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Saving the environment seems such a mommoth task. It simply leaves people immobile. Where does one begin?

Some things are easy. Don’t litter. Don’t damage. Don’t waste resources. But what exactly does this involve? What does the common person do to be saving the environment? Not everyone can research. Not everyone can make it the calling of their lives. Not everyone even knows what to do.

Yet, we have a huge number of people available, who would, if pointed out, definitely be happy to make small adjustments that together can result in massive change. The key is in identifying exact things, that are quick to do and watch out for, once people know.

If it doesn’t take too much time, doesn’t involve a great deal of effort, a large number of people will happily walk the path to feel a little more secure about the state of the world tomorrow.

I find that like any other dauntingly huge task, this one seems much more doable when we break it up into bits.

First, make a not of the words/issues that occur on the subject of saving the environment: plastic, paper, forest reserves, trees, water, energy, pollution, fuel, awareness……… We can keep adding to these as and when new words occur.

Let’s take each aspect and brainstorm on it (follow links, or subsequent articles). If you have ideas, please let me know, and I’ll add them in, so that we have a ready resource of stuff that is really easy to incorporate into our lives and has the potential to make a huge difference.

Plastic

Ouch. That’s a tough first one. Plastic is very useful to us and very harmful to the environment. What can be done to find a compromise my comfort and conscience can live with? Keep the necessity, use thoroughly, discard carefully and avoid as far as possible.

We’ll need to keep the plastic bags for packing stuff on treks and monsoon hikes, but use them carefully and reuse them as much as possible, rather than using fresh ones each time.

Using a biggish purse/whatever bags men use, avoiding accepting the minor carry bags is no issue. Adding a small cloth bag for emergencies would avoid asking for a fresh one while shopping. We can make sure to carry a shopping bag when going out for shopping for sure.

Loads of plastic can be recycled. Rather than throw it into the dustbin, we can sell it to the recycle shops – kabadiwallahs, bhangarwallas, raddiwallahs, etc. That money can be put to good use, or simply into a box to donate to organizations that work for the environment.

Spending some time a day at the end of picnics, hikes or on treks to make the places we visit cleaner. A quick 15 minutes effort by a group can make quick work of the plastic lying around in a natural environment and inspire the people watching them into similar acts.

Annual get-togethers for outdoor groups can be held in places that need efforts like this and a huge gang of members can make their love for the outdoors far more concrete through a spectacular and quick clean up of the place.

Remember, the plastic that gets through human efforts will lie around defacing the place for over 500 years!

Paper:

Using the paper you have, before buying excessive quantities. Old printouts, and other unwanted paper can be stapled together for a quick notepad to scribble notes on, rather than use good paper sheets.

Passing schoolbooks to other needy students helps support their educational expenses as well as decreases the number of new books brought into use. Old notebooks at the end of the year can be stripped of unused pages to be bound together to make cheap notebooks for rough work.

Use electronic media for mailing purposes, e-greetings, and storing information. It’s faster, more efficient and cheaper too. Unsubscribe from all publications you receive, but don’t bother to read. Try to subscribe to electronic versions where suitable for the ones you do read. Promote your email address more than your mailing address for contact.

Coloured newspaper makes for very interesting looking gift wrapping and some very interesting effects can be achieved through selecting the right page to use. A friend of mine marks news items and codes letters in the newsprint for special secret messages on the gift. Any old water colour works well for colouring the paper.

Printouts can be taken on both sides of a paper. This shrinks the size of the paper stack when stored or taken along, saves on ink costs, and uses the paper with maximum efficiency.

Washing hands keeps them cleaner than using tissue paper. Old fashioned reusable cloth diapers are far more light and comfortable for babies for use at home in warm climates. Plus they are cheaper.

Use recycled paper. It looks great for special purposes and creates a responsible image for you.

Remember, we are losing trees because of our very real need for paper.

Forest Reserves:

The next time you redesign your home, keep an eye out for the many very efficient and highly suitable alternatives for wood on the market and use them where suitable. Repair good furniture rather than discard.

Protest initiatives that cut forests for development unless they are a necessity. Insist that all cutting of forests also results in actions that plant trees in other areas.

Minimize use of wood products where possible, and use them carefully and sparingly where not.

Avoid campfires for fun when out in the outdoors, unless you need them for heat. The fun is in the company and what you do – not in a log of wood burning needlessly in a stiflingly hot place. Spare yourselves the smoke, spare the forests the hazard, and leave the dead wood for some needy villager to cook on. Never EVER cut a tree for your campfire. It’s not going to be dry enough to burn when you need it, and the tree will be dead by the time you realize that it will not burn. I’m telling you right now. Don’t do it. It will help neither the poor tree, nor your campfire.

