An Inconvenient Truth

April 16, 2009

Four or five years behind the times, Amit and I finally sat down to watch this movie. It’s been lying in the movie collection for ages, gathering dust, while we passed it over time and again, or just turned on TV and watched rubbish before turning in for the night. We thought it would be kind of grim and depressing, and it was. Grim, actually, more than depressing. But it’s a movie that every single person needs to see, at least once.

The movie speaks largely to an American audience, but its message is relevant all over the world. In India, our per capita carbon footprint is mercifully small – tiny, in fact, compared with the per capita carbon footprint in the US. But there’s no reason for people like us – the affluent 5% of Indian society – to feel smug about that. It’s not an active choice made by millions of Indians, but the exigencies of life in a “developing” (poor) country that does that. If we could, we’d have a carbon footprint just as big as any in the world, but, unfortunately or otherwise, most of us here just can’t afford it. And so those who can, people like us – with our two cars, three or four computers, microwaves, TVs, fridges, frozen food, bottled water and whatnot – indulge in all the luxuries the world has to offer, without worrying too much about the size or impact of our carbon footprint.

But what can we do, or what are we doing to save the planet?

Practically nothing. Amit very zealously turns off every light he can, but of course they are those CFL (or whatever) bulbs, so it doesn’t save much. We’ve been talking since forever about installing solar power at home, even though it is exorbitantly expensive compared to line power… but we haven’t actually done it yet. And talking doesn’t save any fossil fuel, does it? Ok, so we don’t have any “climate control” (air-conditioning or heating) at home, just fans. But that’s only thanks to Bangalore’s (mostly) marvelous weather. If we were in Delhi, we’d have an air-conditioner in every room, just like everyone else we know who lives there. And probably electric blankets in the winter too.

Somehow this drop-by-drop approach makes no sense to me. We are simply not going to save the planet drop by drop. We need way more than that, and it’s not something that you and I can do at our individual level. I don’t mean this as an excuse for not making an effort – I do want to make every little effort that I can at an individual level, and I think you should too – but I just think it is futile. And, where do you draw the line? Do you give away your fridge, throw away your TV, sell your car and settle yourself down to a rural lifestyle where you only get as far as your feet, your cycle, or the public bus can take you, and news is what the guy next door found out from the guy down the road? How realistic is that?

Global warming is real and depressing and it’s a problem we can no longer wish away. But is there really anything worthwhile that just one person can do? (If you’re not Al Gore, I mean.)

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