What you need to know:
- A typical passenger vehicle produces over 4 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide.
- Ruminant livestock can produce 250 to 500 litres of methane per day.
- Chewing gum is the world’s second most common form of litter after cigarette butts.
- Fossil fuel is a carbon emitter of tremendous proportions.
Global warming. You know it is happening, but what are you doing about it?
When you think about saving the Earth, do you think of what industries can do to stop pollution? The kind of policies politicians can come up with to protect the environment?
Or do you simply leave it to environment and climate change activists to lobby for change?
Global warming is caused by rising concentrations of greenhouse gases and experts agree that human activities are by far the biggest cause of this.
In 2007, the intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) found that there is a greater than 90 per cent certainty that human activities are responsible for global warming.
In 2018 at the launch of a report which governments had in 2015 invited IPCC to prepare when they adopted the Paris Agreement to combat climate change, it was made clear that the planet is set to reach the crucial threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by as early as 2030.
Such temperature levels without a doubt will in developing countries like Kenya precipitate extreme drought, floods and food shortages. Already, Kenya is grappling with floods and droughts due to climate change events.
In order to stop the globe from warming up, experts recommend concerted efforts.
Surprisingly, some of the little things you do daily can change Mother Earth for good, warns Dr Linda Ogallo, a climate change adaptation expert at the Igad Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC).
Jacob Ochieng, a resilience practitioner and PhD student researcher in environmental sciences at Kenyatta University, echoes her sentiments.
“Our behavioural patterns are closely associated with global warming and climate change,” he says.
He adds: “These patterns straddle across all our earthly transactions in ways that somewhat appear normal daily routines but in essence carry with them costly planetary consequences at a cumulative scale. This is because human patterns of behavior and lifestyles are repetitive in space and time.”
Here are some of the seemingly little things you might be doing knowingly or unknowingly that are injurious to the environment.
1. For bulbs, cheap is expensive
Heat from the incandescent bulbs especially in poorly-ventilated areas spur up aerosols in the air leading to pollution.
Changing from incandescent light bulbs to energy-saving ones not only saves you from accumulating huge energy bills but also reduces global warming.
An energy saver bulb replaces about six incandescent light bulbs. This is because it lasts six times longer than the average light bulb, according to experts.
If you use 20 light bulbs in your home, during the life of the energy-efficient bulbs, you will have reduced the number of light bulbs you throw out from 120 to 20.
As a result, there is less pollution from the waste.
Thanks to the latest cutting edge technology, there are an increasing number of options for energy-saving light bulbs with the quality and prices improving.
“Energy-saving bulbs are expensive and most people opt to save money and buy regular bulbs. However, if everyone switched to LED bulbs, we would reduce our energy consumption significantly,” says Dr Ogallo.
2. Driving: Sharing is caring for the Earth
While driving alone in your car seems like a relaxing way to go to work without invasion of privacy, it comes at a cost.
According to Green America, cars produce carbon dioxide, the heat-trapping gases that cause global warming. While closer to the ground, they produce smog that could cause asthma and other health problems.
In Nairobi, traffic jams are common as Kenyans rush to and from work daily.
A report by the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) shows the number of vehicles in Nairobi alone will be more than 1.3 million by 2030 going by the current rate of registration.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, a typical passenger vehicle produces over 4 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide. Now imagine what 1.3 million cars can do.
The solution, says Dr Ogallo, is to carpool.
“Because carpooling reduces the number of vehicles needed by travellers, it is often associated with numerous societal benefits including: reductions in energy consumption and emissions, congestion mitigation, and reduced parking infrastructure demand,” she says.
“Also, start cycling. Any mode of transport that does not use fuel is welcome.”
However, carpooling might have to wait until the Covid-19 pandemic is over to avoid spreading the disease.
3. That juicy beef you love
There is nothing wrong with enjoying a little meat once in a while. But, making beef a part of your daily diet will harm the environment in the long run.
While nutrition experts have long told us we are what we eat, it is also true that the planet is what we eat.
Mr Ochieng explains that our dietary choices and patterns may be doing more harm than good.
“Animal-based diets, long loved by our palates, are some of the biggest culprits behind global warming. Increased consumption of meats for example means that our ecosystems must contend with high numbers of ruminant animals that constantly release megatons of methane gas to the troposphere, hence accelerating global warming,” he says.
“Research has shown that breeding livestock alone contributes to 30 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the agricultural sectors.”
According to the Journal of Animal Science, ruminant livestock can produce 250 to 500 litres of methane per day.
This level of production results in estimates of the contribution by cattle to global warming that may occur in the next 50 to 100 years to be a little less than two per cent.
Scientists attribute a number of factors to emissions from cattle. They include level of feed intake, type of carbohydrates in the diet and feed processing.
Controlling animal movement, among other techniques, can be used to minimise the presence of methane in the environment.
Mr Ochieng calls for balancing animal-based proteins with plant ones such as peas and beans to avoid over-reliance on beef.
Dr Ogallo says about 70 per cent of Africa’s greenhouse gas emission is from the livestock sector.
This means the more cattle you keep, the more methane you emit into the atmosphere.
4. Your chewing gum habits
Almost everywhere you go from market places, drinking joints, sidewalks to classrooms, you will see pieces of old chewing gum.
Whether you are part of the problem or not, it should bother you as there is a link between these habits and environmental destruction.
In Britain, for example, an estimated 92 per cent of pavements have chewing gum stuck to them.
To prepare for 2012 London Olympics, London's Go-Gum reports that the city cleanup crews spent three months steam cleaning 300,000 pieces of gum on the streets.
“The problem is most gum bases are currently made from a combination of food-grade polymers, waxes and softeners, making it non-biodegradable,” says an official of a gum production company in Kenya, who sought anonymity.
