Sunday, August 05, 2018

#firstworldproblems and my carbon footprint

about a month and a half after moving to belfast, there are a few things i'm still trying to come to terms with.

for most of my adult life, i have tried to be conscious of my "carbon footprint", and i took it upon myself to live a reasonably fun life without trashing the environment in the process. things seemed much easier to evaluate in india - i never used airconditioning at home, i reused plastic bags which i would get in situations where they were unavoidable, and decline plastic bags whenever possible. i probably have not had a hot water shower in over 10 years (except when i was unwell). i tried my hand at making compost at home, although honestly i gave up when i ended up with more compost than i could use. i commuted by bus whenever i could, switching to bike only when traffic became insanely unmanageable (how does 2 hours of diesel fumes by a bus stuck in a traffic jam compare to 45 minutes on bike? i don't have enough inputs to do the math). i would buy my groceries from vendors who sourced locally.

sadly, there were environmental issues that were outside my control. garbage segregation and recycling was quite a mess, and i'm quite sure everything was being mixed up and dumped somewhere anyway. there wasn't much i could do with e-waste, and things like milk and meat were always sold in non-recyclable (and non reusable) plastic bags. in fact, we used our plastic bags so sparingly, that despite refusing bags wherever we could, we still received more bags than we could use. also, the poor quality of public transport meant that i'd have to travel by cab, and despite carpooling, i know that it was a significant compromise.

and then, we moved to the uk.

the first few days took a lot of adjustment, especially for shruti who needed the heater despite it being "summer", just because we weren't used to the temperatures. while we're now used to the temperature and haven't used the heater in the last month, i still can't bring myself to have a cold shower (i tried!).

and then there's the food. while the meat, eggs and milk seems to be sourced locally, a lot of the other stuff we've been eating seems to have come from really far away. lemons from south america, chillies from africa, and fruits from southern europe. seafood from pretty much anywhere in the world. and yes, some of the veggies actually come from india!

and of course, everything is pre-wrapped in plastic. a lot of the plastic is marked as non recyclable.

after a couple of weeks, we happened to attend a cooking workshop sponsored by the city council, and realized that we were doing our garbage wrong. we now discard our compostable waste separately, and our general "non recyclable" waste has come down a lot. but still, we're generating way more waste than we used to. and i'm not sure how energy efficient the recycling process is, without further reading. and i know most people don't know or don't care - i've seen bottles and plastic packaging thrown into general waste, along with food and everything else. our own food waste bin was sitting in a closet, stuffed with odds and ends when we moved into this house - which means it wasn't even being used before.

on the other hand, i do walk/cycle to work, and thankfully the buses are well maintained - no visible fumes at least! but i don't know how significant that saving is, compared to the distance our food has to travel.

but it's summer now. once winter sets in, our lighting and heating bills will definitely shoot up. our home is far more spacious here than it was in india, and while we enjoy the comfort it brings, i don't like the fact that so much space will have to be heated for just two people. and also, i recently read that (contrary to my belief) it's been proven that heating uses more energy than cooling - which means i may just wipe out a few decades my life's energy savings in a couple of years! so i guess that means, my baseline carbon footprint itself has grown significantly.

what i dislike the most though, is that i don't have a reasonably accurate means of gauging my carbon footprint any longer. and that, for all the focus on recycling and promoting public transport here, the real problems seem to be hidden and without publicly available metrics, let alone a plan to reduce them.

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