UNDER THE MICROSCOPE
Earth Hour has come and gone. But what about the other 8,759 hours of the year? We seem to be fixated on the ceremonial observances of environment-saving practices rather than being genuinely concerned about saving Mother Earth.
There are many aspects to environment protection: energy consumption, fossil-fuel pollution, and their impacts on climate change. Relying solely on governments to act on these is not going to solve the problems if we don’t act responsibly in our individual lives to reduce our carbon footprints and water consumption.
We all use energy in our daily lives with lights, appliances, and vehicles 24 hours a day. We can choose to minimize usage, which is fine, but there comes a point when we can no longer reduce consumption. Turning off appliances works, as well as reducing the hours that we operate air-conditioners. We should rationalize our vehicular trips to reduce fuel consumption to the barest minimum.
At this point, we need to look at how we can generate energy on our own. Those who can afford to, should install solar panels or wind-energy generating devices on their rooftops. I did install solar panels on our roof, which reduced my energy bill by 60-70 percent depending on the time of year. Every time I’m in a discussion on energy matters, I never fail to talk about my example, which usually elicits great interest and, hopefully, action. It helps that solar-energy costs keep going down, so those who avail themselves of it now can realize a shorter recovery cost on their solar-energy investment. Return on investment usually runs to three to four years, which is not bad considering it lasts 20-25 years. The rest of the 20-21 years you operate your solar power system is gravy already.
A drawback cited is the expense of batteries to store electricity generated by the solar set-up. You don’t need to purchase one. Meralco has a net-metering system, which sends to the Meralco grid the energy generated in excess of what you consume. This is credited to your account and offsets electricity costs during non-generating hours of the night. That’s how I’ve configured my solar power system.
Nowadays, the cost has gone down dramatically, thanks to China-made panels. So, while trade with China is still open (who knows what happens next in this politically volatile period), this is the most opportune time to put up your solar power system.
Solar systems may not be feasible for many who are not so well-off, but solar-powered individual lights and appliances are readily available and cheap now, again thanks to Chinese manufacturers. If everyone reduces their energy consumption from the grid, it will have an impact with the power of millions of consumers.
Electric vehicles (EV) are still beyond the reach of the average motorist, though prices are also going down with the tax incentives offered by virtue of the Electric Vehicle Act, which reduces tariffs on electric vehicles, gives 30 percent discount on battery electric vehicles and 15 percent discount for hybrid-electric vehicles, priority registration and renewal and special plates by the LTO, exemption from the coding scheme, faster processing by the LTFRB for public utility operators, incentives for financing institutions to offer lower interest rates, etc.
The offerings on the market so far are still prohibitive, even as I’ve been itching to buy one. Most fully electric EVs are high-end models, and as my car-savvy nephew said years ago, it wasn’t the right time to buy one, since it wasn’t cost-effective. As more distributors offer a larger variety of EVs, prices should go down further. Next year may just be the right time for me to go full electric. But I wish the public utility operators would embrace going electric now.
Then there’s the impact of consumerism. The Philippines is said to be the third largest plastic polluter in the world, contributing 0.75 million metric tons of ocean plastic every year, thanks to the invention of the now-ubiquitous plastic sachets. The retail economy thrives on the sale of these single-use sachets, which are more affordable to the less-privileged Filipino. But it’s time to ditch non-recyclable products and come up with alternatives. We have no shortage of innovative inventors who have come up with organic-based biodegradable packaging.
Right now, we should try to lessen our use of plastics, but if it’s unavoidable, ensure its reuse over and over, if possible. It’s hard to avoid plastics because manufacturers have not lessened their use of plastic packaging. My wife has taken to collecting plastic bottles for recycling, and I kid her that she spends more on gas to take the plasticware to the junk shop than she gets for it. But at least we’re doing our part in not adding to the mountains of trash that litter the environment.
In the end, every little bit counts.