Sunday, 5 May 2019

Five every day things

I thought I'll keep this blog post nice and simple and share some of the easy ways you can have a lower footprint. They're just simple, small things but can make a whole world of a difference. It's just about getting in the habit.

1) Carry your own water bottle: This one is pretty easy, you just have to remember to do it! Plus it will save you precious money too. Why spend money on something you can get out of the tap?

2) Carry your own keep cup: I have spoken about this before. We simply cannot afford to throw a coffee cup 5 days a week in the bin. The waste this is generating is completely unnecessary. Plus look how much cuter keep cups look!

3) Carry your own shopping bags: I have always carried by own bags when going grocery shopping. Honestly I find them so much sturdier and easier to carry in comparison to flimsy plastic bags. I was doing this much before the single use plastic bag ban at Coles and Woolworths last year. It was a little amusing seeing everyone get used to this. There were quite a few grumpy people who thought the change was unnecessary and inconvenient. Nevertheless, the result was worth it. The ban saw an 80% drop in plastic use nationwide. That is commendable. 

(Courtesy Earth Bottles)

4)   Buy what you need: There is a running joke in my family about my fridge. People have often found a single tomato, a single capsicum and just a loaf of bread in my fridge many a times. Whilst it may be amusing, it is practical! I plan ahead for my week. I know exactly what I'll be cooking and when. So I buy the ingredients accordingly. I do this to minimise waste. I really don't see the point in buying a bag of carrots when I will only be needing one. I have to admit the supermarkets don't make buying small quantities of things easy. Bulk quantities are always cheaper. It boggles my mind why a 2L bottle of coke is $2.85 at Coles and a 600mL bottle $3.70? Consumers are forced to buy things in large quantities to get cheaper rates. The result of this, for single people like me is that a whole lot of it will simply go to waste. I never buy the 2L bottle of coke because the fizz disappears after the first day and then it goes so flat I just chuck the rest down the drain. Anyhow, resist the impulse to buy in bulk. Don't buy a bag of donuts which will expire in one day. You know you can't finish it (but if you can, I'm no one to stop you!).

5) Take public transport: I have to admit I am very lucky to live in a city like Sydney where there is an excellent, well connected public transport system. I don't have a car and very rarely take Ubers and have absolutely no problem getting around. If you live out in the country or are in a city with a poor public transport system, I feel for you. Investing in a good public transport system is imperative for every government to counteract the impacts of climate change. Think about this: a full bus can take 40 cars off the road. If you are lucky enough to have a choice, public transport should be the way to go. What's more? It gives you time to read a good book or get some work done while someone else does the driving for you. In my personal experience I have noticed that most millenials in Sydney prefer taking public transport whereas the older generation seems more comfortable taking their cars to their respective destinations. Some people like it the old fashioned way. While I understand that breaking a habit can be hard we have to understand the times are changing. The need of the hour is to do everything in our power to reduce the greenhouse gases we release in the air.

(My friend and I responsibly catching a train at Wynyard station, Sydney. 
Look how happy we are, public transport is fun!)

So there you have it. Those were my five every day things through which we can reduce our ecological footprint. There are many other ways and means to do better but it always helps to start with something small and easy so we don't overwhelm ourselves. Until next time!

Sunday, 14 April 2019

The Time is Now

I feel cautiously optimistic. There is a growing realisation amongst people in Australia (the youth in particular) that the threat of climate change is no longer generations into the future. It's not a far away concept anymore where we don't see tangible consequences in the news every other day. 2018 was Australia's third hottest year on record. Rainfall levels were the lowest since 2005. Bushfires came early, coastal regions saw floods and erratic weather patterns were noticed all around the country. Drought conditions intensified and farmers in particular, suffered. Prof Will Steffen from Climate Council commented "We are concerned that there may be a point of no return a few decades down the track where we actually lose control of the climate system".

Australian Federal Elections are coming up next month. Nationwide polls are showing that the public attitude towards climate policies is shifting. According to a recent poll, only 13% Australians believe the government is doing a good job of addressing climate change. The drought in particular made many realise that climate change has the potential to destroy livelihoods for generations to come. The government's stance on climate action will play a pivotal role in the upcoming elections. 

When we talk about environmental issues in Australia, you cannot skip talking about the mega controversial coal mine project by Adani. The project aims to dig the biggest coal mine in Australian history. The catastrophic impacts of the project include, but are not limited to, releasing close to 5 billion tonnes of carbon pollution to the atmosphere, getting access to almost 300 billion litres of Queensland's groundwater (for free, might I add!) and severe coral bleaching in the great barrier reef. Just this week Environment Minister Melissa Price granted federal approval to the coal mine, strategically signing off right before the elections. The current government insists that the project has been subjected to a multitude of conditions which will restrict its environmental impacts. But that is hard to believe. What is disappointing is that the opposition has primarily taken a lukewarm approach as well, with no strong promises on how it will restrict the harmful environmental impacts of the project.

