Global warming: What each one of us can do

Most people are at least aware of, if not speaking of or discussing global warming. Conferences on the topic abound.

Carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, fossil fuel, burning of coal, natural gas, biogas, biofuel are common topics of conversation. The following seem to have escaped the attention of most people.

1. Thermal electricity generators, whether using fossil fuel such as coal or other fuel such as bagasse, are at most 40% efficient i.e. only 40% of the heat is turned into electricity and 60% of it is lost in the atmosphere together with the carbon dioxide so produced, both adding to and aggravating global warming.

Let us not forget that burning of coal releases oxides of sulphur and nitrogen and volatile components of coal tar into the atmosphere, and they are known to be toxic.

It is obvious that production of electricity by sunshine, wind, hydro – dams and waterfall, is preferable.

2. Electricity to produce light through electric bulbs is also inefficient; fluorescent tubes and light emitting diodes (LED) are to be preferred and their use promoted.

3. Using electric ovens is not efficient being given that a lot of hot air is being released into the atmosphere. Other devices where the hot air is being recirculated around the object to be cooked, commonly called ’four cyclone’ is less wasteful.

By the way, cooking using steam (‘bain marie’) is less wasteful than using frying pans or cooking without the hid on. An additional benefit is that there should be less fat of the “trans” configuration, compared with the “cis” form which is preferable. Pressure cookers are the least wasteful. It should also be pointed out that roasting a chicken as a whole carcass compared with cutting it up into small pieces before cooking it takes longer and uses up or wastes more energy.

4. What about electric cars? These do not themselves produce any carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide and other toxic gases and that is being used as a ’selling point’. The production of such gases would have occurred previously at the thermal electricity generator.

Also the efficiency of electric motors in moving the car is, I would guess, not more than 40%. In my student days (about 60 years ago), I was told that internal combustion engines are about 35% efficient. Electric cars are therefore doubly inefficient.

Therefore we all should consider electricity as doubly precious and use it judiciously. We should ask ourselves about our TV sets on stand-by for hours, electric lighting when and where nobody benefits, street lighting in broad daytime. The reader can find other examples of waste.

Incidentally, there seems to be no official policy regarding the disposal of ‘dead’ fluorescent tubes, which everybody should know contains mercury. Mercury thermometers are no longer being made and blood pressure measuring apparatuses using mercury are being phased out; calomel and certain teething powders have been banned half a century ago. Mercurochrome is being forgotten and rightly so.

I think it is high time for the Central Electricity Board and the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development to organize the collection of such “burnt-out” tubes.

Each are of us, if properly enlightened and motivated, can bring her or his contribution to Maurice Ile Durable (MID) and make Maurice rhyme with délice.

Remember the Chinese proverb: a journey of a thousand kilometers starts with one step.

— Dr François Saw Lan Ip, OSK

* Published in print edition on 6 December 2013

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