An Irate Climate

The distance between the bush fires in East Gippsland and my home in Ballarat, both in the Victoria region of Australia, is around 520 km, as confirmed by Google. Too far away to have any impact on me, I concluded as I ushered in the New Year. 

And then a day or two later, I woke up and noticed a haze. Over the horizon. Over Lake Wendouree. It hung over our garden eerily, slowly seeping into our psyche and reminding us that even though we may not have had the bush fire in our back yard, its effects would reach us even 520 kms away.

Haze from Bush Fires over Lake Wendouree, January 2020

Images of kangaroos fleeing the fire, burnt Koalas, fiery red skies filled with embers in Mallacoota, and houses burnt down to the ground entered our living rooms as the world ushered in the New Year. Hundreds of people huddled in the beaches of Mallacoota on the eve of the new year taking refuge from the uncontrollable blaze and embers as spectacular fireworks were on display in Sydney harbour to usher in the New Year. Canberra, Australia’s capital city, registered the world’s worst air quality, even beating that of Delhi and Beijing during those days! 

Australia’s Energy Minister had a few days earlier proved to be the nemesis at the Madrid Climate Conference, convened to review the progress of countries on the targets set in the Paris Climate Agreement. It was here that the Minister chose to push carbon credits that Australia had accumulated under the Kyoto protocol to offset the carbon emissions targets under the Paris Agreement. He met with broad resistance from several countries, but that did not stop him from continuing to stall and side-step overwhelming scientific evidence that carbon emissions were a significant cause of global warming. Australia has been placed consistently towards the bottom in the annual Climate Change Policy Index analysis of the world’s top 57 emitting nations.

And then the bushfires happened. It was a timely foil to the failure of humans in positions of power and authority to have done something to prevent the fires or prevent the extent to which they wreaked havoc.

My Carbon Discredits

With the curtains raised on a new year, I turned inward and decided to calculate my carbon footprints. First, I set about to educate myself on what they were. I was listening to the evidence, but was I internalising it to have a stocktake of my lifestyle and choices?

Getting to know what a ‘Carbon Footprint’ was and to calculate my own CFs from the start of my retirement in June 2018 until November 2019, for 17 months, was a huge eye-opener. I did not include the time before then, when I had been traveling extensively due to a busy career in international development that involved living and working in different countries. https://calculator.carbonfootprint.com/calculator

My total Carbon footprints for the 17 months came to a

Whopping 25.7 tonnes

How on earth did I manage to notch up that much?

I had flown from New York to Mexico City in June 2018, to celebrate my retirement along with my husband and my cousin at the start of my 17-month journey.

Here is how the rest of the 17 months unfolded.

I took flights from Mexico City to Quito in Ecuador, and from Quito to Lago Agrio at the edge of the Amazon forest to catch a bus and a boat to Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve.

Subsequently, I took the flight back to New York from Quito via Bogota.

End of July 2018, I flew from New York to New Delhi and later in August from New Delhi to Chennai to visit family. Through the next few months, I flew to Mysore, Cardiff, Beijing, and multiple times to and from Melbourne. Every time I had a ‘valid’ reason for flying.

I traveled by train and by road rarely. The reasons to fly were always compelling and urgent. I was too busy. I had to reach in a hurry etc., etc.

It’s easy to forget that a plane is not always the fastest or cheapest option. Train travel typically brings you from the centre of one city to another, saving time from being stuck in traffic or time spent in checking in ahead of time to avoid delays. 

My travel to Pingyao ancient city, a UNESCO heritage site in China using a high-speed rail, was a sheer delight. It offered me a China that I would not have known if I had flown. My travel to Madurai city in South India brought me insights into how Indian Railway operates and the ease of getting from place to place without having to bother hiring a car or booking a flight.

With over 25 tonnes of carbon footprint in just 17 months in my bag, I am now on a spiritual journey to undo my wilful negligence not only in the choice of transport but also in the use of clothes and the use of plastic in my home. But more of that in my later blogs.

I have planted native trees and shrubs in my garden in the last few months and am getting my hands’ dirty’ for the first time doing some manual labour. My garden is now attracting birds, colourful galahs and rosellas and noisy magpies. Not only am I on a journey to offset my carbon footprint, but I also am discovering new muscles and tendons in my body and breathing fresh air as I learn about soil ph content and watch my jasmines flowering.

Lake Wendouree on a normal summer day

I continue to find ways of living responsibly on this planet to save at least some of it for my grandchildren. I recycle, I take 3-minute showers and compost the waste from the food I consume. But I am leading a privileged life. I am not on the front line experiencing the impact of climate change. It is the people, the birds, the animals, the insects, and the trees that do not notch up carbon footprints on this planet that are most affected.

There is a climate crisis in our hands; the globe is heating and birds, animals, and plants are becoming extinct daily due to human inaction. They bear the unjust burden of our choices. And as they slide further into an unknown future filled with constant risks, there is no system to set the wrong right. Not for humans, none for the rest.

A report in The Age yesterday stated that following the fires that have torn through the region, carcasses of galahs, rosella’s and other rare birds – perhaps in their thousands – have washed up on Mallacoota’s once-pristine beaches. The birds have joined the hundreds of perished and wounded Kangaroos , Koalas and other animals that have paid the price on behalf of every uncaring human.

How can the world ever come to terms with that?