Path to climate change begins at home
As the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen in December gears-up for a
contentious debate on global warming issues, the focus has turned to
efforts by people and nations to work towards zero emission goals and
changes in lifestyle choices. Sri Lanka observing the Greener Month from
October 15 to November 15 has caught the eye of many nations that are
seeking to establish individual goals for emissions reduction.
Latest examples of far reaching efforts made in Sweden and USA are
discussed here-they are being hawked as models for others to follow.
China, India and Japan are also seeking renewable energy sources
aggressively. The Swedes just started putting labels on all food items
at supermarkets to indicate how much carbon emissions they entail.
Americans are striving to reduce their waste output of 4.6 pounds per
person per day-the highest in the world.
Fighting for emission free world-
Activists holding a banner in front of the statue of Mahatma
Gandhi in Pietermaritzburg urging the South African
government to take urgent action on climate change by
investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency. AFP
All that looked inane a decade ago. Global thinking has changed
dramatically as people are motivated to act responsibly in terms of the
environment that must bear the brunt of every morsel of food consumed or
lumps of waste discarded with their potential to increase emissions.
There is a sea-change in global thinking described in those efforts.
If those Swedish food labels were religiously heeded, some experts
say, Sweden could cut its emissions from food production by 20 to 50
percent. An estimated 25 percent of the emissions produced by people in
industrialized nations can be traced to the food they eat-two metric
tons per year. Now behind every blue box of Swedish oatmeal is a label
that states 0.87 kg CO2 per kg of product. Labels are appearing on
grocery items and restaurant menus in many parts of Sweden.
Holistic approach to climate
The environment is impacted by all major biotic and non-biotic
components in the ecosystem. For example, there is concern that organic
decay at waste sites releases methane gas that warms the Earth's
atmosphere. Polystyrene foam containers or any other packaging material
that is not biodegradable is the villain. Sorting trash and delivering
it to the local recycling and disposal complex had become a norm for
most residents in many parts of the world.
The residuary emissions steam is enormous. Over 5,000 bakeries in
Southern California for example, produce ethanol from yeast used for
making bread, pastries and other goodies. Bakeries are now required to
retrofit fume catching cylinders to capture their release. Similarly,
millions of gas-powered lawn-movers used every Saturday morning in the
US also caused tons of CO2 emissions. So are the barbecue fires lit by
petroleum based lighters in the summer-some barbecue charcoal pits in
Senior Homes are over 100 feet long. All these are points of CO2
emission releases. Both barbecues and lighters are now regulated.
The holistic approach is paying dividends in many areas. Swedish
supermarket customers are now making decisions as to whether it is
environmentally prudent to buy beans or chicken for red meat, in view of
the heavy greenhouse gas emissions associated with raising cattle.
It has taken a while for that reasoning to sink in. Today there are
thousands of places in many countries where residents can drop off all
household waste products, even books, papers and clothing and other
reusable items for disposal or recycle. In the US black, green and blue
containers are used for household, vegetative and recyclable waste
before the collection trucks haul them away to dump sites. The
zero-waste philosophy is practised like a war strategy.
Catching on fast
The efforts are catching on in school cafeterias, national parks,
restaurants, stadiums and corporations as the list of recyclable
materials gets longer: aluminum, glass, paper, tyres, batteries and
household appliances stack up by the ton every month-in three 55
gallon-sized containers in every home.
Food waste accounts for about 13 percent of total trash nationally.
This is the next big frontier. When stale bread, vegetable matter and
last week's leftovers go to landfills, they do not return the nutrients
they pulled from the soil while growing. As waste decomposes without
oxygen, methane a potent heat-trapping gas is generated. New decomposing
methods now break down left-over food waste to produce nonchemical
fertilizer with no methane by-product. Compostable product industry had
doubled since 2006 in the US and many had moved on to producing items
like shopping bags and food packaging.
Another serious hazard to the environment felt in the West and
rapidly imitated all over the world are household electronic gadgets
with insatiable power consumption estimated at 15 percent of all
household power demand and would triple in this decade. Personal plasma
TVs, iPods, game consoles, camcorders, home projectors and many other
appliances overwhelm living space today-over 25 electronic gadgets and
multiplicity of appliances are used by an average family in the West.
Most of these gadgets need to be dormant when not in use preventing them
from using power while they await a signal from a remote control or wait
to record a television program.
National power grid
I will end on a local note: Sri Lankans' dedication to a greener
culture brings to light the singularity of purpose required to fight
global warming. For starters, Sri Lanka just announced the extension of
transmission lines and 31 grid sub-stations will be added to the
National Grid to ease the distribution of electricity from the
Norochcholai and Trincomalee power plants, and areas affected by war.
Work has already commenced costing over Rs. 11,000 million, in line with
the development of the North and East of the country.
What exactly would a smart grid look like, many would ask? It is tied
to overall conservancy. The grid is vital to power distribution. These
upgrades are needed now not light years away because sensors and digital
relays installed on power lines for example, help power utilities to
operate systems with greater efficiency and reliability. A start to
bring innovation is essential to power conservation.
Smart meters are another idea that is popular in many countries. They
are tied to power-lines, radio or cellular-network connections so that
location of outages can be detected soon. They can determine the
location of outages more easily, and staff need not be sent to read
meters, or turn the power on or off at a particular property. As the
world readies for technologies such as rooftop solar panels or backyard
wind-turbines a smart grid could be a major component of power
distribution as well as means of charging of electric vehicles of the