Reducing My Carbon Footprint: Lessons from My Grandmother’s Home

One Small Step..One Giant Leap. To Paraphrase Neil Armstrong Even Individual Efforts to Reduce CO2 Emissions that Might Seem Puny Will Result in a Much Bigger Benefit for Humankind

There is much fear that as the Indians and Chinese get richer and consume more, they will create larger carbon footprints resulting in more greenhouse gases and global warming. Yet there are habits of households in “less developed” countries that would serve us well in the US. Taking out an overflowing Hefty bag of garbage from my NYC apartment, I am reminded of my grandmother’s home in India. There were often 10-15 people staying in her Delhi house. Yet the daily garbage was easily contained in a small tin—about the size of my bathroom wastebasket. Less waste means a smaller carbon footprint, so the lessons I learned as a child are a good guidepost today. Here are 7 from my past plus 3 more:

  1. Be vegetarian. According to Planet Green going from an average meat-eating U.S. diet to a vegetarian one saves about 1 ton of CO2 emissions annually. (I haven’t found an equivalent efficient way the peels from my grandmother’s kitchen were dispatched by errant cows and pigs foraging in the back alley!)
  2. Eat local. Almost all of the food in grandma’s kitchen was bought and consumed on a daily basis, so there was no need for elaborate packaging. Think green markets, reusable produce bags, and less pre-packaged food. My recent aha! was switching from canned chickpeas to dry ones though the latter admittedly require more forethought.
  3. Recycle. This was a mantra but the Indian context also made it easy: the recyclers came to the house regularly, weighed the waste matter and paid us for it. Takes a bit more hoofing nowadays but eminently worthwhile.
  4. Plastic/paper? Neither. We carried our own including jugs for cooking oil. The Filling Station in New York’s Chelsea Market has the right idea: get a 10% discount on their excellent olive oils and vinegars when you reuse their bottles for refills.
  5. Turn it off. Electricity was precious (and capricious) when I was growing up, so we learned early to conserve it.
  6. Shower vs.bathtub. There isn’t a clean answer here, just an exhortation to have short(er) showers. Our bathing time was limited by one simple fact: many had to use the single room!
  7. Spare the paper. Our Indian household did not have paper towels or napkins, relying instead of water, air and drying racks. Find a happy medium between using these products indiscriminately and the sensual pleasure of a linen napkin or old t-shirt converted to a rag.
  8. Spare the paper (2). The modern way to reduce your paper consumption is to switch to electronic bills and payments, thus avoiding 3 tons of CO2 annually, according to Pay It Green.
  9. Spare the paper (3). It was tough to do for a lifelong New York Times subscriber but I finally went from paper to online, and got the sweet satisfaction of knowing I was saving many trees.
  10. Dream urban.Edward Glaeser claims the “city is humanity’s greatest invention and our best hope for the future” partly because urban transportation and more efficient heating/cooling of buildings make cities greener than suburbs or exurbs. I am proud to be an urbanite.

In sum there are many ways one can affect her carbon footprint even if some habits hark back to more “primitive” times. Or perhaps it is the wisdom of the ages that all of us carry within us and simply need to tap better. My grandmother would approve.

This article was first published on Yahoo! Associated Content

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