon dioxide from the air. Bhima Bamboo is particularly effective and can be grown on balconies too.

* Burn less fossil fuel. Car pool rather than travelling solo, use public transport when possible; or better still, cycle or walk. Organise your travel, avoid repeat travels. Try working from home when possible.

* Don't fly; airplanes leave massive carbon footprints.

* Use less plastic and less of packaged food.

* Eat local foods, rather than imported ones or un-seasonal ones, as their long transit and processing leave big carbon footprints.

* Buy organic produce; remember manufacture of fertilizers spews greenhouse gases.

* Go vegetarian.

* Use less w ater in the pressure cooker. Extra water burns up more fuel.

* Use less paper.

* Take a cloth/jute bag while going shopping; avoid plastic carry bags.

* Go for jute bags and cane furniture which are natural, rather than synthetic materials.

* Reduce, reuse and recycle synthetic stuff.