Paris, Where The Quest For a Sustainable Future Continues

paris1On 30th of November, 2015, leaders of 150 countries of the world will gather to discuss an issue of climate change. Needless to say, it is going to be challenging to fight a common strategy, but it is widely accepted that no option B is possible in the negotiations – all these different countries will have to find a political will to sign a binding agreement on how they are going to tackle this global issue – every single of them – so that the temperature will not rise above the agreed 2°C[1] threshold, which is otherwise going to happen in some 50 years, hadn’t we turnedthe flow the other way and dramatically reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
What can we, common people, do or does everything depend only on our governments’ decisions? In fact, pompous as it might seem, I would like to empower us with the understanding that we can be a driving force in a greener future! All we need is some commitment, consciousness and, in my opinion, the realization of the following 11 strategies. 11 strategies for our own daily cop21s!

So how can we act globally?

The philosophy of this article is that each of us can act globally by acting individually, following the following points in our daily lives.

  1. Recycle. I think all of you who are reading this are more or less familiar with this word. Now, some mathematics for recycling taken from Carbonfootprint.com. 315kg of CO2 is saved per tonne of recycled glass recycled, while producing aluminum cans from the used ones requires only one twelfth of the energy, compared to the process of making it anew. As for polythene bags, making them from the recycled ones require 2 less of NO emissions (a major GHG and pollutant). Now, as a Lithuanian I have heard several complaints of my fellow countrymen doubting the fate of the recycled items (what if they all go to a dump?). However, even though at the moment this article is being written, plastic and paper for the most part are utilized together, it is nevertheless a progress compared to letting them decay in a dump (I will not repeat the amount of time that plastic needs for complete decay). Furthermore, even though plastic and paper bins stand separated, it would be still unreasonable to use 2 different pick-up trucks for each. Why? Because 100% accurate recycling is impossible. Therefore, the waste of each kind has to be-sorted before separate utilization.
  2. Saving electricity. Let us never waste electricity. This simple tip will lower our bills + decrease energy demand. (PS: let me be ruthless on this: energy demand and CO2 emissions go together well) Some calculations for imagining the situation better: let us imagine you have a bad habit to have a TV always switched on even if you are not present in a room. You have a TV with a 32’’ LCD screen which is energy efficient and consumes 85 W per hour. In addition to this, a light bulb consuming 60 W is also on, whenever TV is not turned off. And all this goes to waste for approximately 2 hours on average every day. The numbers might not seem high for one night – a mere 290 W. However, if it continues as it is you have a waste of 8.7-8.9 kWh a month and almost 106 kWh per year. This equals 7 kg of extra CO2 emissions per month and 82 kg per year, or 1.12€/month and 14€/year being paid for nothing (for Lithuanians). So we can only imagine what happens if we tend to leave our electric appliances unattended for even a longer period of time.
  3. Saving water. Even though water is not directly responsible for greenhouse gas emissions (except mostly for the fact that water is cleaned and heated using energy), we should still use it as rationally as possible. While some of us enjoy drinking water in seeming abundance, taking it for granted, water shortage is becoming more and more serious problem for a big part of the world, as the human population is increasing. According to the World Health Organisation, as much as 9% of the world population (appr. 660 million people) does not have access to an improved drinking-water source as of 2015, while the number of people worldwide with no access to sanitation is strikingly high. Even some who have the access still drink water contaminated with faeces (1.8 billion of the population). In addition to this, it is estimated that by 2025, half of the population will be living in water-stressed areas. So my conclusion on this is that rational water consumption is primarily an ethic position.
  4. Use public transportation rather than your own whenever possible. If you have a hydrogen-fuel automobile – you are lucky one and do not need to read the rest of this point. However, if you are the 99.99%+ of the drivers, you are likely to have a car with an internal combustion engine which emits both CO2 and pollutants while you drive, unless you have an electro mobile. However, in all these cases, energy is consumed and extra CO2 is emitted. This is especially cost (both financial and ecological) ineffective if you go by car alone. How much ineffective? Imagine you are commuting to work by car alone, driving some 40 km every day 5 times a week. That makes a burden of some 9 kg of CO2 emissions (Lithuanian link). Unless you go by electro mobile which would then result in 3 times lower emissions. However, the friendliest solution for this would be a city bus, where you could save 92.5% of the emissions, compared to a conventional car (only less than 0.7 kg/40 km). Now try to think of a difference if it repeats every day, every month, every year? Of course, not everyone can rely on public transportation and not all countries have well-developed transportation system in the first place. What to do then? There are still solutions to leave a lower carbon print, such as eco-driving, choosing energy-friendlier engines (electricity>gas>oil>diesel), car sharing (the latter still sounds suspicious for most, doesn’t it?). Or, if you do not commute big distances, then there is even a greener way than costly and unavailable hydrogen!
  5. Even a better solution – taking a walk or going by bike. All you pollute then would be through respiration – something we do not have to bother about. Furthermore, this solution might bring health and psychological benefits for some people.
  6. Change eating habits. This point is actually more relevant than it might seem from the beginning. It is generally acceptable that agriculture and food industry does contribute to the greenhouse gas emissions, by emitting high levels of methane in particular, when it comes to cattle breeding. However, what is disputable is its exact impact on the global scale in percentage. Some estimates claim some 11-15% of total greenhouse gas emissions coming from the farming sector, but numbers are actually even higher, if we take transportation, processing and packing into account. So more accurate average would be one quarter, if not more, of whole sectors! Meat is generally the least environmentally-friendly, as full lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions for beef are 10 times higher than the ones of grains, vegetables or even milk. So, every time you eat vegetable-based food instead of beef, you save 7.5 kg of CO2 per 300 g portion. Furthermore, an estimated one third of whole produced food goes to waste. This all makes agricultural sector a significant culprit in the GHG emissions. In this context, consuming more grains, vegetables and fruit can significantly cut the GHG. Imagine all the food that each of us eat throughout the year!
  7. Buy local production. Not only would you support your own country’s or region’s economy, but also nearly always save some greenhouse gas emissions. How does it work? Well, we can only imagine all the greenhouse gases (CO2and NO) that is emitted during the transportation of goods dozens of kilometers. Furthermore, imported food is quite likely to be more chemically processed, – some extra CO2  Of course, use common sense and do not forget a point no. 6, as you can contribute even more by choosing more wisely. However, be less hesitant when choosing between a local production and an imported one.
  8. Be conscious about paper use. Let us not waste it. Also, whenever there is a choice between a bleached (chlorinated) and chlorine-free paper, opt for the latter one. Luckily, chlorine-free paper is becoming more and more commercialized, to an extent that it is now more prevalent in Europe than its older counterpart. Since paper is typically made of pulpwood, paper is always linked with a cutting of trees. One of the calculations suggests that 1 ton of printing and office paper requires some 24 trees. No doubt why 11% of the wood is used directly for paper industry. And do not forget the point no. 1 – a major factor, determining the sustainability of a paper industry.
  9. Plant trees. Even though this is not the easiest point to achieve, I guess, there is hardly any more epic form of combat against the CO2 increase than by plating trees, the consumers of the latter mentioned gas themselves and significant actors of a global carbon cycle. In Lithuania, it was once said that every man has some duties in his life to achieve and one of such is planting a tree. A patriarchic moral as it is, I wouldn’t object it, if it was to apply for both sexes. Speaking more seriously, with all our consumerist life-style we could hardly play saviours by planting a tree, while we are responsible for so much of greenhouse gas emissions over our lives. (I tried to make some very rough calculations to find out that we emit 329 kilograms of CO2 annually by breathing and it constitutes only 9% of total of our emissions (hence 3.65 tonnes in total by average).

