Concerns about environment and climate change have led to calls about remedial actions by nation states. What needs to be seen is how individuals can contribute to the cause. Though they have no control over the damage that has already been done, they can at least minimise the impact their lifestyles are having on the environment.
An attempt has been made to make people realise how they can slow down the depletion of natural resources simply by making prudent choices.
Environmentalist Ahmed Rafay Alam takes up the issue of looming water crisis and states that the debate on the issue seldom goes beyond taking it up with the Indus Waters Treaty or suggesting better water conservation in irrigation. “Consider, for instance, the water footprint of our everyday lifestyles. We speak and hear of trivial measures, such as turning off the tap when brushing one’s teeth but never consider that the food we consume also requires water.”
He points out that growing a kilogramme of rice will require more than 2,000 litres of water. Similarly, a kilo of beef requires over 15,000 litres of water to produce. It requires several thousand litres of water to grow and process the cotton necessary to make a shirt. “How many of us stop and think of changing what we eat or how often we buy clothes when we think of conserving water?” he questions.
Alam suggests that homeowners should also consider waste segregation as segregating food waste from dry waste can aid and streamline large value-chains in the informal waste-picking and recycling sectors. It will also make local governments’ job of solid waste management easier as there will be less waste to be collected. Food waste can be used for biogas production and other purposes.
A strong advocate of solar energy options, he suggests that electricity distribution companies should seriously consider providing solar power solutions to specific types of urban use. Schools and government offices don’t require electricity at night and can be catered for with increasingly cheaper solar electricity. Alam is convinced that domestic solar electricity can be a suitable investment for country’s consumer banking sector.
Dr Adil Najam, Dean of Boston University’s Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, dwells on the issue in purely local context. He says, “My first and most important point would be that the so-called ‘green life’ would mean something very different in a developing country like Pakistan than what it might mean in more affluent countries, or for affluent Pakistanis. Frankly, I do not like the term too much because it has come to imply something of a ‘fashion statement’ as if green living is what ‘hip’ people do.”
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“To me, it means living in a way that respects nature. It means living without being arrogant. Living as if the world around you matters. Living in the realisation that this planet and its resources have to be shared with others. Living, above all, with a constant sense of planetary justice,” he says.
Najam believes that for a country like Pakistan ‘green living’ means ‘smart living.’ At its core must be the idea of reducing waste, whether it is the waste of energy or water or just solid waste itself. There should be realisation of the old saying that what we call ‘waste’ is really unused resource.
Taking the example of energy, Najam says that Pakistan is simultaneously energy-poor and energy-wasteful. “We see it in every household. We will crib and complain about load shedding and cost of energy all the time, yet we will have flimsy windows which remain open as we heat or air condition our rooms. That is like throwing good energy (and money) out of that window.”
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He adds, “And we ourselves ‘demand’ it without reason and without it even being useful most of the time. Do you really need that plastic bag? Do you really need that additional layer of packaging? What is the cost you are paying for that wrapper, in rupees as well as in environmental costs?”
The basic point, he says, is that people do not need fancy technology or massive change and fashion statements to take on a green lifestyle; “all they need is a respect for their surroundings and for those who share these surroundings with them — a basic civic sense — and we need to curb our habits of waste and meaningless consumption.”
Sahana Singh, a water expert based in the US, has adopted a green lifestyle. She strongly believes that the most important starting point for green living is to consume less and recycle more. In her email response to TNS, she gives examples of environment-friendly practices that can be adopted at household level.
For example, she says, in the house, one really does not need to use chemical cleaners. “An all-purpose cleaner can be prepared by just mixing 1/2 cup vinegar and 1/4 cup baking soda (or 2 teaspoons borax) into 1/2 gallon (2 liters) water. This can be used to clean most surfaces, instead of spraying harmful chemicals. The toilet bowl can be cleaned with a mixture of 1/4 cup baking soda and 1 cup vinegar. You pour that into the bowl and leave for a few minutes. Then you can scrub with brush and rinse. No need of harmful chemical cleaners like acids.”
Similarly, she says that while washing dishes, there is no need to run tap-water continuously. “Instead, the basin can be filled with water and used for the first wash. It can be refilled for a second wash and so on. Bathing with a bucket consumes less water than a continuously running shower. While shaving also, there is no need to keep the tap running. A bowl of water can be used. A car can be cleaned with a bucket and sponge. All the vegetable and fruit peelings and other kitchen waste can be used to create compost for gardening. Natural products can be used instead of chemical-based beauty products,” says Singh.
Adil Najam sums it up well by saying, “My favourite way of internalising green living is to always remember the African proverb that ‘We have not inherited this planet from our parents, we have borrowed it from our children.’”