Being Green on the 26th Floor

Is the Kyoto Protocol nothing more than wishful thinking, in practical terms?

In suburban Melbourne I lived a quiet and (although I didn’t think too much about it), very green lifestyle.

I cycled everywhere or else too public transport.  Melbourne is very good for cycleways traversing the city.  And its public transport system of trams and trains is world-renowned.  At one point I used to traverse the city of four million people each morning and evening without seeing a traffic light or a car by following the cycle trail along the side of the Yarra river.

I also ate a lot of fruit and yoghurt, with the occasional pie or beer or meal out at a cafe, and on reflection all of these products were grown and/ or produced in Victoria.  So I was eating locally, food with a small carbon-footprint attached to its transportation.

And finally, my back yard sported a grove of banana trees doing service fixing CO2 out of the atmosphere and a couple of compost bins that turned all my food-scraps into a mulch to retain moisture around the roots of the trees.

Melbourne has an active recycling programme, and almost all of my rubbish was marked with the recycle symbol and went in the yellow bin.  In fact the non-recyclable and non-bio-degradable rubbish generally amounted to less than half of a shopping bag per week.

Without really thinking too much about it, and without much personal privation, I was as green as they come and I imagine that this is true for many a Melburnian, almost effortlessly.  My power generator even offered the option of ‘green power’ to its consumers.

Now contrast that state of affairs with my new life in Singapore.

Here almost every item of food is imported.  It comes a long way to get here.  A lot from Australia, Malaysia and Indonesia, but also quite a lot from Europe and the States.  Either by tanker or by air-freight, all food comes with an associated carbon footprint.  It also comes with a price-tag that is two or three times the price in Melbourne, to cover the transportation and handling along the way.  And generally it comes wrapped in a big PVC casing and then a non-recyclable plastic bag.

Since there is no recycling programme, all of our un-sorted garbage gets wrapped in a shopping bag and thrown down the garbage chute, at the rate of two or three bags-full a day.  There are 30 floors of people using this chute, and on a regular basis carriers come to fumigate it and then take it all away.  Singapore burns its rubbish and then spreads it all on a landfill on Semakau Island.


Add to this the fact that we have the air-conditioner on 24×7 wherever we are, as do most Singaporeans.  And that whenever we want to go somewhere, it is a taxi-ride (they are cheap, government subsidised, to discourage car ownership).  Cycling is far too dangerous, it seems to me.

I estimate that I would need about five of the ‘old’ me, following my old, green, lifestyle, to offset one of the ‘new’ me following my new lifestyle.

I heard recently that there was a watershed point in 2008 when the number of people on the earth living in urban settings surpassed the number of people on the earth living in rural settings.  So  these big cities are the future, and the concentration of population into cities will only accelerate with each passing year.

It seems to me that all that effort living simply and greenly is more-or-less wasted in the face of the bigger problem.  Of course every little bit helps. 

But I suddenly have a lot of sympathy for the people arguing that "We won’t honour our Kyoto Protocol commitments unless China and India do-so first.’ 

There hardly seems to be much of a point otherwise.

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4 Responses to Being Green on the 26th Floor

  1. Michael says:

    India’s carbon emissions poised to triple.

  2. Shalin says:

    Mike, this is far too much of a bait to not comment on. The per capita consumption of energy of an average Indian is 1/20th of the average Brit. Similar figure for China. Cut it differently, the average westerner consumes at least 20 times more energy than the average person in the developing world. Not 20%, not 200%, 20 times as much. 25% of India and China, at a conservative estimate simply do not have electricity. Major cities in both countries (including Mumbai and Bangalore) have regular power cuts because they do not have enough energy. The developing world needs a LOT more energy. If the west wants cuts, they would be well advised to look in the mirror.

  3. Michael says:

    Accept waht you say, Shalin, and it is glad to see that someone is reading this stuff. But the carbon emissons of those countries, rather than their energy consumption? Also thinking about the trend. If many more Chinese get cars, or more coal-fired power stations are built?Cheers, good to hear…

  4. Michael says:

    Here’s a fantastic op-ed piece on the Copenhagen global warming conference, which covers China, India and Africa. Plus the spectre of green international development aid, being about as ineffective as any other development aid has been over the last three decades.

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