Tuesday, February 23, 2021

doing vs influencing

it probably isn't a coincidence that human-caused climate change is getting more attention than usual these days. what with a change of US president from one who went out of his way to trash environmental commitments to one who seems to be making the right sounds so far, think-tanks focused on the post COVID-19 pandemic recovery, and catastropic climate changes in some parts of the world that are getting harder than ever to ignore even by the most entrenched naysayers and skeptics, the time seems ripe for change.

however, change is not as simple as it may seem at the outset. one wants change to have an impact, because anything else is simply a waste of time (and time, when it comes to the environmental-time-bomb, is obviously of the essence, as it has always been).

I have tried making changes personally over the years: reducing use when economically and logistically feasible (by buying non-perishable items in bulk without packaging, practically eliminating food wastage, etc), reducing my energy footprint, reusing whenever possible (I go through about 2 plastic bags a YEAR), have taken up upcycling and freecycling items when possible, and finally, recycling when reuse is not possible. but... and this is a big but: all my changes are practically insignificant.

worldwide, household waste is under 3% of all carbon emissions. and we were relatively carbon conscious all our lives to begin with (my energy footprint in Mumbai was so low, I did not have to pay electricity bills for over a year!). Right now, in the UK, I've survived 3 winters without using heating until outside temperatures dropped below 0 - barring January, my gas bill in the UK is the same as it was in Mumbai, despite higher taxes + rates per unit! Despite riding a high capacity sports tourer, my overall fuel usage is under 1/5th of what it was in India - simply because I cycle on a daily basis and ride about once a month (or maybe twice a month when we were not in a lockdown).

And so, it seems clear to me, there's not much more I can do personally by way of action to avert the climate crisis. The problem lies elsewhere.

For example, my personal network in the UK comprises of people who either walk, or (mostly) drive cars. and when they drive cars, they usually do so for short distances. one less family ferrying groceries by car for a month would save on more emissions than I have in a year of cycling! A family of 4 who switches to bulk-buying non-perishables without packaging would save twice as much plastic as I could have. But it's even simpler than that. I don't expect families to go cold-turkey and stop driving completely. Simply cutting down on trips by better planning would make a bigger difference than I possibly can. Families with infants switching to reusable diapers even a couple of times a week would reduce more non-recyclable trash than I produce in a year.

Obviously, nobody is going to wake up and make such changes of their own accord. Which is where influencing comes in.

100 people making a 1% reduction is probably better than one person making a 100% reduction (if that was even possible). 1% is such a small reduction, one may not even notice it! Something like a 50% reduction would be possible without significant impact to cost and well-being. And even that will do spectacularly if a significant number of people do it. The network effect can do wonders - when it actually takes effect.

The question is: how?

How does one motivate people to make changes?

Preaching doesn't seem to help.

Example doesn't seem to help.

Not doing anything (obviously) doesn't seem to help.

One area I feel particularly handicapped is: data. hard numbers. Or better still, tunable models.

If I could spend some time with each person in my network, I could actually help them identify easy wins. But without data, that's practically impossible, becase I'll be asking people to just go by my word. And my word might even be wrong - I am no expert myself!

If I could locate other like-minded and similarly motivated people, we could help each other get better at this.

My goal would be to get people motivated enough to identify easy wins and spread the word about techniques (as opposed to actions).

I'm sure there are many tricks I'm missing, but for starters, let's connect and figure things out.

After all, it's our world we're talking about.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

thoughts about COVID-19

a pandemic, by definition, affects the whole world. and hence, gives us a chance to see how the world reacts to it.

my own thoughts about COVID are those of gratefulness - so far. I've not been personally impacted, the lockdown has caused some discomfort and inconvenience, but also a lot of benefits. my immediate family back in India are (mostly) being sensible and safe, although in some cases the impact of public opinion, and even pressure, is visible.

but in one sense, i've learned that it's best to let go, and let freedom run its course.

my parents gave me the freedom to make my mistakes and learn, even when they worried about my well being. I remember those overnight solo rides across the country, on lonely highways, with absolutely no idea of where I am, or when I will arrive. I remember my parents giving me their warmest hugs before I walked out that door, hoping that when they wake up they see a message from me saying i've arrived at my destination, and not silence. I think back sadly about the times I've rode off without even telling them I was, simply because I couldn't sleep and I'd like to see a nice sunrise somewhere. But I don't think they remember such days sadly. they accepted it, while reminding me it worried them.

just a few years later, I haven't even realized that we have switched places - I'm the one who panics when I hear for example that my relatives were over for lunch at Christmas, that my mom has to attend building society meetings, or that my in-laws have met their neighbours. and while I try not to show it, I'm sure my feeling of surprise and sadness when they take risks I wouln't is no more than what they have felt when I have done things that seemed unnecessarily risky to them, but felt right to me.

we all have to live our lives on our own terms. that's what my parents taught me. and that's what i have to let them do too, just as they did before I was a even glimmer in their eyes. and the same goes for the rest of the world - my family, my friends, and everyone else i associate my happiness with.

the only thing I can do from afar is be there from them in whichever way I can.

and in fact, that's one of the reasons I volunteered to participate in a vaccine trial last November.

for someone who has taken huge personal risks for only selfish gains, I feel this one selfless act might be insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but does give me reason and purpose.

and when I was watching a random video on youtube, where Bill Gates mentioned, just in passing, the name of the vaccine I'm trialing and that it seems like a promising candidate to be rolled out in developing countries, it just made my day.

I know that the point of a trial is to find out IF something works, and how well it does, if so. and every vaccine doesn't succeed in making it to the market. but I don't care. I'm happy because I'm part of the cause.

I used to feel weird when people would ask me if I got paid to participate in the trial - and I had to say I did not. or why i'm fine with not knowing if i've had the vaccine or the placebo. or dozens of other questions. but i don't feel weird any more.

All I want is for COVID-19 to end. and to be able to see and hug my parents again, more tightly than they ever did.

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

If you ever had a bad motorcycle accident, what advice would you give to others?

I’ve had many close calls, and three accidents that could have been much worse if I was unlucky/less skilled. Here’s my advice, in (my) order of importance:

  1. Do not overestimate your abilities. Start with the assumption that you’re absolutely incompetent, and work your way up from there. But do make sure you’re working on “working your way up”.
  2. Do not ride when you are not at your mental best. Angry/tired/depressed/even overly happy! Anything that takes your mind off the road is a risk you take.
  3. Do not overestimate your motorcycle’s abilities - especially when it comes to emergency braking/steering in adverse conditions.
  4. Do not make assumptions about other road users. This is tricky in the UK, where most people do follow rules but are distracted/bored/inattentive instead, but having done most of my riding in India, where following the rules is a joke (most road users have never even heard the rules once in their life, and most truckers rely on alcohol to keep themselves awake on overnight long haul drives!) it’s basically what kept me alive.
  5. Take every close call as a lesson. Take every accident as an even bigger lesson. Most close calls are a result of at least one of the 4 above. Most accidents, at least two of the 4 above. Dissect each incident, by yourself, with trusted riding buddies, on quora. Internalize it. Make sure it never happens again. And thank your stars you lived to see another day.
  6. All the gear all the time. Motorcycle safety gear saves lives, reduces pain, and really is not uncomfortable/inconvienient/expensive when you get the right gear. All of my accidents where I sustained physical injury have been where I was not fully geared up, and where gear would have reduced my injury, and were on extremely short rides (within 1km of my destination!)
(posted this on Quora, but thought it was too valuable to leave off my blog :D)

doing vs influencing

it probably isn't a coincidence that human-caused climate change is getting more attention than usual these days. what with a change of ...