Trees

Its kind of a part of the forests, but the separate mention is because trees are also in cities, villages, everywhere. Avoid cutting a tree if you can. If you know of a tree being cut needlessly, take action. Plant trees in open areas where you can.

Enjoy the trees and the pleasures they bring, rather than thinking of them as lost real estate. That well-invested real estate is helping you breathe.

Water

Hear that dripping tap? Fix it. Now. About a fifth of the people in the world don’t have access to drinking water. I’m not asking you to feel guilty about them or supply them with water, simply use what you have wisely, so that it spreads further.

Don’t leave taps running when washing, brushing, showering, cooking, washing vehicles, etc. Turn it on, use it, turn it off when its time for soap. You can always turn it on for rinsing. Its not as much hard work as it sounds, and becomes a habit.

When you use a tap, you will notice that you can turn it a little, for a less powerful stream of water, and open it full, for gushing water. Most of the time, we don’t need that flood of water and sometimes we do. So keep the flow how you need it.

Avoid the fancy car showers. Your paint will thank you and serve you better, and it really doesn’t take that much water to get a car clean.

Begin rain water harvesting in your locality. Its amazing the amount of absolutely usable, clean water you will “produce”. It’s a sense of achievement that needs to be experienced to be believed.

In the outdoors, don’t pollute water resources. Cattle and wild animals use them for drinking water. Avoid using soap in streams and pools. Draw water from the stream for washing in a separate area at a distance rather than the stream or pool itself. Keep toilet areas away from water sources.

Run your washing machine on full load. Your electricity bill will be the same for both the loads, but you will save time and water.

Energy:

That’s a big luxury and need today. In Mumbai, a powercut is rare, but in many other parts of India, uninterrupted electric supply is rare. Again, it is a matter of using what we have wisely.

Switch off lights, fans, and anything that consumes electricity when not in use. Decrease your bills by exploring solar power. Switch to lower consumption versions of appliances. Switch off all things not needed when leaving home. These measures will help extend the utility of existing power resources as well as save money on electricity bills.

When cooking, use gas wisely. A flame that extends beyond the base of that utensil is gas going waste and only charring food on the sides of the utensil. Turn it lower and save yourself some cleaning effort while you’re at it.

Keep your ingredients ready or easily accessible while cooking, so that you don’t cook food unnecessarily longer, consuming more fuel and making the food less tasty. Use pressure cookers to speed up cooking and save fuel too.

Solar cookers are great, if you live in a place where you have sunlight, and an area where you can place your cooker safely. Food cooks slowly, retains maximum nutrients, utensils are extremely easy to clean, and no bills of any sort. Sunlight is free  Solar cookers are extremely easy and inexpensive to make.

Pollution:

Keep an eye on what you are driving, and make sure you are keeping its pollution levels law. It is required by law, but its surprising how many people don’t really care.

Avoid using vehicles for going around the corner. The walk will do you good.

Use shared vehicles and public transport where possible. Use eco friendly fuels.

Keep an eye on what you are using. Many chemical products are harmful for the environment. Find out the effects of chemicals you use, and explore options that help you do your thing with minimum damage. Its probably healthier for you too.

Avoid cooking fires. Avoid campfires. Avoid all unnecessary smoke.

Don’t sit on the horn when traffic comes to a standstill. Your horn cannot physically move cars along. If it’s a jam, it’s a jam. If it looks like its going to take a while, switch off your engine, and have patience. Blaring horns only make a bad situation unbearable. Yeah call me fussy. I call it noise pollution.

This goes for other noise pollution stuff too. Bizarre loud celebrations in the middle of the night, loudspeakers, etc. near hospitals is a baaaaad thing to do.

Awareness:

Not only can we do things to save the environment, we can spread awareness about the environment and awareness of the choices open to people that they can easily make to create a large collective impact.

Creating awareness can be done in many ways. One of the best is actions. Do it, share it, encourage it.

Another way is sharing information and ideas. Like I’m doing out here, and in my interactions with people in relevant situations.

Entries in this blog

Contributors

Whether it is a largescale construction for businesses, government offices or residences embracing green energy is the current trend. Integrating sophisticated technologies that are energy efficient with the use of green construction works and recycled materials have become a mainstay now. These measures in addition to increasing energy efficiency form sustainable designs and effective solutions for homes and businesses. 

The need for such solutions has become imperative, as the normal heating and cooling solutions used at present lead to a very high level of CO2 emissions. For instance, the air conditioning used in automobiles consumes about 5 percent of the vehicle fuel and is responsible for CO2 emissions that go over 2 million tonnes in the UK alone. To effectively check the harmful emissions and improve energy efficiency, here are some of the top three heating and cooling technologies in use now.

