The heat waves, less rainfall, untimely snowfall, landslides and flooding, by now no one should need any convincing that climate change is real and we are witnessing the beginning of its effects firsthand. What’s unfortunate is that these effects are not distributed fairly, and sometimes people who hardly have any hand in bringing this situation upon us are the ones paying the most price. Remote Himalayan villages, small coastal fishermen communities, tribal people living around forests are being penalized much more than they deserve.
First things first, climate change is more than global warming. It is as much about rising temperature, as it is about marine life in danger. If you are concerned and want to help, we need more of people like you. There is no overnight solution and not even a solution that fits all, but we are capable of a change greater than we think.
For an introduction on our nation’s efforts and status, read this brief carbon profile.
What Can I/We Do?
To begin with, educate yourself! Make yourself aware by doing your own independent research and not believing what one individual says. Let institutions capable of large scale change take their time in implementing policies, but we can start now to make small changes in our lives. And you know why every individual contribution counts? Because your action will not only create an impact at micro level but will also send a message to retailers or manufacturers that this is what people have started caring about and if only a few more people start joining then the latter group will have to introduce appropriate measures. This is specially applicable in Indian society where people are greatly influenced by what their neighbors and peers are doing. It’s not a drop in the ocean, but more significant than that. Here’s how things of our daily lives have an impact and what we can do to reduce the effects of climate change.
Use of plastic is inescapable. With so much penetration into how goods are packaged, transported and consumed, we cannot escape the use of it but can greatly reduce it leaving it only to things beyond our control. And why is it important to get rid of plastic? Because not only this nasty material rots inside the earth for thousands of years in landfills where its toxic decomposition products can leach into nearby food and water sources or is simply burnt releasing thousands of tons of greenhouse gases, plastic trash kills land and sea animals when it gets eaten by them and in fact emits greenhouse gases even through its useful life. Also as a side-effect, the space these landfills occupy becomes useless for any kind of agricultural activity which in turn takes us away from carbon sequestration activities. And if you think somebody is recycling your plastic, then unless you are paying attention most likely no one is doing that because in 2017 only 9% of world’s plastic was recycled. The rest of it that lands up in landfills consisted mostly of one-time use items.
So what can we do? Reduce the plastic waste. How?
- Stop using plastic straws. Keep a steel or glass straw with you. Do not use plastic utensils too (ice creams, packed food. etc.), but carry your own or ask for the compostable kind. Many Indian states have rightly taken steps to reduce or ban plastic.
- Use cloth bags for grocery and daily household items. When buying bulk food items like rice or grains, fill your own glass jar directly.
- Needless to say, carry your own water bottle. Take your own glass/mug too when going out to consume beverages. Many companies like Starbucks supportively offer a small discount for that. Also pay attention to using loose tea leaves and not teabags. You’ll be surprised by how some teabags of companies like Tetley and Twinings have bits of plastic in them.
- Keep a separate bin to collect all your glass, paper and plastic trash and dump it separately in a recycle bin in the neighborhood or give them to a scrap dealer (kabadiwalla). The house trash collectors need a lot more education as they shove everything in together making it hard to separate plastic later on. So better not rely on them. Segregation of trash in households is done around the developed world and it’s high time we adopt their best practice. Read here for how you can start segregating waste.
Global warming’s poster child are images of power plants emitting black clouds into the sky. And indeed, about two-thirds of greenhouse gases comes from burning of fossil fuels for electricity. Households make up a quarter of total energy consumption in India and very little daily effort is needed to bring it down.
So what can we do? Reduce the energy use. How?
- What’s the best way to save energy related emissions? By reducing the use of energy! Instead of using wastefully and then expecting renewable energy to fill the gap (which though a source of clean energy, does contribute to emissions at some point during their manufacturing), why not reduce the need for any new plant altogether? So, when looking to buy new electronic products, look for energy efficient models and try switching to LED lights.
- Switch of unnecessary items of the house, and disconnect loads like TV, PC, etc. when not in use as they continue to suck up a significant chunk of power.
