Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Pers: No footprints

At 6am today, the sky was still dark. At 7am, the sun was about 10-15° above the horizon. Doesn’t sound like much, but it looked quite high, over the Tasman Sea.
Even in autumn at 7am, it was hot after a quick walk to the beach. And a bit smelly: it’s near-impossible to excape the car-pollution in Sydney. Even off the main roads, even on the fringe of the Cumberland basin in which Sydney sits. Think what it’s like for those living and working in the western suburbs, in the middle of the basin. In the middle of the day, the distant haze is visible and oppressive. Still, it’s noticeably better than it was before tighter emission laws – I particularly remember how much worse it was before the virtual elimination of lead in petrol.

Walking along the shoulder of the hard sand at water’s edge, watching the waves erasing footprints ahead of me, I was thinking of the song No Footprints*. Wondering if I wanted to leave no footprints after I was gone. Yes and no. Certainly, humans have trampled this planet, to the point where recovery, if any, is slow. Full recovery of a scant century of ravages would be impossible.

A few days ago, well-known Australian scientist Tim Flannery said he’d changed his mind several times as to when the need for urgent action would be upon us. Fifty years, ten years, now. Do what you can. Inter alia, Flannery suggested getting your energy from 100% renewable sources – “it costs a cup of coffee a day”. [this is a solution available in Sydney. Pay extra, to get your electricity credited from 25%, 50%, or 100% renewable sources. It doesn’t guarantee that each watt comes directly from renewables, but it guarantees it’ll ensure they are generating from renewables equivalent to the electricity you consume.]
I’d add: public transport as much as possible. Vegetarians would get heaps of bonus points too, given the relative cost of getting your protein from meat. I also heard this week of a "100 mile diet" – not a diet, but an attempt to consume only from food sources grown within 100 miles of where you live – to cut down significantly on distribution costs. Here, cost refers to environmental rather than financial, since all too frequently environmental costs are externalised, ie not built into the cost of the item, but effectively spread over the region or planet through environmental degradation.

I’m not expecting many to go for that 100 mile diet – it’s actually quite difficult. My point is that there’s a full spectrum of options, and it’s worth doing what you can.

Still, I’d like to see something left behind me. A digital photo, a bit of DNA. Not a ravaged planet. So far I still eat meat, but amongst other things I use public transport where possible, and pay for 100% renewable electricity. Further ideas welcome.

Keep a footprint, but keep it small.

*No Footprints – Bruce Cockburn, from the superb album Dancing In The Dragon’s Jaws.

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