Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Common Sense Cure for Energy Crisis

While the governments of the world move at a snail’s pace in solving the energy crisis, a grass roots conscious movement at the consumer level can turn the tide around. It is just a matter of realization, consciousness, and making some lifestyle changes. And it is starting to happen around the world. It is significant and it is the only thing we can do right now – And it is very simple - Reduce the demand on Energy.

Unfortunately, It pains me to see how the well off Sikh community (and South Asian community in general) in both the East and the West is so complacent to one of the biggest crisis in the world right now. We have not shown any concern (lest it affects our pockets) much less leadership and vision in this area. Addicted to cheap stuff made in China, driving the biggest gas guzzlers, buying huge houses that ultimately end up owning us (instead of us owning them), and loitering the landfills with disposables we show our affluence everywhere; we trash the environment and take a lot of pride in it.

I hate to start this article by blasting my community and am getting off the point here but I am little turned off now and I think you may appreciate where I am coming from, if you let me share my heart.

I had an opportunity to drive a few teens for 5 hours from a Gurmat Camp to a field trip venue and back, lately. I, being the tree hugger and all, wanted to take the time to turn that long drive into a useful discussion on the global energy and environmental crisis. I am ashamed to say that I was totally unsuccessful.

With all due respect to their good character and behavior otherwise, they were absolutely not interested in such an important issue that is affecting us all; and mind you I was not lecturing. (And I believe it is one hundred percent their parent’s fault, not their own). I was interested in listening and creating a dialogue, but all they had to offer was their enthusiasm about the 12 cylinder Ferrari their relative bought, or the10 bedroom beach- front house their friend owns complete with pool and tennis. When I brought up the point that global warming is not so far out, and that it is affecting our lives everyday, one of them mentioned that her family had a large mansion in India they can go to, if something like the wildfires got to them.

Even though my ears started hurting from all the materialistic chatter, I didn’t give up. As a last resort on the way back, I told them that they could only speak in the car if they talked about Sikhi values, benevolence or taking care of mother Earth. There was a silence for the next 10 minutes, and then one of them broke it, “ there are these organic jeans at the Gap for a hundred and eighty dollars that are so cool…..”.

Now that you understand where I am coming from, let us get to the point.

So, my message for today is that common sense change at the grass roots level can reverse the energy crisis, and the environmental crisis. And I expect my community not only to be a part of that change but the leader of that change.

Why ? Because we have the tradition. Our faith is a green faith. Earth is designated as our physical Mother in Gurbani and we have the obligation to take care of it. We have the duty to leave a better world for our next generations.

Take the example of our great environmentalists like late Bhagat Puran Singh Ji who spent all his life lobbying and caring for two causes (not one as we know him mostly for). Yes, along with caring for the crippled, his biggest passion was saving the environment.

I first came across his marvelous writings on saving our trees and rivers, and the concerns over desertification of Punjab, couple of decades ago when I was a young girl visiting Punjab. His volunteers handed me a pamphlet on recycled paper that talked about it all, as we walked out of Darbar Sahib. While most of the pamphlets were used by people to wrap over left over Parshad, or to wipe hands, I saved it and asked my Dad to read and translate it for me. (I could not read Punjabi back then). I still remember all the words my Dad uttered. The rivers are being poisoned, the land is becoming a desert, we need to live simply, and we need to plant trees if we are to save our future….

Guru Sahib too stresses living simply and using less over and over in Gurbani. It can be applied everywhere in our lives.

Coming back to energy crisis and what we can do to reverse it, I couldn’t stress enough - Reducing the demand on energy at the consumer level is t he first way to solve this crisis.

I am citing some useful tips that we have easily incorporated in our lives and have successfully made a contribution from our little household. The point is not to boast but to share, empower, and inspire my friends and community to join in. So, please forgive the repeated usages of ‘We’ and ‘I’. Take what you can and think of your own creative ways that work for You.

Be the beacon of change by making some common sense changes in your lives and educating your children and the communities about it.

