Saturday, December 12, 2009

Doing my bit

It was 17 years ago when I had just finished high school and all eyes were on the Earth Summit in Rio. I remember the thrill and excitement; the urge to want to be a part of positive change. To make a difference and do good. I joined the local Environment Society which no one even knew existed back then and they were just starting to take their first baby steps. I wanted to do my bit no matter what, nevermind that the outcomes from Rio were a disappointment. The future was at stake, or so it seemed at the time.

Fast forward to 17 years later to Copenhagen. The world is more aware of the catastrophes that could have been avoided. Cynics would turn away from this, I know, and destiny would shake its mighty finger and say that nothing could have stopped what was meant to happen. Nevertheless, in the past 17 years the number of natural disasters our planet has experienced have been unlike any other era. The extremely hot summers. The erratic and unpredictability of winters. The increasing divide between seasons in some countries that never experienced seasons before. The rising sea levels. The floods. Earthquakes. Tsunamis. These are just some of the effects of climate change. There is more to come and in years there will be a geographical remapping needed. Glaciers disappearing. Ice caps melting. Islands disappearing.

Although it should not take a global summit to instil this need to act, it can sure act as a reminder. In that spirit, what is it that I can do then to do my bit? Here's my top ten list:

1. Energy saving light bulbs. They do go a long way. Everyone needs their electricity and while I save my lamps for a more luxurious time of day, flicking a light switch is almost second nature now as soon as it gets dark. I have decided to do it in 'green' style and use energy saving light bulbs whenever I can.

2. Unplug devices or simply switch off power points. Remote controls come in all shapes and sizes and their multi-use variety can be nifty. That little red light at the bottom of my TV screen or stereo that is just waiting to be switched on, however, is ever so slowly draining an unnecessary amount of energy. Do I really need the microwave to tell me what time it is? Or the toaster to constantly remind me that it is all set to deliver that perfectly golden piece of toast? I think not - off!

3. Adjust the thermostat. Some people enjoy living in habitual conditions, I know I am one of them, but change is good once in a while. Adjusting my thermostat to just a degree lower (or higher as the case may be) can go a long way to saving a little bit more of energy. Not to mention that it keeps me on my toes!

4. Park the car and forget about it for a while. How about this for a change? Walk to the nearest grocery store instead of fuming as I try to find a parking spot. I always find that I experience more from walking to a destination rather than driving there. There is more time to experience the journey. Weather permitting, of course, because sometimes walking or cycling is just not an option. I use public transport instead and I imagine the petrol I would save in a week, not to mention the mileage I would save on my car.

5. Recycle. This has always been one of my joys in terms of how creative one can get. I will not print an email or a document unless I have to. When I do and if it is in draft form, I use both sides of the paper and reduce the font to fit more on a page. I use the blank sides of those no longer needed pages as scrap paper for doodling my thoughts. Cardboard, in the form of used-up tissues boxes, has always been quite inspiring for me during those times when I just needed to paint that 'masterpiece'. Experimentation is not an easy art to adopt but cardboard has been a faithful fallback and a satisfying outlet for many a creative streak. On a more conventional recycling note, I now separate my plastic and glass from my aluminium and regular waste.

6. Look for green products. Some countries allow you the option to be more environmentally conscious. I go green when I am in those countries and look for the green symbol on everything I buy from spray cans to stationery to packaging.

7. Turn vegetarian. Okay I hear you thinking this is going a bit too far, yet I have experienced a difference in health. Myth or fact: the meat industry consumes a huge amount of energy. I am quite cynical about this after hearing a British politician state the link between meat and energy consumption. Nevertheless, I have noticed the difference in my lifestyle since turning vegetarian but whether this has anything to do with saving our planet is left for the experts, not to mention, common sense.

8. Plant a tree. Some people are lucky enough to have their own garden. Others, like me, have to make do with finding a reserve or a location, preferably nearby, where they can actually make a difference by restoring a wild forest.

9. Air dry wet clothes instead of using the dryer and I have started using the 30 degrees wash cycle. It does not make a difference to how clean your clothes come out. The whites remain white and the colours do retain their brightness!

10. Volunteer in the community and take action. I indulge myself with the signing of online petitions but where it really counts is in the community. Above all, it is a balancing act of helping those in need and cutting back on one's consumer-focused lifestyle.

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