08 June 2010

Watching My Footprint

Last week we were so obsessed with mourning, fighting and cheering for our Goddess of Democracy that we forgot there was another big event happening, which is much more central to our survival – The Air-Conditioning Free Day on June 1.

According to the website of the environmental organization Footprint, 234 schools and a number of unnamed environmentalists had participated in the event with the hope of raising the awareness of reducing carbon footprint. You may wonder why such a meaningful and non-controversial event got such low exposure comparing to the Earth Hour or the Car Free Day. One reason is that our Secretary for the Environment might be too busy doing the laundry for another weekend out in his reusable Act Now t-shirt. Another possible reason is that the act of turning off the air conditioner is not as visual as turning off the lights or making an appearance on the MTR to declare oneself car-free, which provides little incentives for large corporations and government officials to act on, as they could no longer show to the press how environmental-friendly and socially responsible they are, even for just one day.

However, had this event become more well-received, what’s the point anyway? One day away from our cooler simply makes us miss the chilling sensation more the next day. It’s like a lady who tries to cut out her daily fat intake and turns out to munch more chocolate cookies late at night, or like a superstar who flies to the developing world to experience others’ suffering and retreats to his five-star hotel afterwards. We are so used to comfort, convenience and efficiency that we simply can’t quit it for good. Such environmental campaigns may sound sexy to begin with, but pitifully, they could do no more than a mere gimmick. In fact, the NGOs dare not ask for more than an hour or a day of abstinence to keep the events from failing.

Even if we could quit the air-conditioner, does it necessarily mean the world becomes a better place? My observation is that some so-called eco-friendly acts may turn out to be making zero impact to the environment, if not worse. For example, we may take more shower and wash more laundry if we are compelled to stay in a room without air-conditioner. When I use a reusable tumbler instead of paper cups to buy coffee, I turn out to use lots of cleaning detergent to clear the foul smell in my cup. Some activists argue that we should not eat beef and go vegetarian instead because beef cows emit loads of greenhouse gas. But what about the more pesticides used in cultivating crops as a result? Not all of us are entitled to the organic crops quota (as well as the luxury). What goes around, comes around in a different corner.

As we have to consume resources of the world which leads to its end anyway, the only balanced and sustainable way of staying eco-friendly and thus prolonging our Mother Earth’s life is to consume no more than what we need. Just this simple. Any flashy green acts might actually bring about counter effect or no effect at all.


  1. The only real way to reduce air-conditioning (mechanical cooling) effectively is to design buildings so they do not allow so much heat coming in.

    I support any action that promote the sense of sustainability amongst people, but you're right, at the end of the day, it has to be far more significant than switching off the lights for 1 hour each year(there are 8760 hours in the year), or not using the air-con for a day.

  2. or to build lower buildings to allow more air flow.

    i believe the sense of sustainability should be realised in terms of daily habits, not an one-off campaign. And such habits should be moderate which would not deny our needs.

    While I support reducing unnecessary consumption of resources (e.g. using less water), I do find consuming more of some sort of 'green' products (e.g. buying a reusable shopping bag) may not help the environment at all.


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