  • We have taped shut our clothes dryer since the Earth Day of this year. With so much solar heat outside, the line drying of clothes is working just fine and we have reduced our energy bill by over 10%. It also gives us an opportunity to breathe some fresh air and smell the roses and jasmine, while we fold our laundry in the back yard. It's one of the simplest ways one can use alternative energy directly and think beyond fossil fuels.
  • By planting trees around the house and getting green shrubbery close to the windows, over the years we have developed a mature shade-giving canopy around the house. The temperature underneath the shade is 10-15 degrees cooler than the ambience. We rarely need to use the air conditioner. We open the windows in the night when the temperatures are low and let the house cool. In the late morning we shut windows, pull the shades, and enjoy the moderately cool house. Energy savings – 20% .

  • We drive less. We try to car pool everywhere we go with my child’s activities. I have managed telecommuting from home for a few days out of the month and re-pay my employer by working for an extra hour those days. With the saving in my driving time that is an easy thing to do. By making simple changes in driving habits such as reduced consistent speed and accelerations, keeping tires inflated, and keeping clean air filters 10% to 30% of fuel consumption can be saved. The national gas bills may have gone up but ours have gone down by over 10%.

  • Once or twice a week I walk to the grocery store for eco shopping trips. First, I get my exercise and second I do my food shopping. I don’t understand the idea of using energy to burn energy; i.e. driving to the gym or using a treadmill or both.

  • We have literally stopped visiting shopping malls. We go to the mall only if we absolutely need an item and can’t find it online. It used to be that I would go to malls and buy things I absolutely didn’t need instead of the one I set out for. We still dress up very nicely and have saved thousands – YES, thousands of dollars in the last three years from spurious shopping. That takes care of my dasvandh (tithe) right there and gives us a chance to invest that money on community projects and more greening.

  • We try to buy locally manufactured goods even if we have to pay a few bucks extra. There are hidden costs of shipping involved with buying cheap stuff made in China (I am not picking on China, just making the point). Shipping of cheap imported goods pollutes environment, kills wildlife, and is bad for the local economies. Here the savings don’t show up in our account but they help the world energy supplies and local economy and we take a great pride in that.
  • Weddings, Birthdays, Graduations? We give one of the three things: 1) spiritual/educational/local handicraft items 2) trees or 3) cash. It saves on a lot of headaches, time and driving around and enriches the lives of the people we love while helping the environment.

  • With all the conservation mania, one would wonder if we ever have any fun in our lives ? You bet we do. We are the biggest eco travelers you’ll come across. We hike, kayak, swim and snorkel. We take a lot of vacations at close by destinations and most of them are camping trips. We have camped for over 10 years in the most pristine and beautiful state and national parks in the U.S. but never once have we run into another Sikh family having eco fun. (They probably were busy going to shopping destinations around the world for vacations). One saves over 75% on the carbon emissions by driving (vs. flying), visiting local destinations and camping vs. using environmentally unfriendly hotels/resorts.

You probably have read about all the simple changes we have made in our kitchen. If not you must read them here. My neighbor was shocked the other day when we compared our energy bills. We consume less than 50% of the energy and water they do. We have the same size houses and yes we shower every day. With all the savings in energy costs we can afford to eat healthier, local and organic foods.

We made all these changes gradually, so they were not as hard to make as one might think. Over time they have become our lifestyle. We keep looking for new ways to contribute to the reversal of global warming. The most important thing is awareness and the feeling of responsibility.

Also, what helps is that we are not ashamed to be called conservationists. We are proud of it. Carrying our green smoothies or water in reusable glass jars, toting our cloth shopping bags is a statement we love to make. Reducing, Reusing and Recycling is the mantra we are more than happy to share with our colleagues, neighbors, families and friends. Sometimes we get called “poor” or “cheap” in the affluent circles, and we just smile.

How else will this become a grass roots movement if we were not to pour out our passion, overcome false pride, tame the mind and educate and inspire the world with all we have?

And now, I hope, each of you is inspired to contribute to the reversal of this crisis by making a change, one simple change in your lifestyle.

Like Margret Mead has said:

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."


I may not agree with our President on many issues, but I do comply with his policy of

Voluntary Emission Control


Gurmit said...