Geothermal solution

The central core of the earth has an endless supply of steam and hot water, and the temperature increases as you go deeper. But this limitless supply can be tapped without digging too far, using geo thermal systems. The systems use energy underneath the earth surface to cool and heat any type of industrial warehouse, building or domestic homes.

While direct tapping is possible, heat pumps are used by the geo thermal systems, which recycle the heat extracted from the geo thermal wells present underground. In winter, the fluids in the pumps absorb the heat underneath and warm the air above, while in summer the reverse happens resulting in cool air. Using pre- insulated pipes for district heating and cooling is another simple, but effective way to boost energy efficiency, as they prevent thermal leaks from the pipes reducing heating costs considerably.

Solar energy

Solar panels have become a regular fixture in many commercial and residential properties. The photovoltaic materials present in the panels convert sunlight into power for heating, cooling and lighting in buildings. While installing the panels is expensive, the money saved in the energy bills over the years is more than the expense incurred making it a highly viable option.  Cheaper alternatives also exist in harnessing solar power. Air, water, or liquid absorbs sunlight via a collector, which transfers the heat to a storage system or building directly.

Biomass

Biomass is a natural and sustainable energy form that is considerably cheaper, when compared to propane, oil, or natural gas. The biomass systems in use now release minimal pollutants and burn in a clean way making them a highly desirable largescale heating and cooling solution. The amount of carbon dioxide produced by biomass is very less and is comparable to the carbon dioxide level released by a plant. Using biomass can save you a huge amount on the power bills and keep the environment safe too.

The heightening concern regarding the impact of harmful greenhouse gas emissions has forced the world to look at green energy measures. From improving energy efficiency with proper insulation to using renewable and environment-friendly fuels several solutions have been tried out with varying degrees of success. Research is still underway to find more such sustainable energy solutions, which are cost efficient and feasible for all.

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Contributors

You consider yourself an aware being, but is that the be-all-and-end-all to the topic? Are you as aware as you think you are? Is your awareness the same as the next person's awareness? Is your pet aware? How far on down the line can things go before something isn't aware, or is it awareness to a greater or lesser extend all the way on down the line. Things might not be as cut-and-dried as they seem.

SOME GENERALIZATIONS

Depending on the level of complexity of the structure in question, awareness incorporates a trilogy of things, or a duality of things or just one bottom-line most fundamental thing. I would maintain that everything has an awareness of that one thing; many structures have awareness of other things on up the complexity line. The three things, from the bottom up, are an awareness of the external environment; an awareness of the internal body; finally an awareness of the mind, a self-awareness, a sense of personal identity, etc.

WE ARE AWARE

Humans score on all three awareness levels.

We have awareness of our minds and what is going on inside, at least on a conscious level, which, truth be known, is the tiny mental tip of a very large mental iceberg.

There are many things that we are aware of with respect to the body, usually revolving around pleasure or pain. You are aware when you have a headache; when you stub your toe; when you are full after a meal; when you need to burp; and so on.

We have awareness of the external environment that is in our immediate surroundings. Even in our sleep we're still slightly aware and can be woken up by say an extremely loud clap of thunder or the sound of your baby crying.

We have self-awareness. Self-awareness is slightly different from just plain awareness. You are aware of many things that have no bearing on you immediate circumstances. However, if you have to personally react to those immediate circumstances, then it becomes a matter of or for the self and your awareness is that the self had better get is act together and respond. That self-awareness, that responding to the needs of the self, cuts across all three categories - external environment, body and mind.

AND WE ARE NOT AWARE

There are occasions when we cease to be aware in the way we normally attribute our state of awareness. In sleep awareness is severely reduced. If you pass out drunk or are knocked out or in a coma or have been anaesthetized with a general anaesthesia your awareness pretty much is non-existent. Those exceptions aside...

As noted above, nearly all of your mental activity is either at a subconscious level or is fully automated. For most of your day, you go through the motions much like a zombie.

You tend not to be aware of the thousands of chemical reactions that must take place daily in order for you to survive and thrive. You're not aware of the electrons running up and down your nervous system.

With respect to your immediate external environment, you are not aware of the photons impacting on your retina, etc. Indeed there are a whole pot-full of things we, the Royal We, are not aware of, like neutrinos passing through our bodies by the millions per second, magnetic fields, radio waves, etc.

