By BHASWATI GHOSH
Special to SAF
Climate change, carbon footprint, green energy — terms that were subjects of intense debate and discussion until about a decade back are now household phrases. Environmental change is no longer a future scenario, as extreme climate becomes increasingly frequent around the world.
The GTA itself has had its fill, at first hand, of a series of extreme weather related events over the past year — the summer flood, the icy rain storm, the chill from the polar vortex and, now, the sudden thaw last weekend, even as January’s just getting into its stride.
At current rates of change, carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere will double by the end of the next century (2100 AD). This may result in a warming of the earth between 1.5 and 4.5°C. The most likely effect of sustained global warming will be a melting of the polar ice caps, and a rise in sea level, while deserts will expand on land.
What can we do, in our homes and in our daily lives, to mitigate the worst effects of these changes, and to try and live in harmony with Nature?
As the world gets more crowded than ever, the weight of protecting Planet Earth must be borne by all its denizens. Living green is no longer a choice, it’s a lifestyle necessity. We spoke to some Torontonians to learn about the specific ways in which they practice green living in their daily lives. Their responses can provide practical pointers for adopting an environmentally friendly lifestyle.
Says Sang Kim, author and restaurateur, “My family recycles everything. We also use recycled paper towels, bags, paper — whatever we can get our hands on.”
Some grocery chains, in fact, offer discounts to encourage shoppers like Kim to bring their own cloth bags as opposed to using plastic bags.
Sephera Giron, an author and tarot card reader living in the Toronto area echoes a similar mindset when she says, “I reuse bags. I reuse boxes. I attempt to sort my trash… although where I live right now, we don’t sort.
“I try to only keep lights on in the room where I’m working. Sometimes I’ll buy stuff at Goodwill instead of new, such as for costumes or parties. I’m a saver so I try to reuse items more than once or twice,” Giron adds.
Repurposing and reusing are probably the easiest practical ways towards leading an environmentally conscious life. Ranita Dey, an IT specialist in Toronto, testifies to the same when she says, “We gave up plastic bottles and started using glass bottles. We do not buy bottled water, rather we carry our own water.”
In Canada, recycling old items is encouraged and made easier by the government as well as local authorities. Most neighbourhoods and even apartment and condominium complexes have designated spots for disposing recyclable items.
As a conscientious citizen, poet and author Gary Robinson participates in the process by recycling newspapers, cans, glass as well as by disposing compost off every week.
Eating local, living healthy
In today’s global village, no food item is out of reach to enhance one’s palate. Grocery stores overflow with fruits, vegetables and other delicacies from every inhabited continent. However, with every imported item one buys comes an increased carbon footprint.
As a culinary professional himself, Kim is conscious of this and he and his family strive to eat and shop locally as much as possible.
“We live in Kensington Market, where consciousness around the environment is very high. We do most of our purchasing at local purveyors of meat and fish. We also shop for virtually everything else from the natural food and organic stores in the neighbourhood.
“In the late summer and fall, we use what we can from our small garden,” he adds.
Dey, too, has set clear boundaries regarding the kind of food she and her family can eat. “For me the first step in living a greener and healthier life starts with food. Something we ingest and if not healthy could be dangerous,” she says, adding, “I switched to organics as far as I could. Especially when comes to milk fruits and vegetables. We also switched to a vegetarian diet for my family.
“It was hard for the first few months but we all got used to it after sometime. Unless we are travelling or are in a party, we do not cook or eat non-vegetarian food at home.”
She has also “banned” fast food, soda, store-bought juice for her children and prefers making fresh fruit and vegetable juice at home every morning.
Greening the house
Besides recycling and eating healthy, there are various other ways in which one can adopt a green lifestyle. Says Sudershan Banerjee, a Toronto-based corporate professional, “At our home, we only use energy saving lamps, switch off electrical gadgets from the plug when not using them, set the AC and heat settings at recommended temperatures, use localized heaters and fans instead of heating/ cooling the whole house, use the clothes washer and drier only during lowest tariff time, after 7pm and weekends, use timers to switch off external lights, and use the auto engine on/ off facility in our vehicles.”
Robinson also uses energy-efficient light bulbs, washer and dryer in the house.
Giron has a few simple and doable ideas for reducing energy consumption and keeping her carbon footprint in check. “I’ll use the toaster oven instead of the big oven for cooking if I can. I walk or use TTC when I can instead of driving. I use electronic banking and bills. I buy plane tickets etc online and it saves paper,” she says.
Dey’s measures for greening her house include replacing the use of glass cleaners and multipurpose spray cleaners with apple-cider vinegar to clean surfaces and glasses. Her family goes as far as using apple cider vinegar as hair conditioner and even face wash instead of applying expensive cosmetics containing harsh chemicals. She also likes to keep indoor plants for fresh oxygen.
For Sang Kim, living green is an issue that’s not restricted to just him and his family, but something he wishes to extend on a community-wide scale. As he says, “At my next restaurant, Wind Up Bird Cafe, I am developing a children’s community garden on the patio. My great passion is food literacy for children and much of my work, including in my very popular Sushi Making For The Soul classes, is about raising issues around this that, of course, implicate living as green as possible.”
Despite all the steps environmentally conscious people such as Kim, Dey, Banerjee, Giron and Robinson take in their day-to-day lives, challenges remain in their going green journey. These challenges are in no way unique to them, though, but more universal in nature. The continuing, almost unavoidable use of plastic, for instance.
Says Kim, “I believe we are at a tipping point in Canada, but the issues around plastics for instance must have a global impact and awareness. So many developing countries today rely on plastics as their modus operandi for much of their commerce. I use recycled bags as much as possible, but will, when necessary (ie need to carry something from a place I spontaneously dropped by at) use the plastic bags they offer.”
Giron has to rely on plastic bags because of a practical reason. “I won’t stop using plastic bags completely since they are very convenient when you have to carry many items at once up several flights of stairs,” she admits. She is also reluctant to give up her car “since TTC is unreliable and often I go places I can’t get by transit”.
Robinson feels that even as individuals and families become more environmentally conscious, there needs to be a wider interest in reducing the use of plastic. “I would consider not using plastic but I think it’s also up to the grocery stores to phase out plastic bags as well as companies that market their products in plastic,” he reasons.
Living Green Dos and Don’ts
Tune up your vehicle: Regular tune-ups, maintaining the tire and other basics will give you more mileage while keeping the environment clean.
Go organic: Fewer pesticides and chemicals are not just better for your health, but also that of that of our planet’s.
Reuse, reduce, recycle: Encourage children to reuse books and toys, clothes; reduce clutter in and around you; recycle whatever you can — plastics, paper, glass.
Go easy on the thermostat: Whether it’s too hot or too cold, beat the temperature by opening windows or bundling yourself up in warm clothing rather than reaching out to reset the thermostat.
Change that bulb: Compact fluorescent lights or CFLs consume less energy than regular light bulbs, but contain mercury, a hazardous metal. Consider switching to LED lights, a safer alternative to CFLs, while also being energy efficient and thus long lasting.
Clean green: Instead of expensive and chemical-laden cleaners, use natural substances such as vinegar, baking soda, and lemon for cleaning surfaces and glass.
By BHASWATI GHOSH