Change your lifestyle—and mitigate global warming


Posted at Sep 19 2008 07:15 PM | Updated as of Sep 20 2008 03:19 AM

“What’s with the electric toothbrush?” Ramon Sales, convenor of the Philippine Network on Climate Change, asked as he wondered at people’s seemingly growing fixation on anything that could be plugged in.

He mused on another device, the electric peeler, and laughed at the idea that man could not anymore “naturally” remove the skin off a vegetable or fruit with his own hands.

Trivial it may seem, but in the climate change equation, Sales said that the excessive use of electronic devices could factor in the rapid increase of carbon emission, the culprit behind climate change.

When did using a simple electric device begin to be harmful to the world? It is a point that is being discussed by scientists, policymakers and economists worldwide since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its fourth assessment report in 2007 showed that man is guilty of accelerating global warming. 

Domino effect
While it may seem implausible, the melting of glaciers and ice caps in the Arctic region, one of the effects of climate change, has been indirectly caused by the energy consumption of people from all socioeconomic classes.

Rosa Perez, former officer of PAGASA, explained that climate change is caused by enhanced greenhouse effect.

The greenhouse effect happens when the sun radiates heat through light waves which are absorbed by the earth’s atmosphere. Some of these light waves, however, bounce back to space, some are trapped by greenhouse gases (GHG) such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, in the atmosphere.

Greenhouse gases actually help keep the world from freezing over. However, the more the GHG increases, the more heat would be trapped in the atmosphere, causing global warming.

Enter the human being. His manufacture, use and disposal of transportation, electrical appliances, plastic products and his consumption of fossil fuels contribute to the increase of carbon emission.

Aside from this, the irresponsible use of land and forests also hikes carbon discharge. Deforestation and land use change eat up 20-25 percent of the global carbon emission.

The IPCC, a scientific body created by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Program, concluded that climate change, defined as any change in global temperatures and precipitation over time, is “likely” aggravated by anthropogenic factors. Simply put, the “biggest threat in the 21st century” was begun by manmade activities.

Now that human beings caused the problem, how do they solve it?

Go on a carbon diet

“The simpler the lifestyle, the lesser the greenhouse gases,” Sales said.

While the Philippines has a minimal carbon footprint, this should not be a reason for Filipinos to turn a blind eye to the problem of climate change.

“It’s not an excuse,” Sales said. “We share the same planet, the same atmosphere.”

Angela Ibay, head of the LowCO2 campaign of the Manila Observatory (MO), encourages people to lower their carbon diet, or carbon emission.

The efforts are simple, and not as drastic as the call to fully switch to renewable energy or to vote for politicians who advocate environmental protection.

Ibay and her group have adopted various formula to determine one’s carbon footprint. They used the conversion tool of the United States Climate Technology Cooperation Gateway, a Web site for international technology cooperation sponsored by the US Environmental Protection Agency, to calculate the amount of carbon used when operating particular appliances, or driving on certain quantities of gasoline.

To determine the equivalent of carbon emission reduced by tree planting, they adopted the formula used by SaskPower, the major supplier of power in Saskatchewan, a province in Canada.

At the end of the day, the question they would like to answer is: “What can an individual do?”

For people in the office, reducing their carbon footprint includes doing the following:

  • Recycle office paper. Print on both sides. For every kilogram of paper recycled, four kilograms of carbon dioxide are reduced, equivalent to saving 2 liters of gasoline.
  • Turn off lights and equipment when not in use. This saves hundreds of kilograms of carbon dioxide annually and has the same impact as planting 44 trees.
  • Turn off the computer’s monitor. This reduces 45 kilograms of carbon dioxide a year, which is equivalent to saving 19 liters of gasoline.

Menu for students, car owners

Students can also have a carbon diet. To keep this at a minimum level, Ibay said that they could follow the first two tips for office workers, then do the following:

  • Take the school bus or carpool with classmates. This reduces hundreds of kilograms of carbon dioxide, again equivalent to planting 44 trees.
  • Learn to segregate and limit waste. Separate the biodegradable from the non-biodegradable. This cuts down thousands of kilograms of carbon dioxide, equal to planting 444 trees a year.

On the other hand, people who have cars need not necessarily give up their vehicles. But, when buying one, their selection should not be narrowed down to the design or to the handling features. To help the environment, they should primarily select a car because it gets good gas mileage.