Dearest Gurmeet

At last someone prepared to stand up, I too have been totally dismayed at major Sikh functions, eg Birmingham Vasiaki festival, there was literally 2 truck loads of bottled water freely given to people, people were constantly over fed, a diet of somasas for walking a few hundred yards!!

Standing up to Sikh men, is hard, whole gang of these people who organise events, the number one priority is 'looking' the part and oh yes, egos, I am blinded by them. It is hard to fight and stand up the planet, suggesting we recycle at a New Akal Academy which opened up recently, 'it is too much of an effort' Stand up me must, my will to fight is gone, last night i went to a all night kirteen programme and so many sikhs which large kirpans, what is the battle we face today, it is the battle to save the enivorment.

Anonymous said...

zHello gurmeet Kaur ji,

Great thougths on Green, Great Battle.

I feel you are doing great, but why shut people off in your car as a last resort? ( power play?)
Why not a video on envrioment and invite evryone to watch or invited them for a seminar?

Or invite them to help you pick litter from the garden or teh beach to create awareness.

beleive me, it is a hard battle. I am green myself. I join volunteers who need help with the message, and i have stop telling people what to do. I do it and live it.

Gurmit , what's big kirpan got to do with green issue?

You are touching on one's practise and belief which is personal.

I am glad i have found both of you who are green embassodors and i am trying my best too with myself only.


Sukhmandir Kaur said...

I love your blog! Thanks! Well this makes two of us attempting to live green, perhaps together we can get some more greenies on board. Just got to convince them it's cool to fight global warming :)

Anonymous said...

It is a strange world we live in. We forget that pleasure and pain go side by side, (guru nanak - sukh and dukh are clothes a person wears together). We choose to ignore one focusing on only one. No wonder we are trapped. We forget the ONE but try to seek explanations. Our so called scientific knowledge gives us some creature comforts but leaves us at the same time with a ton of unresolved issues, plastic bags, processed food, obesity, survival, consume, consume, consume. This has been a pattern of history and will continue. Trishna Virleh Kee hee Bujhee Hai. The one thing i agree with, is to change the world one needs to change oneself only to the point of sacrifice. I remember a time when in my younger days i would visit the US and when asking for water i was looked upon like a fool - juice had been introduced and only dumb uneducated third world people depended on water. I could go on and on but i can only wish you well. Our problems with sikh men are no different than american christian or arabic muslim men Or women, all are lost. good luck

Simran said...

I would love to meet you in person. I enjoyed reading your blog and it is an inspiration. Bhagat Puran Singh, Bhai Vir Singh...were true environmentalists.
I need to take care of some environmentally unfriendly/addictions(treatable like bottled water, sporty car, toilet paper, disposable plates etc) and love the earth day resolve for a small change.
Do you live in San Diego area? We can change ourselves and catch our younger siblings @ Punjabi schools to be a part of the change. I was thinking about having you present a project (like sterofoam plate replacement, water bottle replacement...) in local gurdwaras punjabi schools for something like that.

Sony said...

It's so wonderful to see a like-minded Sikh woman expressing her opinions on something the world that extends beyond her. As a Sikh woman myself, I too am dismayed by the drive to get the best item X or to get the largest ad at event Y. The subordination of females in our culture (and dare I say, even religion!) is disgusting to me. We get trapped in this cycle to get married, bear kids and then raise come back to the point, it's difficult to break out of the domestic bubble and address issues which will impact our future and our childrens' futures!!

Thank you Gurmeet, for sharing your point of view. It's about time!

Gurpreet Jgd said...

Neat Blog!
The Earth belongs to us.
It is our home.
There are not many other places we could go to currently to call home.
It is a good idea to take care of our home.
Taking care of our home starts by thinking about what is good for our home and we we can do on a daily basis about it.
Some of the issues discussed here are great - no plastic, vegetarianism, saving energy, being aware about your environment, saving water.
What do you think?

Anonymous said...


We are a group of parents that have written books for our younger children with Sikhi Lessons. Would it be possible to share these books so other children get the benefit of these that our children have experienced.

More details can be found on our Facebook and Twitter pages

Or can be brought at Amazon:

Many Thanks


Guru Ka Sikh - Davinder Singh