Our rapidly growing carbon footprint is a problem of epic proportions. Most countries across the globe and their experts are discussing and analysing immediate actions that can reduce carbon emissions within the next 12 years.
Bhutan, on the other hand, is presently a carbon-negative country. Yes, Bhutan is a small country which lies sandwiched between two giants namely, India and China, and has zero carbon footprint.
What’s a Carbon Footprint, Anyway?
Massive amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) is produced annually from human activities like fossil fuel usage, deforestation, industrial fumes, etc. and this has a negative impact on human and environmental health. A country’s Carbon Footprint is the sum of all emissions of CO2 that is induced by its activities in a year calculated as the per capita emissions per year.
India has a low carbon footprint compared to China or the US, but a lot of factors like high population and low GDP are taken into consideration here. Therefore, even if we are far below the world average of per capita emissions, we should still resolve to lower it.
So, How Does Bhutan Do it?
First, Bhutan is constitutionally obliged to maintain a forest cover of 60% at all times. The current coverage spans 72% of the country’s area. Second, they use renewable energy only produced through hydropower even though fossil fuel potential is present. Third, timber logging exports are banned and rural areas are provided with free electricity to combat dependence on firewood.
Also, the Bhutan government doesn’t levy taxes on electric transportation vehicles. Besides, the government has initiated many future plans and targets to reduce greenhouse gas and waste production.
There are many ways in which we can make a difference, simple and practical adjustments in our current lifestyle can contribute to a better world. A shining example of this effort in our own backyard is the town of Meenangadi — the country’s first carbon-neutral destination. It is situated in the state of Kerala surrounded by the Western Ghats but was severely afflicted due to pollution and growing concerns over climate change as rampant mining and deforestation, health concerns and diminishing agricultural yield affected it. Today, Meenangadi is the model for zero-carbon development, nature conservation, and food and energy self-sufficiency.
Now that we’ve seen two brilliant cases where a pint-sized country and a remote village in India have successfully reduced their carbon footprint, let’s look at the reasons behind this global problem.
What is Adding to the Problem?
Animal farming – Our country’s agrarian centred economy translates to our greenhouse gas (GHG) contribution. Livestock farms demand a heavy share of the finite resources of:
- Air while they produce copious amounts of methane gas
- Land while animals occupy a third of the world’s ice-free surface and consume a third of the grain produced
- Water while using 16% of the world’s share of freshwater
Animal manure releases methane and in addition, a lot of deforestation, erosion, increased fertilizer usage in feeds, pollution and even antibiotic resistance in humans have been linked to animal farming concentrations. Monitoring of livestock feed, genetic selection, and efficient farming practices can reduce this.
Meat Consumption – But, we shouldn’t think that the cows are killing the climate. Rather, it is our increasing consumption of meat, as the UN calls it ‘the world’s most urgent problem’. The process of production of meat creates much strain on the environment and the natural resources which if continued will lead to an ecological crisis.
As a step towards reducing the carbon footprint of its canteen service, the University of Cambridge (UK) has removed meat from campus eating outlets, advocating a more plant-based diet.
However, brilliant minds like Ethan Brown and Dr. Patrick Brown are on their way to bypass the animal and creating meat directly from plants! Their companies, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, were recognised by the UN and catalysed many such plant-based food innovations. Recently, Beyond Meat tied up with KFC too for a plant-based mock meat fries which was extremely well received.
Deforestation – The 2019 Amazon rainforest wildfires claimed 3,500 square miles or 2.3 million acres of green cover when rampant deforestation all over the globe is a rising concern in climate change summits. Did you know that the inexpensive and unassuming palm oil is a huge culprit for increasing carbon footprint? Seems unlikely, but palm oil plantations devour vast tracts of rainforest cover every year in Indonesia and Malaysia. A close second is rubber plantation.
Automobiles – Vehicular emissions contribute to a major share of CO2 but the production of automobiles creates as much carbon footprint as driving them. The EU has set a target for the auto industry in Europe to cut down emissions by 2030 which would mean more electric and hydrogen-powered cars and related efficiency in the production process. In fact, shipping giant Amazon too has set a target to reduce its carbon emission by half and will also release a report of its carbon footprint like DHL and FedEx.
Plastic – The Prime Minister’s call to eliminating single-use plastic by 2022 is the need of the hour. Plastic is choking our rivers, oceans and poisoning our fertile lands besides, the litter is glaring at our faces. As an example of collective effort, corporate houses are doing their bit and who can forget how Anand Mahindra humbly acknowledged the need to phase out plastic water bottles in favour of reusable containers.
Waste generation – Landfills are India’s markers that score above the global average. We produce a whopping 62 million tonnes of waste annually and only 15% of this volume is treated. Thus, our GHG emission from garbage amounts to 6% trumping the 3% of the world’s average. Apart from the carbon footprint, it also affects human health and the environment.
How can We Reduce Our Carbon Footprint?
Our planet is vulnerable, and global warming signs are a constant reminder for us to reduce our carbon footprint so that we can live in a better tomorrow. The world over, in the last four years, had been the hottest on record and the Arctic has seen its winter temperatures rise by 3◦ C since 1990. Now is the time to act and realize that the onus is not just on the governments, but also on us to make an effort.
As 16-year-old climate activist, Greta Thunberg, says, ‘Act now or we will’ and when she spoke at the Climate Change Summit on Saturday, 21st Sep 2019, she was the only speaker to travel carbon-neutral through sailing in a yacht equipped with solar panels and hydro-generators. Yes, she embarked on a two-week journey across the Atlantic to join the summit in a carbon-free way!
Luckily, most of us won’t have to go to that extent. If we look closely, by making a few, small adjustments in our daily habits we can go a long way in reducing our carbon footprint.
Here are some tips:
- To begin with, we are way ahead in the ‘Meatless Mondays’ campaign because culturally most Indians refrain from consuming animal products on certain days of the week. Let’s salute the environment-wise thinking of our ancestors and follow this trend this for a better tomorrow.
- Buy local, buy seasonal, and as much as possible, buy organic food products.
- Another Indian way of life should be strengthened and that is avoiding food wastage and thereby, preventing food from ending up in landfills. For this, adopt proper food planning and buy only what you’ll need or use.
- Online shopping is so convenient but also think about the shipping-related carbon footprint. Be responsible and mindful when opting for multiple orders, free returns, and express delivery.
- Instead of plastic bags, carry a canvas bag or trendy jhola to do your shopping. Shift to steel bottles and straws that are reusable and say “no” to plastic cutlery when ordering food.
- Avoid driving alone or with just a couple of people. Instead, opt for a shared cab. It’s not only cheaper but allows you to significantly reduce some CO2 from the air.
- Be mindful of energy consumption in terms of appliances, choose energy star rated products, and support companies that are environmentally aware.
- Minimise travelling for work and go for technology-aided meetings like video conferencing, etc.
- Recycle and reuse as much as you can, and again take pride in the Indian ingenuity of upcycling stuff.
- Like the denizens of Denmark, let’s ride bikes and save on that gym membership while we start a new trend.
- Plant a tree on important days or career milestones.
We are a nation of a billion people and we can sure make a difference if we take up the cudgels. We clearly have the power to start at home and we definitely don’t need to wait for dignitaries to decide. Each of us can make a dent in the rising problem of the growing carbon footprint by adjusting our own habits to create a cleaner world.