I have a confession to make. I am a fully grown fully capable adult, yet I am deathly afraid to drive in India. This is the country where the first and only traffic rule followed by everyone is: (traffic) rules are meant to be broken or at the very least, bent a little. As a result, I feel handicapped most of the time. I cannot be carefree and independent, ready to go at the drop of a hat. I always have to make plans, arrangements for getting to appointments. And for the longest time I was embarrassed by it, ashamed even. Always on the lookout for a ride with someone or another headed the same direction as me, always slightly apologetic while making my request for a lift, and always profoundly grateful to the ride-giver.
Recently, however, I had something of an epiphany about my whole situation. Fed up with negativity, I decided to conquer my shame and see my little handicap in a new light, with more pride than embarrassment. Then, at a dinner party one night, with everyone in attendance fully engaged in complaining about the traffic and the pollution and how the beauty of Bangalore, once-upon-a-time garden city, has been destroyed by the growth of the IT industry, I heard someone say, "All we do is complain complain complain. We ourselves don't do anything to change". I heard the comment, and in a flash it dawned on me that my handicap is in fact a blessing in disguise. It is actually enabling me to make my one small contribution towards bettering the city in which I live, to saving our planet. It is quite simple. Because of my transport handicap, there is one less car on the road.
How much difference can one car make? Each of us inhabiting the earth will leave behind a carbon footprint, a total sum of carbon dioxide emissions from direct (such as automobiles) and indirect (such as manufacturing processes of consumer products) sources that we use in our lifetime. Although carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas produced by humans, the term carbon footprint encompasses other harmful greenhouse gases as well, such as methane and ozone. Plenty of online resources are available to evaluate what kind of footprint one's current lifestyle will leave behind. I used carbonfootprint.com to calculate the effect of one car. I assumed that I owned a Hyundai Accent and annually drove about 10,000 kilometers. If that were the case, I would be producing 1.622 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. So by being car-free, I am reducing my carbon footprint, putting less carbon dioxide out in the atmosphere.
So what exactly does excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere lead to? A simple layman answer would be global warming. Global warming is essentially an increase in the temperature of the atmosphere and oceans. From wikipedia: "Increasing global temperatures are causing a broad range of changes. Sea levels are rising due to thermal expansion of the ocean, in addition to melting of land ice. Amounts and patterns of precipitation are changing. The total annual power of hurricanes has already increased markedly since 1975 because their average intensity and average duration have increased (in addition, there has been a high correlation of hurricane power with tropical sea-surface temperature). Changes in temperature and precipitation patterns increase the frequency, duration, and intensity of other extreme weather events, such as floods, droughts, heat waves, and tornadoes. Other effects of global warming include higher or lower agricultural yields, further glacial retreat, reduced summer stream flows, species extinctions. As a further effect of global warming, diseases like malaria are returning into areas where they have been extinguished earlier".
We humans have huge egos. We all want to leave behind a legacy, some memory of our brief sojourn on this planet, be it children, creative works of art, inventions, discoveries, or even blogs! In pursuit of this legacy we are inadvertently also leaving behind our carbon footprints, and a legacy our children will surely not want to inherit. Thankfully, the damage is not irreversible. We can all make small changes in our lifestyle to reduce our carbon footprint. For starters, like me, be car-free. Don't drive your own car if you can get a ride with somebody else going in the same direction. I am now proud of my car-free life, and do not think more than twice before asking for a lift.
So, save the world…give me a ride.