AND THERE'S AN NON-AWARENESS/AWARENESS THRESH-HOLD IN-BETWEEN

There would be things that we, the Royal We, aren't aware of but which our fundamental constituents, our cells, are - like an example of glucose-regulation. The question arises, if our cells are aware, that is if they respond, doesn't that make us, the Royal Us, somehow aware too? Even in our Royal We awareness, there are threshold values between awareness and non-awareness. You're probably not going to be aware of one photon per minute hitting your retina but up that to a million per second and you've crossed the threshold. You're probably not going to be aware of a bacteria falling on you vis-a-vis a brick. You're probably not going to be aware of developing cancer within the first five minutes, but five years later it's a different story. You probably couldn't taste or smell something if that something was only represented by one molecule but molecules in the thousands you might be able to taste or smell. No doubt readers could think of many other examples.

OTHER LIVING THINGS ARE AWARE

Any pet owner of say a cat or a dog or a horse will know as sure as Mother Nature made little green apples that these animals are aware. That would extend to zoo keepers when it comes to the mammals and the birds, and to any other profession that involves close encounters with the higher vertebrates.

But is there a threshold in the biological kingdoms between living things that are aware and living things that are not aware. I would argue that every living thing, including down to individual cells, are aware. If something living has no awareness of its external surroundings, then it has no ability to respond to those external conditions and then it isn't going to stay alive for very long.

It is inconsistent to say a snail has self-awareness but your body cells don't - both are living things. So, there's no line in the sand here. If your body cells have no awareness then you, the Royal You, can have no awareness since the Royal You is just a colony of body cells. The awareness equation is thus zero plus zero plus zero plus zero plus zero equals zero.

A ROCK IS AWARE

A rock wouldn't be mentally aware of its mind, since it doesn't have one, nor be physiologically aware even though it has a 'body', but it would be 'aware' of its external environment and respond accordingly.

Now clearly a rock will expand as the temperature rises. There has got to be awareness at some level in order for the rock to react to the heat. I call it awareness; others might call it something else. The bottom line is that the rock expands.

I should perhaps note that I tend to alter that classic saying "I think therefore I am" to one of "I respond, therefore I am". I also tend to place an "I" on inanimate objects. The rock expands with increasing temperature, therefore it is.

Now I equate awareness with response. There's no question that inanimate objects respond to their environment and changes in their environment. I call that awareness; others might call it something else. That's fine. I never claimed that an expanding rock in response to increasing heat was expanding "on purpose", but it is responding to its environment. If you accidentally swallow poison you aren't going to die "on purpose", but you will still die in response to the poison. I respond, therefore I am. Something else responds, therefore it is. You can call your spade a diamond; I'll call my spade a heart. Some people think that Panpsychism* has credibility; others think its pseudo-science; some have a foot in each camp.

The inanimate (like a rock) reacts to external stimuli just like animate objects. Surely no one any more is going to resort to claiming some sort of special "life force" that makes animate objects react differently in principle to inanimate objects?

DISCUSSION: HOW ARE YOU AWARE THAT OTHER THINGS ARE AWARE?

We are conscious and have awareness. The fundamental particles have a lot less consciousness and awareness. There is a sliding scale between the two extremes. There is no hard and fast line in the sand. If you've ever tried to swat a fly you'll be aware that it is aware of your hostile intentions and reacts accordingly. And I'll pre-empt any resort to instinct since awareness has to come before the instinct. You are aware of the tiger before you instinctively take some kind of action. You are aware of the thumb-tack in your toe before you instinctively lift up your foot to remove the pressure. You are aware that you are going to throw up before you instinctively have to throw up.

How are you aware that something else, something that cannot communicate, is aware? You have to observe their reactions. If you touch a snail's head, it will respond by retreating into its shell and you therefore conclude that the snail was aware that it was touched. Now apply that to a rock. Heat up the rock, it expands. Since no one can actually communicate with the rock, how can anyone be absolutely sure that response isn't one of awareness?

I do suggest here that one should be wary of being way too anthropomorphic. The human species isn't the be-all-and-end-all of life, the Universe and everything. If you're too anthropomorphic you'll be saying we (humans) are the greatest since we (humans) were created in God's image (instead of the other way around).

CONCLUSION

The bottom line is that the only entity that has awareness / consciousness and knows that for sure is yourself, or in my case myself, or in the case of others, themselves. You aren't really aware that other humans are aware; you just logically assume that based on the observational and other sensory evidence. By extension, you cannot know for absolute certain if a cat is aware, a snail is aware, a bacterium is aware, or a rock is aware. That might go against the grain and the standard view of the majority, especially when it comes to lower forms of the living and of course the inanimate. Of course some standard views of the world have been proven wrong in the past.

*Panpsychism: Panpsychism is the concept that everything with structure and substance in the cosmos has some degree of consciousness or awareness. That awareness applies as much to non-living things as it does to living things. Click here for more info.

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