This is all happening at a time when it is clear that in order for the world to keep warming well below 2 degree celsius, we'll need to leave fossil fuels in the ground. Australia needs to take a strong, hard look at their policies if they are to meet the emissions reductions targets adopted in Paris in 2015.

Public support for large-scale energy transition is noticeable. A recent poll showed that a sizeable proportion of Australians believe that the government should focus on clean, renewable energy, even if it means that investment needs to be made to make the infrastructure more reliable.

We will have to wait and see how Australia truly stands on the subject of climate change and clean energy. The elections will reveal how serious the country is about electing a leader that will make tangible changes to improve our response to this climate emergency. Choose wisely, Australia. 

Friday, 5 October 2018

Escape to Mars

Mars. It has always been an enigma for mankind. Does life on Mars exist? How similar is it to Earth? Will humans ever get there? In recent times Mars has become synonymous with what people consider a safe haven, away from global warming stricken Earth. People casually joke "Oh well, I'm just going to move to Mars." This may not be too far from reality anymore as the race to Mars is real and talks about colonisation of Mars aren't all mumbo jumbo.

We have been told that Earth is heading towards its "tipping point". A term in climatology which means close to irreversible climate destabilisation. We have already raised global average temperatures by 1C pre-industrial levels. If this is raised by a further 1C, we will face a "hothouse" climate where Earth will continue warming even if all emissions cease. The Paris agreement on climate change made by 194 countries aimed to limit global warming 'well below' 2°C, or 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels if possible. However current efforts are unlikely to meet this target.

Reading reports such as these does make me pessimistic and I too wonder if we are fighting a losing battle and if Earth is hurling towards its inevitable demise. Grim huh?

This is probably one of the reasons why Elon Musk, Boeing and others decided it might be worth looking towards the skies for a way out. First humans on Mars are predicted to reach as early as 2020s. The idea is to start small,  build a base in Mars, learn how to survive and eventually build a self-sustaining community. It won't be easy. With freezing temperatures, radiation and thin atmosphere, humans can definitely not take a stroll in the Martian landscape without heavy spacesuits. But this too is being explored. A concept called "Terraforming of Mars" aims to alter the atmosphere of Mars through planetary engineering so it is more hospitable to humans. I have to admit, this concept does seem a bit far fetched to me and we definitely don't have the technology to do it in 2018.

But guess which place is hospitable to humans? Earth! I have nothing against space exploration. It is one of my key interests and it would be a grand day when we finally land on Mars. However I am hesitant to accept Mars as an escape route. We can make tremendous progress to reverse climate change here on Earth, through the resources we would invest in making a self-sustaining community on Mars. It almost sounds like we are giving up on this home, disregarding it as a sinking ship. Transferring the entire population of Earth to Mars is much, much more far fetched than making concrete efforts to reduce global warming here on Earth. Apart from everyday things that we do - reducing automobile use, eating greener etc. an important role we can play is to elect leaders who have an understanding of the delicate situation we are in and are willing to tackle climate change head on and not just cater to the whims and fancies of the fossil fuel industry and the likes.

So let's keep our eyes on the prize, shall we?

Monday, 11 June 2018

An Easy Switch - A Big Impact

I did not become a regular coffee drinker until recently. I mostly had a cappuccino at work if I felt like it, but for the most part takeaway coffee was usually only once in a while. However this has changed in the last year or so. There's a lovely cafe outside my gym and the smell of freshly roasted beans always lures me in after my workout. And then started my morning ritual of grabbing a coffee after gym and heading to work. For most Australians, having a coffee every day on their commute to work, going for meetings, etc. is extremely common. You'd be guaranteed to see busy commuters holding a cup of coffee from Starbucks or a local coffee shop while walking on George Street every morning.

Australians use 1 billion coffee cups each year. That is a LOT of cups. Is it sustainable? Most definitely not. Are there easy ways to reduce this waste? Most definitely yes.

Reusable coffee cups can be found quite easily in homeware stores around Australia. I prefer the brand KeepCup as their cups are quite high quality and come in various fun colours. But there are many other brands that you could easily choose from. Below are my cute KeepCups. I carry them while going to work, while going shopping (cause you never know when you might crave a coffee), they're pretty much in my handbag all the time.