12333643_954536781293045_144150443_oWhat kind of tree to plant? This obviously depends on the location; – why not choose the one which grows best in particular soil and which does not require any fertilizers. Some examples are oak, maple, spruce, pine, while the CO2 capture power record is set for Pinus halepensis and Pinus pinea (pdf), 48 tonnes CO2/year and 27 tonnes CO2/year respectively. Not only do trees sequestrate CO2, but also purify the air, regulate moisture and climate, reduce erosion, all of these things being hit by the climate change. Needless to say, planting entire forests would be a more effective way to make a difference, but let us remember another saying this time – let us start from ourselves!

  1. Let us not waste money on the things we do not need. Excessive consumption might stimulate our economies, but bigger demand means bigger production and results in higher production and higher emissions. Instead, let us not forget to share, exchange and give away, rather than throw the things out when they seem out-dated for us. Not only would it save some expenses, but potentially draw exchanging people closer, a social benefit. When it comes to clothing, we can sometimes find some comfortable and good-lucking garments in the second-hand stores. For those who still find fashion trends a significant part of one’s identity, – prioritize eco-friendly brands over those which use child labour as a labour force.
  2. Let us live our lives consciously, always looking for the ways to lower pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, taking responsibility for every step we take and every decision we make. Let us talk, blog, vlog a lot about the benefits of a more nature-oriented lifestyle and show it by our lives. It is a long and never-ending work, yet starting from ourselves is the most we can do (unless you have enough financial and political power to influence). Believe that even a small, insignificant action that we take matters more than we can expect.

Positive epilogue

This is it for this time. Of course there are numerous “strategies” for daily greenhouse gas reduction that were left unmentioned. And do not forget to spread the knowledge for those who might be interested in leading a more environmentally sustainable way of life, but are not sure how to do it. Let us not forget some “skeptics” either as not science-based skepticism might sometimes be rooted in lack of information too. And finally for those who are really into what is going on in Paris – let us stay tuned and have fingers crossed for the conference to succeed, while trying to minimize our negative impacts in our daily lives. J’ai un rêve! Let hope flourish!

Labour of Sisyphus

A formidable, yet achievable combat or more the Labour of Sisyphus, a mitigation of climate change, which is caused predominantly by human activity, is primarily an ethical standpoint.

Audrius Sabūnas is a Graduate student in Energy and Environment at Vytautas Magnus University.

This article was also posted in a personal author’s blog (http://bakaintheair.wordpress.com)

References

[1] 2°C of global temperature increase, compared to 1880s level, was chosen as a seemingly realistic strategy to prevent human population from the worst consequences. A bigger increase might result in disastrous consequences, but 2.7°C is projected, if the world develops at its usual pace.

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