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Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Cambodia and global warming

How does Cambodia stack up in efforts to reduce global warming? In an email newsletter I subscribe to I was sent a link to climatecrisis.net. They suggest ten things we can do to help reduce global warming. I decided to look at them from a Cambodian viewpoint.

1. Change a light bulb—replacing one regular light bulb with a compact
fluorescent light bulb will save 150 pounds of carbon dioxide a year.

The electricity bill in the room I used to rent cost me around $US12 per month—say $140 per year. Compare that to the gross national income per capita of $US380 and you must understand that electricity is extremely expensive for the average Cambodian. Cambodians are already using small fluorescent tubes that are just a little better than a candle in both their homes and classrooms—that's the homes that have electricity.

2. Drive less—walk, bike, carpool or take public transport more often and
you'll save one pound of carbon dioxide for every mile you don't drive.

The most popular form of transport in Cambodia is the bicycle. The Cambodian version of carpooling is a share taxi—seven passengers and a driver in a Camry.

3. Recycle—you can save 2,400 pounds of carbon dioxide per year by
recycling just half of your household waste.

Most Cambodians drop their litter in the street. Anything that is recyclable is quickly picked up by a street kid who sells it so she/he can eat (or sniff glue). There is no household garbage collection where I live. Garbage, including a huge amount of plastic bags, is either buried or burned.

4. Check your tyres—keeping car tyres inflated properly can improve gas
(petrol) mileage by more than 3%. Every gallon of gasoline (petrol) saved
keeps 20 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

There is no free air at Cambodian service stations. People have compressors at the side of the road and charge for each tyre they fill. Sometimes I wonder if people drive around with their tyres underfull because they hang out a little longer before forking out again. However, the mileage on a bicycle is not affected by tyre pressure.

5. Use less hot water—it takes a lot of energy to heat water. Use less
hot water by installing a low-flow shower head and washing your clothes in
cold or warm water.

I don't know anyone in Cambodia who has running hot water. For that matter I don't even have running cold water in my house. Low-flow shower head? I bathe by dipping a bowl into a tub of water and tipping it over my body. When I stay overnight in a guesthouse in Phnom Penh I can have a real shower. Such luxury. But still only cold water.

6. Avoid packaged products—you can save 1,200 pounds of carbon dioxide if
you cut down your garbage by 10%.

Like most people living in Kompong Chhnang I buy many foodstuffs—rice, flour, dried beans, etc—in bulk. It still ends up coming in a plastic bag. Suppose I could take my container to the market and ask them to fill it.

7. Adjust your thermostat—moving your heating thermostat just a few
degrees lower in winter and cooling up a couple of degrees in summer could
save you about 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide with this simple adjustment.

Heating thermostat—you've got to be kidding! Temperatures rarely drop below 20° C. And despite temperatures in the high thirties and low forties every day in summer not many homes have air-conditioning. Maybe I can turn the fan speed down a notch.

8. Plant a tree—a single tree will absorb one tonne of carbon dioxide
over its lifetime.

Yeah, Cambodia is hacking down a lot of its rainforest. However, if you take a look at the picture of my backyard above, you'll understand I can hardly fit one more tree.

9. Turn off electronic devices—simply turn off your television, DVD
player, stereo and computer when they're not in use and you will save
thousands of pounds of carbon dioxide a year.

Television sets are not uncommon now in Cambodian homes. Mine has not been on since I moved in (language difficulties). I don't know anyone who owns a DVD player. Now, the person a few houses away who has their stereo up a little too loud, perhaps I could encourage them to turn it off for the sake of the environment. Only wealthy Cambodians own computers.

10. Spread the word—tell your family and friends so together we can make
a huge difference!

So what do I tell these people? Maybe I should pat them on the back. I think they're responsible for a lot less pollution than we in the West.

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