I am not without fault. There are times when I forget. And that's okay. The important thing is to take the first step towards doing better. My good friend suggested that if you forget your reusable cup, you always have the choice of drinking your coffee inside the cafe in their ceramic cups - and that's always nice and relaxing.

The problem is that most people are aware of reusable cups but still don't think it's important enough to invest in them. There could be several factors responsible for this.
  • Unawareness. People don't know the extent to which coffee cups have become a problem. Consider this -they are the second largest contributor to waste after plastic bottles. 
  • Miscommunication. People think they are already doing right. Nearly all the takeaway coffee cups have a recyclable sign on it. But which part of the coffee cup is the sign referring to? If the sign is on the lid, it may just be referring to the lid, not the entire cup. Most coffee cups are not recyclable. This is due to the plastic lining inside the paper cup. Recycling rules vary from council to council - so you are better off not using them at all. 

  • Just actually not caring. Had to include this cause there is a vast majority of companies and consumers in this category. Most cafes and hotels are well versed with the problem of waste. Despite this I find they are not making any effort whatsoever to reduce this. For instance, I stayed at a hotel in Melbourne earlier this year. When we ordered some coffees to our room, all of them came in takeaway cups. This made no sense to me as they could have easily used the ceramic cups when delivering coffees to rooms? Oh well. I left this feedback while checking out. I will have to stay there again to see if they've made any changes.
Okay so they're not all bad. I was heartened to see this movement pick up in Australia - Basically participating cafes are offering discounts to consumers who bring their own reusable cups. How awesome is that! We need more measures like this to encourage behaviour change. You can look up if your cafe is participating through their map You're instantly saving money AND doing your bit for the environment. Go you!

Friday, 29 December 2017

If it isn't renewable, it'll run out.

South Australia (SA) has been a shining beacon of light in Australia's clean, green future since more than a decade. In 2009 the state government committed to increase the renewable energy production target to 33% by 2020. This target was unsurprisingly reached earlier, by 2013/14. The target was then increased to 50% by 2025. This target was reached early as well, in 2016/17 - and they're not showing any signs of slowing down. With solar and wind capacity doubling in the next 5 years, they're heading towards 80% of renewable energy generation by 2021/22.

The state's stance on renewable energy has not been without its challenges. Last winter South Australia was hit by severe storms, causing thousands of homes to go without power. Criticisms came from far and wide. The opposition seized the opportunity with both hands. The blame was placed squarely on South Australia's renewables and their unreliability. There have been several articles since last year's events on what actually caused the mass blackout. The AEMO (Australian Energy Market Operator) itself has released contradictory statements on the issue.

Nevertheless the incident highlighted that something needed to change to increase the energy security for the state. Before the blackout, wind had been producing about 50% of SA's power needs with the remainder being imported from Victoria's interconnector. The state had the realisation that they had sufficient renewable capacity to source energy security within the borders. They did not need to rely on their neighbours.

Enter Elon Musk AKA real life Tony Stark. Musk offered SA Premier Jay Weatherill that his company will help resolve South Australia's energy security issue. They will build the world's largest lithium-ion battery in 100 days, else it will be free. The Government took him up on his offer. This move along with the Government's announcement on building a new gas fired plant were the first steps towards solving SA's energy security concerns.

Musk's battery is a 100 megawatt/129 MWh system. It has been designed to lower the intermittency issues and manage high demand during peak summer months. It has the potential to provide enough energy to power 30,000 homes for eight hours or 60,000 homes for four hours. The battery is by far the largest in the world, more than three times any existing storage facility. It is expected to stabilise SA's electricity grid and also lower energy prices. The battery was launched on 1 December this year. Its early completion demonstrated that sustainable solutions needn't be time consuming and difficult but could be fast and efficient.

What pleased me most about this entire ordeal was that even after the blackout, the voter sentiment in SA wasn't dampened. A poll taken soon after the storms showed that almost two thirds of the public still believed that renewable energy is the solution to Australia's energy needs. It sent out a strong message to the rest of Australia and even the world at large. Sure, venturing into new territories with renewables will come with its set of challenges and setbacks, as we saw last year. But the most important thing is to look at the bigger picture. Renewable energy is the only way forward. South Australia understands this and it is important that the rest of Australia understands this too.

In Musk's words "It’s a definition that if it’s not renewable, it’s going to run out at some point”.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Article Published in the Australian Water Journal

I wrote an article on the importance of Active Monitoring in smart metering a few months ago. I am pleased to share that the article was published by the Australian Water Association in their Water Journal as well as in their quarterly "Current" magazine.


Below is the article abstract. You can read the complete article here.