If there was a nation of cows, they would replace India to be the third highest emitter of greenhouse gas after China and US. Cattle is a huge source of methane emission, which is a much much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. The dairy and meat industry keeps it flourishing. A side effect is also that land is razed to raise such farms which takes us away from carbon sequestration again. So the damage is more than one-sided. Combining all effects, 11 times more fossil fuel and more than 10 times more water is used to produce a calorie of animal protein than plant protein. By going vegetarian, more than two-thirds of food related emissions can be decreased.
The good news? Methane has a very short life compared to carbon dioxide, so a decrease in their levels would help us achieve a quick impact in reducing global warming instead of trying to place all emphasis on CO2.
So what can we do? Reduce animal produce in our diet. How?
- If going vegan is a stretch, switch to plant based diet for 50% of your meals or at least 2-3 days per week. Eat more of legumes, nuts and whole grains.
- Though a large part of agricultural change needs to come from the farming industry, at home you can try to grow some easy to grow food to save supply chain and transportation related emissions, which includes everyday basics like tomatoes, spinach and cucumbers. If short on space, grow these food items near a window. This would also mean organic food and better health.
If only we were wise about our garbage, we would be saving a huge amount of landfills, methane release and plastic pile. Almost all of the garbage is useful – most non-organic stuff can be recycled while the organic stuff can be composted. When trash is stuffed inside landfills, the organic matter breakdown process releases a lot of methane for almost a decade. Whereas when organic stuff is composted, usable biogas is obtained along with usable nitrogen rich fertilizer material. Do you know of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? It’s a garbage pile greater then the size of whole North India floating in the ocean. Let that sink in.
So what can we do? Throw our trash mindfully. How?
- Use more compostable material and no plastic till whatever extent possible.
- Keep separate bins for food and plastic, glass, paper waste at home and send them off separately to waste collectors. It will take a while to get used to it, but you will get a little extra money every month, and a feeling of being a wise citizen too. A few companies like Let’s Recycle and Waste Management Ventures are focused on this.
That many metros are choking with air pollution is news to no one. While the bottom half of India has a slight benefit of venting out their air to the oceans, it is mostly the upper half suffering at dangerous levels. Air pollution is mostly due to vehicle exhausts, power plants and burning of farm fields. Vehicles emit NOX, CO2 and particulate matter, power plants emit CO2, NOX and SO2 and burning of fields emit CO2 and particulate matter all of which cause global warming and are harmful when inhaled. The heat trapped closer to the surface of Earth eventually effects how air circulates in the atmosphere, making it weaker, and keeps these pollutants at an accessible height for longer.
So what can we do? Be a lesser cause of increasing air pollution. How?
- By using more public transport. If that is not what you are comfortable about, then try to choose more carpool options. Either with cab services or when going in your own car try to give a ride to more friends or neighbors traveling on the same route. This is so common in the west that its absolutely strange why Indians feel shame when carpooling.
- Switch off unnecessary lights at home. When we reduce power use, we eventually reduce the production needs of power plants, thus benefiting from reduced emissions.
- Also ensure that you understand the way pollution effects health and body cells and how to reduce the harmful effects of air pollution on health.
More forests and trees means more CO2 captured from the atmosphere. Not just this, more forests also mean more soil bounded together, less erosions and less trapped ground nitrogen and carbon released in air. Nature has other benefits too that calm the mind and promote a healthy well being. On a better note, the green cover in India has increased in the last few years, partly to provide more food to the growing population, but at the cost of using up more ground water.
So what can we do? Increase local flora to help against pollution and local warming. How?
- Creating small house or balcony gardens. You can choose to have air purifying plants to have an additional benefit in these days of intense air pollution, or fresh herbs plants to cook.
- For those with space inside the house or community parks, plant more trees.
None of these tips are useful if people do not feel a sense of responsibility towards the planet and seriousness towards the changing climate. Also, make sure that these are not just things you do in your hometown, but you follow a sensible behavior when traveling too. Charity begins at home they say, so does change.