According to Get Green Now, a global climate change initiative, chewing gum is the world’s second most common form of litter after cigarette butts.
“Stop chewing gum, unless its biodegradable gum. Most chewing gum is made of synthetic polymers and most people do not dispose of it properly. Ultimately, this is as bad for the environment as plastics are,” Dr Ogallo cautions.
A British Scientist in 2011 invented biodegradable gum called Rev7 which unlike others that are water resistant, dissolves in water, is 30 per cent easier to remove from clothes or sidewalks and is 100 per cent biodegradable .
5. Leaving the lights on
According to the Kenya Energypedia, 32.5 per cent of all electricity is generated from fossil fuels.
Fossil fuel is a carbon emitter of tremendous proportions.
Therefore, the more we waste energy, the more we need to produce.
“Think about habits like over-charging electronics, leaving the TV running and music systems playing, using inefficient appliances and forgetting to turn off lights. As a result, average electricity consumption per citizen is 167 kilowatt hours (kWh) per year,” says Mr Ochieng.
Global emissions in 2010 approached 30 gigatons, according to the UN.
“Unplug electronics while not in use. This reduces energy consumption as electricity is one of the biggest causes of greenhouse gas emissions,” Dr Ogallo advises.
6. You have more food than you can finish
Food loss and wastage is a big issue the world over. Most people throw away food unnecessarily without thinking about the consequences to our planet.
According to the UN, when food goes to a landfill and rots, it produces methane, the greenhouse gas even more potent than carbon dioxide.
The latest report from IPCC estimates that loss and wastage of food caused between eight and 10 per cent of the emission of the gases responsible for global warming in 2010 to 2016.
According to the UN and local studies, we lose about 33 per cent of food we produce.
Apart from methane production, food wastage can also pose another danger. The more food you waste, the more production and manufacturing processes there will be.
Greenhouse gas emissions happen all the way from food production in farms, processing, at transport, during delivery to ultimate disposal of waste.
“The most pivotal behaviour change is to buy food prudently, while focusing on exactly what we can reasonably consume,” says Mr Ochieng.
This way, we mitigate unnecessarily high food demand in the supply chain, and significantly control the runaway high carbon footprint in our homes and help cushion our planet.
Mr Ochieng recommends avoiding leftovers. Whenever food is left over he says it should be carefully kept and eaten at the earliest possible opportunity.
7. Burning every little organic matter
Trimming your lawn, flower beds or clearing your garden, generates organic waste.
If you decide to incinerate this waste, you help push up the carbon footprint.
This may not seem like much in a single event. But, cumulatively it harms the environment.
This is in addition to the large amounts of chemicals, water and energy that go into the daily management of these plants.
Since soils are excellent carbon sinks, you could decompose such periodic waste instead of incineration.
The plus to this is that you can use the decomposed matter to fertlise your gardens.
As per IPCC records, land use accounts for about 23 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions globally, and part of this is driven by activities such as clearing of land.
8. Long showers
Taking your time singing in the shower is not like dancing in the rain. Rain water is free.
While that shower can be relaxing, in the end it can put stress on the environment. A standard shower head produces 2.5 gallons of energy-packed water for every minute spent in the shower, shows a research by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
The same research shows that the waste levels may be even higher — 30 per cent of shower water overall and 41 per cent of “hot water energy”.
Showers are not the only culprit. A lot of water goes to waste in day-to-day running of homes and businesses. Avoiding wastage can save the planet.
How? Greenhouse gas emissions take place when water is treated for portability in the water treatment plants, pumping energy for reticulation and infrastructure development.
“When your tap leaks, one drip per second costs you 19 litres of water per day hence increasing the carbon burden. Ensure taps are properly locked all the time,” Ochieng advises.
So, the next time you hit the shower, think of how your consumption affects Mother Earth.
9. That beautiful lawn
If you have a lawn, you want to keep it well-manicured.
Lawn mowers, while a reliable tool to trim lawns in schools, hospitals, sporting grounds and homes, can spell doom for the environment.
Environmental experts say gas engine lawn mowers emit toxic fumes that pump carbon dioxide into the air which in turn contributes to global warming.
Scientists say that 33 gasoline lawn mowers would produce as much pollution as a car produces all year.
They emit volatile organic compounds, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere.
Electric lawn mowing emits 14.4kg of carbon per year, only slightly higher than the manual push mower and a lot better than the petrol mower.
Manual push mowers, although tiresome to operate, are the better option due to their low carbon emissions estimated at 10kg per year. They also low noise levels.
How can you use a lawn mower more efficiently?
Firstly, ensure that the blade is sharp at the beginning of the mowing season to reduce energy use.
Secondly, leave the excess grass to mulch on the lawn so as to return much-needed nutrients including nitrogen to the soil and to retain soil moisture.
According to a recent study by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the grass acts as an efficient carbon sink. “Leaving grass clippings to decompose on the lawn could lead to storage of 16.7 teragrams of carbon each year for the estimated lawn areas,” it says.
10. Shopping, shopping and more shopping
If your house is full of things you do not need, donate them.
You have wardrobes full of clothes you do not wear, mimicking mini-boutiques at home.
Material gigantism, says Ochieng, is a habit that compels people to subconsciously buy things they do not need.
These habits hurt the efforts for sustainable development and are destroying our planet.
“You will be amazed that it takes an average of 2.700 litres of water to make an average shirt, and 7,600 litres to make a pair of jeans in an industrial process.
So, a single unnecessary purchase dents the health of the planetary ecosystem.
This data paints a picture of how people have created an unnecessary demand for materials around homes. Ultimately, they push the planet towards an abyss.
“This too we can change,” says a hopeful Ochieng.