This will lead to the reduction of 1150 kilograms of carbon dioxide a year, equal to saving 496 liters of gasoline.

Car users, along with drivers of public utility vehicles, should also:

  • Tune up their cars, ensure that the coolant of their air conditioner is recycled whenever it’s serviced, maintain proper tire pressure and avoid idling. Each of these reduces carbon emission by a thousand kilograms a year, equal to saving 893 liters of gasoline
  • Keep driving speed of 80 km/hour and avoid aggressive driving and sudden quick stops, as these increase fuel use by around 40 percent. These steps also offset carbon emission by a thousand kilograms a year.

It would be best, however, if travel by car is mainly diminished. It is advisable to complete multiple errands in one trip to save up on fuel and reduce carbon emission.

It all begins at home

But by all means, shrinking one’s carbon footprint should start at home. The LowCO2 campaign encourages every family to do the following to conserve energy, and lower their electric bills at the same time:

  • Turn the lights off even if you’ll be out of the room for only five minutes. This reduces 54 kilograms of carbon dioxide per room, equal to planting 12 trees.
  • Don’t overheat or overcool rooms. Adjust the thermostat, as every 2-degree adjustment lessens 230 kilograms of carbon emission a year, equal to planting 51 trees
  • Clean air-conditioners. This saves 5 percent of energy and reduces 80 kilograms of carbon dioxide a year, equal to planting 17 trees
  • Buy energy-efficient refrigerators, flat irons, televisions and microwave ovens. This is equal to planting 44 trees a year.
  • Avoid piecemeal ironing and unplug the iron when it comes to the last cloth. The former lessens 230 kilograms of carbon dioxide a year, equal to planting 51 trees. The latter reduces 90 kilograms of carbon dioxide a year, equal to saving 38 liters of gasoline.
  • Run your dishwasher and washing machine with a full load. Stacking the dishwasher with a full load also reduces carbon dioxide by 90 kilograms a year, while running the washing machine with a full load also cuts down carbon emission by 230 kilograms a year.
  • Unplug unused appliances. Appliances on standby mode still use energy. This reduces carbon emission by a hundred kilograms a year, equal to planting at least 44 trees.
  • Switch from incandescent bulbs to CFLs or compact fluorescent lamps. This would reduce 230 kilograms of carbon dioxide, equal to saving 98 liters of gasoline.

Grow green

Questions have been asked about the viability of the switch from incandescent bulbs to CFLs due to the expensive prices of CFLs.

According to Mario Marasigan, director of the Energy Utilization and Management Bureau at the Department of Energy, incandescent bulbs are admittedly more affordable, as they could be bought at low prices of P30-P35, compared to CFLs which cost around P110.

However, Marasigan said that CFLs are more durable than incandescent bulbs, lasting for around 10,000 hours or 4-5 years, longer than the life of incandescent bulbs, which is expected to last from 6,000-8,000 hours, or three years.

Marasigan added that CFLs save 80 percent of energy, decreasing electric consumption and lowering electric bills.

“A 100-watt bulb’s energy is equal to a CFL’s energy with only 18-22 watts,” he told

On the other hand, Sales said that aside from switching to CFLs, people should also consider switching to a healthier diet by being a vegetarian or by buying organic food.

“It takes four kilos of grains to produce one kilo of pork and it takes two kilos of grains to produce one kilo of beef,” he explained.

Organic food, however, is pricey, and not as accessible as regular food. While there are restaurants that offer them, organic food is not yet a staple in local groceries and supermarkets as compared to the shops in Western countries, where a section is allotted for organic items.

But if people could not purchase organic food, Sales advised that it’s better to grow greens in their own homes.

“The closer the source of the food, the better,” he said. Growing one’s own food lessens the “food mile,” or the distance covered by the delivery of food from farms to markets.

It subtracts the need for shipping, which would require the use of fuel. Aside from this, people would be sure of the safety and nutrient-value of the vegetables and fruits they grow because they track their own planting processes.

He added that growing one’s own food could be done even by informal settlers.

“They call it hydroponics. There is no need for much soil, as long as there is water the plant will live. People from the squatters’ area plant pechay in milk cans which they hang in their windows,” he said.