Creating Carbon

This is the first time I’m sharing a piece of writing from one of my students on my blog. Jean-Baptiste did a beautiful job on his carbon footprint story and in the context of how the global political landscape shifted yesterday with the US pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, it seemed a shame for this piece to not get a wider readership than my small group of students. Well done JB!

Cooking Up Carbon

by JB

This is John. Just a normal guy, living in a normal flat in a pretty normal city. He likes football – both playing it and watching it, speaks English and Spanish and enjoys travelling on his time off. John is a good citizen. He pays his taxes, he recycles, he votes, he stops at zebra crossings. He’s a likeable guy. He has good friends and enjoys spending time with his family. But I’m not going to talk anymore about all those things. I’m going to tell you the story of one day in his life.

It’s seven thirty am on this cold and rainy day in November. Like every day, John has spent the last 7 hours in his warm comfortable cotton bedsheets cocooned around him. He feels so snug and comfortable. You know this feeling don’t you? When you wish you could just have one more hour in bed? God it’s so good !

Believe it or not, this guy, despite being your average ‘guy’ is among the luckiest guys in the world. Because 3000 years ago, bed sheets rather looked like cold reeds that penetrated the skin, or wet and smelly skins you shared with your whole tribe. Today, they are entirely made out of sweet-smelling cotton, nicely printed with blue or pink ink.

Progress rocks doesn’t it?

But as John is lying on his bed, on this cold and rainy day of November, a 14-year-old girl called Barsha is weaving cotton since the early morning, far away from John’s bed, in a grey smoking workshop in Bangladesh. She weaves cotton in a textile factory that produces household linen. 1300L of water is used to make every single bed sheet, every single minute. Then, they are sent to the airport to be put in an airplane bound to Europe or the US.

Progress rocks doesn’t it?

Just stop and take it in, he has not got up yet , and he has already exhausted one young girl, spread 20kg of CO2 into the air, and consumed as much water as he would have drunk in 3 and a half years..

It’s gonna be a bright sun shiny day!

After he succeeds in wriggling out of bed, it’s time to use 80L of gas heated water for his shower. He goes out clean, and he has released 1 other Kg of CO2 into the atmosphere.

That said, I actually have a solution to this one: follow the chinese water-heater manufacturer “Sakura” : share your shower !! advise your neighbor, together in a shared shower you’ll cut by 50% your water consumption !…

It’s 7:15 and before John goes to sleep in 15 hours, he still has 54 Kg of CO2 to release in the atmosphere.. I tell you, it’s gonna be a bright bright sun shiny day!

8 o’clock, John is ready to go. He works next to his living place. But as it is cold and rainy today, he prefers starting the engine of his petrol drinking car…. lovely. Why again did he buy that bike.. ? Another few hundred grams of CO2, and NOx in the atmosphere later he’s ready to work..

Let him work for a while, he writes some emails, he talks to a colleague, he finally cracks a problem the team’s been struggling with for weeks…remember he’s a good guy, a likeable guy.. until he goes to have lunch. I have time to ask you one question :

Do you look like John ? Seriously, I mean… If you think you don’t.. Polar Bears, the Ozone Layer, the Arctic ice, my children and your lungs will thank you, really.

However if you think you might possibly unfortunately look a little bit like John.. that average, well-meaning albeit unaware nice guy hmm.. stay tuned.

Back to a day in the life of John, he’s currently choosing his lunch. He starts with carrot salad, John you’re starting good mate. Rice, hmm ok.  Oh no.. John, don’t do it John.. don’t cave, don’t go for the beefsteak John.. please come on, do you know the footprint of this thing ? , look at this beautiful omelet prepared with the eggs from your local city. Hooo… you know what ? he has taken the beef, thats sucks. 10 times more grain used, 150 times more water, and 500 times more CO2 emitted if you chose the beef instead of the omelet.

The livestock is commonly farmed in South America (Argentina for example), or the US, where thousands of hectares of grain is grown with hundred of thousands litres of water, to feed the animals. Then they are driven to the slaughterhouse by truck, the animals, or should I say the beef, is then kept at low temperatures and take another truck bound to the airport, where an airplane is waiting for them. Your steak travels 7.000km by the air to land do you know where ? Here, yes here, exactly in your plate, so accurate !

Progress rocks doesn’t it?

John has now cleaned his plate ! Congratulations John, you do not participate to food wastage. Remember : choose the right amount of food for a single year will save 30 kg of waste !

But I remind you, John still has a few kilograms of greenhouse effect gases to release to the air before he goes to sleep tonight : let’s go back to work.!

John decides to turn on the heating system, to make the temperature rise from 19°C in the room, to 23°C. These 4 degrees, will add some 3 more kilograms to his CO2 score of the day, and will produce a few micrograms of nuclear waste.

It’s now 6pm, time to go back home. 450 grams of CO2 later, his car is parked in front of his apartment, next to the 24 other private petrol burning machines of all his neighbors.

450 grams of CO2 into the atmosphere is nothing, a truck releases more CO2 by travelling.. 500 meters. But 450 grams of CO2 into the atmosphere everyday, makes you release three times your weight in CO2 in one year. And more than 150 times your weight in your whole life.

At the end of the day, John has done his task for today : a few kilograms of CO2, some grams of nuclear waste for his electricity…polluting our planet just a little bit more. Tomorrow is a brand new day…

But fortunately, the same story in 10 years will be very much different.!! In 10 years, I will tell you that John, drives his electric car (as all his neighbors by the way). He will take a sunlight heated shower, have a complete vegetarian meal (including potentially 3 or 4 fried locusts) and reduce at the end, his carbon footprint.

But we are in 2017, and locust luncheons are not yet our reality. Attached as you might be to John and his blithe, unassuming ways, John is, as I said at the beginning just your average guy. Next week I can tell you the exact same story of Anna, Mike, James, Alice, Frank… all these people who will live their lives blissfully unaware of the impact that every step, every gesture, every move they make has.

These are the people we need to slowly but surely start waking up, these are the people who can really make things change. If one in ten people choose the omelette over the beefsteak right now, and each of those people got at least one person to change their mindset, a ball would get rolling, and bit by bit we might #makeourplanetgreatagain

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