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The convenient environmentalists

Concern for the environment runs high among India’s youth. But when it comes to acting on it, convenience trumps eco-friendly considerations. Abhijit Patnaik and Kamayani Singh explain the gap. The Green Websites | See pics

entertainment Updated: Jun 05, 2011 03:00 IST

They cruise around on bikes, often travel on trains, dream of owning big cars, are still grappling with the concept of organic food and green products, have insatiable appetite for new cell phones and don’t care much for power saving features when buying appliances. That in a nutshell is India’s youth and its attitude towards its environment.



A survey by Hindustan Times and C-fore to find out how green is India’s youth shows that like India, its youth too is full of contradictions. Sample this — you have 57% of the youngsters claiming to be very concerned about global warming, but the same generation that is going to fuel India’s future growth doesn’t shy away from burning fuel at traffic signals. Three out of five young Indians don’t switch off their cars/bikes at traffic red lights and only 29% get the air pressure in their tyres checked regularly. Doing both saves fuel.



AwarenessIn a country of 1.2 billion with two-thirds below the age of 35, such environmentally harmful practices are ominous.



So, is India’s youth apathetic towards the mounting environmental concerns? "I don’t think climate change or global warming is overrated," says Anwita Khaitan, a 21-year-old medical student in Delhi. "However, there are not many methods available to the common man to do anything about it — initiatives such as Earth Hour are great, but most things are not possible at an individual level."



Indeed, the survey shows that the Indian youth fails at going the extra mile for the environment. Only one-fifth of youngsters take care to switch-off home appliances from the mains and an overwhelming 82% of young India has never participated in a green campaign.



Aspirations for a better, more comfortable living amongst the youth also mean a larger carbon footprint. Fifty-eight percent of the respondents said they ride a bike but three-fourths of young Indians want to drive either a sedan or an SUV some day — both more polluting than motorbikes and small cars.

Technology too has helped the youth go green. CFL bulbs seem to be the one energy saving appliance which have made inroads into the buying habits of the youth, with 42% respondents saying they use them at home.

But, advancing technology has its pitfalls as well. The influx of cheap handsets has allowed two in every five young Indians to change their cell phone once a year or more, adding millions of handsets to the already high mountain of e-waste. This ‘use and throw’ attitude is on the rise; particularly troubling since 93% don’t compost any trash.

There were some shockers too: 10% of the youth don’t even know what organic food is, and 23% think India has the highest CO2 emissions in the world — in fact, we’re a distant fourth, well behind China, the US and Russia.

Even Jairam Ramesh, arguably the most vociferous Environment Minister India has seen, has failed to impress the youth. Merely 20% think his actions are genuine, with the majority 69% still to make up their mind on his green motives.

HomeThere are reasons to remain hopeful though. The results show that despite growing pressure of a modern lifestyle that is high on carbon footprint, the Indian youth is taking baby steps towards becoming ‘generation green’.

Thankfully, a mix of age-old Indian tradition has meant that lifestyles of the youth are relatively green. “I turn off the tap while brushing my teeth and have a bucket bath instead of a shower,” says 28-year-old Chandrashekhar P Kaushik, a software developer from Pune. In fact, two out of every five young Indians always has a bucket bath, which consumes at least one-fourth the water a shower does.

For 80% of the youth, fuel efficiency is very important while buying a vehicle. Almost three of five youngsters in India not only take public transport once a week or more but also prefer train travel over aeroplane and car every time they step out of their city.

However, what remains to be seen is the extent to which this generation will go to save its environment. Nikita Gupta, a Biotechnology student at IIT Delhi summed up the cost versus convenience dilemma faced in making eco-friendly lifestyle changes aptly. “If there are two appliances of exactly the same kind, both equally good, then I would pick the energy efficient only if the cost difference isn’t huge or if the latest features aren’t compromised on,” she says.

Demystifying green myths
Going green is too cumbersome

1. Not when you hear of what you can save. Not using a screen saver and switching off appliances may leave you with Rs 2,000 a year in power bills.

2. An average shower uses 80 litres of water that is enough to fill 16 buckets of water.

3. A charger continues to draw electricity even when not connected to a phone or laptop.

Organic food is expensive
1. Not only is locally produced food healthier, it’s cheaper than most imported foods which travel thousands of kms to get to the shelves.

2. Locally grown foods help farmers. Buying fresh or pesticide-free organic produce is better for you and the environment.

To go green, I’ll have to buy a hybrid car
1. Not if you’re driving an SUV! Hybrid cars, such as the Toyota Prius, get significantly better mileage and produce far less emissions than conventional vehicles.

2. However a standard fuel-efficient economy car (such as a Maruti Alto) still gets better gas mileage than a hybrid SUV.

Screensaver mode on my laptop ‘saves’ energy
1. Some fancy screensavers can actually use more energy than simply leaving the screen on. This is especially true for older style CRT monitors, which use a lot more energy than the newer flat screen monitors.

2. Turning off the screen also saves you laptops battery life.

Lifestyle HabitsCommuting costs are fixed expenses

1. Commuting is not a fixed cost if you make simple changes to your lifestyle —take public transport or carpool.

2. Otherwise, simply having a new air filter can boost your mileage by 10%.

3. Keeping tyres inflated saves 2% of mileage.

How much water can a single tap waste, anyway?
1. A single leaking tap can waste 5-10 litres of water everyday.

2. More than two-thirds of our water consumption is in the bathroom, with more than 50 litres being used per person per day for personal washing.

3. Turning the tap off while shaving or washing, saves more than five litres of water per minute.

Standby mode is turning the TV off, isn’t it?
1. The standby mode is also known as phantom load or vampire power. It is the power used to keep your TV, stereo and other remote-control-operated devices in standby mode.

2. Up to 10% of your electricity bill comes from powering appliances and home electronics that are ‘turned off’.

Using paper cups instead of mugs is better for the environment
1. Using paper cups is in fact more detrimental to the environment in this case. Ceramic mugs made of degradable substances are a better alternative, not to mention the trees being cut for the paper cups you use each day.

I’m too small to make a difference to the world
The biggest myth of them all is that you can’t do anything to save the world! Each step, each effort counts. The common view that one person can’t do anything to combat a threat like global warming.

Emissions in the world caused by natural processes are in natural balance, unlike those caused by human being. If only each person made an effort to reduce his or her carbon footprint, the combined effort can actually make a difference.

In a workplace of about 1,000 people, if everyone used two sheets less per day, it would save a tree each week.

TransportVox pop

People Tree

It’s incorporated into my everyday life. I ensure that I switch off the fan and lights whenever I leave a room; close the tap, save water in all practical ways.

Nishi Jain, 23, Editor, Rupa publications

I use newspaper to wrap gifts in. I always carry my own jute bag with me, and never litter.
Sandeep Kaur,24, Editor, Taylor and Francis

I prefer using buses, as they’re convenient. The environmental friendly part also crosses my mind while using public transport.
Sneh Lakra, 24, Service, State Bank of India

I do think climate change is a threat and will spiral out of control if we don’t do anything now.
Umesh Gupta, 22, Pursuing CA articleship.