Sunday, May 22, 2011

Making Informed Choices

It is possible to greatly reduce air-pollution. 

Often, it isn't our activities but the by-products of our activities that lead to pollution. Take our cars or our factories. They spew out gases which react with some of the gases already present in the air (mostly oxygen) to form noxious, un-breatheable, life threatening compounds.

Is there anything we can do about it? An unequivocal Yes.

Will the changes we make affect our way of life? To a degree. But it is easier than you think and the benefits far outweigh the inconveniences.

To start with, let me address the Indian perspective. When it comes to making hard choices, here's what some of us in India feel on an individual, business and government level. 

On an individual level we think  it takes too much effort to make a change in our lifestyles. Besides, we ask, how can one person’s actions make such a difference to the air we breathe? And we do get cowed by the wise-guys who level cynical comments at our puny efforts. [Click this link to find out what wiki says about cynics.]

As for our business sector, they don’t dare take that one extra step of recycling the toxic waste their products spew into our atmosphere. That might add to the expense, increase the price of their product or service, which, in turn, would spell disaster - losing out to less ethical competitors.

And our government? Their actions and words are geared to see what will make short term and visible gains for their party.

In the larger context, we feel India hasn't really had the chance to use technology and resources to our benefit like the Western countries have; that they should reduce their consumption of fossil fuel of coal and oil. Not us.

Why doesn't the government enforce some of the laws they've enacted to protect our environment? Laws that might, for example, force all businesses, without exception, to spew out less dangerous by-products into our environment (air, waters and soil); laws that ensure the health of citizens doesn’t suffer and individuals don’t fork out huge medical bills for asthma, deformities, cancer etc.

Unfortunately, some individuals in our government might see that as yet another opportunity to make money – a nice fat bribe from some businesses so they continue to spew CO2 and other life threatening chemicals into our air, earth or water.

How do we, the citizens, fight that? We could say, never mind, yaar. It is impossible to fight corruption in high places, crony capitalism and the like. 

But we could make INFORMED choices. Here are a few.

Buy from

  • businesses that are known to convert their waste to re-usable, non-hazardous resources
  • businesses that don't wait for government legislation to ensure clean by-products
  • businesses whose products are wrapped in recyclable and LESS packaging.
Our instinct has been to buy the cheapest. Making informed choices means fighting that instinct as, in the long term, it is far too expensive. 

We could do other simple, but effective things like, buying recycled paper, using less plastic and changing light bulbs to the energy efficient LED ones.

Most important, we could reduce food, water and electricity wastage.This is what Dr. Johnathan Foley says about our need to reduce our use of all three. Take food - 45% of land on Earth and copious amounts of fresh water are used to grow food. Well, we can't stop eating, nor does he suggest we do. 

The action he suggests is simple and do-able - Cut down on wastage.

He suggests fifteen such easy actions we could take - a must read.

Dare I mention Diwali firecrackers? I've never enjoyed them because my mum used to be asthmatic and if there was too much smoke, she would suffer a severe attack. Watching her gasp for every single breath over three days, sometimes five, was hard. More recently, our little dog (who is no more) was unable to stop trembling at the loud noise. In those days I loved good quality taras (sparklers) and phulecheries (fountains). Unfortunately today, there are simply too many of us. I am not sure what that will do to our air quality. 

Converting our own organic garbage to a resource would help. Our raddiwalas (rag pickers and bottle collectors), do a wonderful job of recycling our non-organic waste in India. We could ensure our municipality doesn't try to benefit from political rivalries by holding our streets to ransom as happened to the streets of Delhi. One of its jobs is to reduce that huge mountain of smelly, rat-roach-fly-mozzie-germ and disease breeding eyesore from our streets, not add to it. We should not let our municipalities ever forget that.

Tweet: Often, it isn't our activities but the by-products of our activities that lead to pollution. via @KMthr
Often, it isn't our activities but the by-products of our activities that lead to pollution.

Perhaps, we could help our poor start using alternatives to coal/kerosene for their cooking.

New innovations and technology are throwing up alternatives all the time. Electric cars are far less toxic for our environment says Shai Agassi on TED - not only are they better than petroleun for the air we breathe, they are cheaper to run. Hopefully, in the long run, they will be cheaper to buy.

To give you an idea of how a few deadly dangerous gases end up in our atmosphere and what their effects are on us humans, read this post.

A final word: Many of our schools and other organisations, NGOs and businesses already make informed choices everyday. 

We can, too.

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Tweet: Often, it isn't our activities but their by-products that lead to pollution. via @KMthr

Ideas for this article from an inspiring author who spoke on He wrote "Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things". His name: William McDonough; The Ted link:


1 comment:

  1. The recent smog of epic proportions was caused in Delhi for not only the usual reasons, but because of crop burning in states surrounding the capital. Farmers harvested their crop and set fire to the stumps to clear their fields. Some of them believe the ash is good fertiliser. CMs of all states need to conduct a massive study, find out what all their beliefs are and find better technology to get rid of the stumps (like grinding?) or the situation will be repeated next year.