Water security and demand management are prominent issues whilst discussing Australia’s future. Smart metering has emerged as an integral tool in this regard. It provides users with the ability to monitor their consumption patterns and avoid wastage. Significant time has been invested in exploring different types of smart metering technologies. However there has been little research on methods that will help employ these technologies to get measurable results. It is a common misconception that smart metering largely works on a ‘plug and play’ basis. This paper argues that the true benefit of smart metering lies in utilising the data obtained. Due to workload and other priorities it is hard for users to exercise diligence in doing so. This paper presents a possible solution by engaging an external party to provide that service. This is known as the Active Water Analysis, Risk and Efficiency (AWARE) service.

Three studies were conducted to demonstrate the advantages of implementing the active monitoring service.
Study 1 compared the water usage, amount and number of leaks at 43 supermarket stores not covered by the AWARE service vs 123 stores with AWARE.
Study 2 compared the consumption patterns at a hospital with and without AWARE, six months apart.
Study 3 explored what was involved in ensuring the continuity of smart metering data acquisition at 90 schools.

At the end of Study 1, it was found that:

The average water use at the stores without AWARE was 170kL/ compared to 143kL/ at the stores with AWARE.
The average amount of leakage found at stores without AWARE was 64kL/ compared to 20kL/ at the stores with AWARE.
The number of leaks at stores without AWARE was six times higher than stores with AWARE.
The study found that the service was saving the client $2 for every $1 invested in the program.
Study 2 found that without AWARE a leak costed a hospital $8,436. Six months previously, the hospital was covered by the AWARE service. A leak on the same meter was found and resolved within one month resulting in savings of $7,000.
Study 3 explored issues encountered in maintaining 280 loggers at 90 schools. Cases such as vandalism, replacement of meters, among others are discussed highlighting costs and issues experienced to maintain the system.

The three studies demonstrate that a clear ROI from smart metering can only be obtained by actively using the data collected. Employing the AWARE service described herein ensures this. By taking complete responsibility for water management, it provides organisations time and resources to focus on more important issues. It helps customers avoid bill shocks and risks of property damage. The service helps justify budget allocation towards remote monitoring technologies and boosts the organisation’s sustainability profile. Allocating resources for the active management of data collected is essential to achieve the savings and risk reductions possible from smart metering.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

World Water Day - Walk for Water

It's the peak of summer. I have a sip of water and my lips are immediately dry again. Water. We are running low. We still have to make our supply last a few more hours before I make my trip again. We try to ration it. We really do. But what can we do? We need it for everything. Cooking, washing, bathing, drinking. We are a family of five. My younger brother is only two. My older brother works in the fields. My mother has to take care of my younger brother.

I am twelve. My name is Sarita. Before my brother was born, I went to school. My mother made the daily trips to get water for us. I would jump up as I saw her approaching our house. She looked exhausted but pleased to see my face. I would tell her all that I learnt at school. She would listen with a smile on her face. I no longer go to school. I don't have much to tell my mother about my trips to fetch water. Now and then I meet the girls I went to school with. They have learnt so much more since I left. They feel sorry for me. I feel bad too. But this is my responsibility. Father said so.

It is time for me to go. I take my bucket and begin walking. It is a 5 km walk to my destination. The walk to the well isn't so bad. I feel it passes much quicker than my trip back. I walk faster. My lips are dry again. The sun is so strong on my back. The stones on the path dig into my feet. I don't even notice the cuts anymore. Far in the horizon, I see the well.

When I reach, I quickly lower my bucket, fill a little with water and bring it back up. I gulp it down and feel life returning back in me. I lower it again and bring it back up. My bucket is full to the brim. I put it gingerly on my head. Careful not to spill any of it. We will need every drop of the 20 litres. I prepare to head back.

"It's gotten worse." I think to myself. There is a sharp pain in my back. Mother had said it will go away. My body will get used to the load. I am not sure... I keep walking. The sun is stronger now. I feel sweat dripping down my face. Just a few more kilometers, I think to myself. I need to keep walking. I have no choice...

On average girls like Sarita have to travel 6 kms to get access to safe, clean water. Carrying heavy loads often causes them severe back and neck injuries. Easy access to clean water is not only important because this is a basic human right but also because it creates gender inequality. More often than not, women and girls are assigned the responsibility of travelling long distances and carrying heavy loads of water (sometimes up to 40 litres). This keeps them from attending schools or getting a job. This World Water Day, please join me for WaterAid's "Walk for Water" campaign to raise funds for girls like Sarita so they no longer have to carry this burden for their families. To join and/or donate please click here.

Image courtesy: Ankita Mehta