Global warming and the environment – How we can do our part

Western Europe has taken up the environmental issues seriously. There’s the “Smart” electric cars, public cycles available for use for anybody (as in France), recycling hand towels in restrooms (or washrooms as its called in Europe), energy conservation as exemplified in the cog wheel trains, alternate energy usage in high altitude tourist spots like Mt. Blanc and Jungfrau, energy conserving buildings like the “Gherkin” (“Swiss Re Tower”) a cigar shaped building in London. It’s all for the greater good. Hope these efforts continue vigorously and are also adopted in other parts of the world. Because, as individuals we are expected to contribute to this conservation effort in our diurnal routine and THAT is extremely difficult.

Environmental conservation is great on paper but when you actually implement it, it means you might have to give up on some of the comforts you take for granted. Environment friendly transit systems or buildings etc. are great – we do not make personal sacrifices or so we feel. We have grown up with so many comforts – we do not realize that sans those facilities how it would be. Usage is based on “as much as you want” and not “as much as you need”. So there is the liberal use of toilet paper and hand tissues, plastics and Styrofoam – found in almost all containers/packaging from food & beverage to electronics & toys, big cars which are such gas guzzlers, 24 hour air conditioner or heater (whether the room/area is occupied or not), the examples can go on. Now to counter these we would have the recyclable hand tissues, use less toilet tissue, carry our own jute or cotton bag every time we go for groceries, give up the SUV and take up a hybrid like the “smart” car. The electric car with its tiny size and low speed is nowhere near the SUV. You would have to give up the convenience and the luxury.

What is the motivation for people to do so? Apart from the environmental issue being a fashionable cause to take up (since lot of celebrities are in the bandwagon) what else could induce a commoner to take it up? Umm…maybe children. Maybe people might feel that they need to conserve for the future generations. But then that is way too ahead – nobody alive today would be around then. Since the after affects are not physically manifested immediately in front, it is difficult for people like me to fathom out the impending crisis.

On my visit to the French Alps, near Mt. Blanc, I met somebody who had been travelling to this place for the past ten years. He pointed to a bare brown mountain peak and said “ten years back that peak used to have snow. Today to reach the snow we have to trudge further up the range”. That is when it struck me that indeed the affects of the much touted global warming is clearly visible. But sitting in my apartment with the city view outside I never could really appreciate all the lectures, movies and documentaries the environmental activists are seen presenting on television.

Snowless

For instance if a person has an allergy to something (say peanuts) where he gets a skin rash or swollen lips immediately, he would go to all lengths to not touch the ‘vile thing’! But say he is asked to control fat/oil intake, he most likely wouldn’t pay that much attention since the affects do not manifest itself immediately. It would be a slow process of cholesterol accumulation and eventually a few years later resulting in a stroke. Then he would probably give up the butter!

I really wish to participate in the conservation process but am I ready to give up the “butter”, am I ready to sacrifice the instant gratification for a benefit which is not immediately tangible – I was sure I was not ready until I saw that peak in the Alps. And for this “enlightenment” I needn’t have crossed the Atlantic – am sure I could have got the signs here.
Let us make a small check list on what we could do as an individual to preserve and conserve the environment. Let’s look at few things we could do –

1) Use less plastics
2) Use less non-bio-degradable disposables
3) Avoid wastage of paper – includes all kind of tissues
4) Use air conditioner / heater judiciously
5) Not waste running water – for e.g. do not leave the water running while brushing teeth; open / close tap as required
6) Use energy saving light bulbs
7) Use energy saving and low emission cars (e.g. electric / hybrid cars?)
8) Recycle as much as possible
9) Walk/cycle/take public transport/car pool to work
10) Aim to generate as much less household garbage as possible

Woah!! Is it possible to do all of these? Do all those celebrities (including Al Gore!) go to such lengths? So now we have progressed so much that we need to take a few steps back, is it? It is difficult indeed. I wonder if there are more people who feel the way I do- wanting to do something about this, yet not wanting to give up on the conveniences.

I don’t have to pay for using the restrooms here!

The mention of “Europe” does conjure up images of cobbled stone pathways, artistic edifices seeped in history and some in mystery, castles and forts, the renaissance and reformation, Da Vinci and Michelangelo and so on. It also brings to mind the beautiful cities of Paris and Venice, famous structures like the leaning Tower of Pisa and Eiffel Tower, invaluable sculptures like David and the Pieta, the pristine picture perfect Swiss Alps; the list is endless. And the fame and hype over each of these and such other places, structures and artwork are fully justified and well deserved. When you actually stand in front of them you cannot help but be awestruck. It is indeed a great feeling to absorb these timeless treasures. Travelling in Europe can be journey through time if you go to the right places and not just stick to the big cities.

However, while driving across in western Europe one would get to know you have pay to use toilets (that too exact change where the turnstile system is implemented), unwieldy paper towel dispensers (since it is recycled and after usage reels back in), pay for extra ketchup in fast food outlets, almost everything is more expensive than in the U.S., the public transport shuts down after midnight in most places like London, Paris etc. and is replaced by a night loop, stores close by 8 P.M. (not only is entry stopped but in some places customers are asked to leave before the closing time), places like Venice and parts of Paris are terribly crowded, need to beware of pick pockets in some places – its like, what is a ‘rose’ without a couple of ‘thorns’. But you can enjoy the rose without pricking on the thorns if you are careful.

But this made me realize one thing. What a wonderful place good old U.S.A is! I love this place – nothing can beat this place in terms of comfort, facilities, the friendly people. No cobbled stones here, no David or Pieta, but the sheer comfort bordering wastefulness looks inviting after you experience something other than what you are used to. So from a totally selfish and self indulgent point of view, “nothing can beat U.S”. I don’t have to pay for using the restrooms here!

Venice Crowd