Global warning: This conversation might make you plan your life toward benefiting the planet.
A month ago, I crossed 8888 journeys since I started keeping track of the different modes of transport I use on a daily basis. As I write this line, I am in a small country with lush greenery everywhere I look, 3 times as many cats as people but no real public transport options. Reflecting on the daily data collected over more than 6¾ years here are some useful insights that might guide us all going forward.
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The Summary Data
Tracking Drives Behaviour
Environment Drives Behaviour
COVID Regime Changes
Defining Self-Identity Drives Behaviour
Goals Drive Behaviour
Balancing Dynamic Forces
Even those amongst us who are weakest under the power of The Unholy Trinity would like the planet to be in a better state tomorrow than it is today. One of the ways we can achieve a smaller carbon footprint is by being mindful of the extent to which we use non-green transport. How we move isn’t the only decision that affects whether we are making the world a better place but it is a significant one that is worthwhile being mindful about. That is what motivated me 6¾ years ago to start collecting data about my travel and commuting and write about it over time in the following:
How Green are my Movements? 100 Days of Data
How Green are my Movements? 1001 Journeys Later!
How Green are my Movements? One Year of Logging
How Green are my Movements? 5000 Journeys Later!
The Summary Data [top]
Here is the year-wise data of the last 6¾ years summarized in a simple table:
Here is the data of the last 6¾ years summarized by each mode of green and red transport:
Tracking Drives Behaviour [top]
When we actively measure and record something, mindfulness automatically gets built in to consciously change the actions that drive the data that we are recording. So, for that tiny admin effort of recording your progress, you create greater internal motivation. This works for anything that might interest you – be it weight loss, learning a language or generating higher sales revenue.
Reflection and journaling of how the day passed is a good practice for a joyful life. In addition to writing a daily journal for many years, the more recent collection of evidence from 8888 journeys suggests that I have been taking more environmentally favourable transport decisions over time.
Environment Drives Behaviour [top]
Whether learning new information, preventing addiction or making healthy food choices the environment plays a critical causal role. At times we can control our environment (e.g., dark curtains to block out light for better sleep) and at other times we have to position ourselves in a better environment to drive (poor pun!) better behaviour. Living in Brunei or in Dubai, the green transport options are practically difficult-to-impossible compared with living in London or Mumbai.
COVID Regime Changes [top]
During the COVID-19 movement restrictions, many individuals had been forced to reduce their direct carbon footprint. On the other hand, an increase in home food deliveries and a widening range of products that can reach us through Amazon adds to one’s indirect carbon footprint. In general, lockdowns and travel restrictions have been good for the environment even if not for the economy. With the return to offices and lifting of travel restrictions, how many of us can consciously attempt to keep our travel-related carbon footprint at low levels?
For me, the year 2020 had a significant drop in total journeys thanks to COVID-19 restrictions. What pleasantly surprised me when writing this is that in 2021 I had only 36 car and taxi journeys for the entire year! To put that number into perspective, if you drive to work during the week and to socialize or shop on weekends, you’re likely to hit a number well over 700. So, that’s 36 vs 700!
Defining Self-Identity Drives Behaviour [top]
If, in conversations with your future projected self, your self-identify is “I am a devout Christian” you are likely to ensure that you attend Church very regularly. Similarly, if you create a self-identity that includes being gentler on the planet through your choice of greener transport, then that is what you will automatically achieve through many small daily and consistent decisions. If my goal is to be socially productive when I am 110 years old, I cannot afford to be lazy in body, mind or spirit when I am half that age. To have a joyful life that is under your control it is important that you nurture your internal culture.
Goals Drive Behaviour [top]
In addition to your self-identity, your implicit and explicitly stated goals drive your behaviour. The Unholy Trinity (implicit goals) makes us avoid greener transportation when we’re feeling lazy, want to avoid pain or want to seek pleasure. Personal targets (explicit goals) can drive us to make choices that are better for us and the planet. For example, a clearly stated daily steps count target can make us walk instead of taking an air-conditioned taxi or take the stairs instead of using the vertically moving vehicle – the elevator.
Balancing Dynamic Forces [top]
You and I don’t get to design the villages, towns and cities we live in.
Neither your government nor you can control the weather but your government has quite a lot of control over the environmental pollution that affects everyone. You then get to balance the costs and benefits of being outdoors based on your needs and the weather and pollution.
Your government can build infrastructure that makes the use of greener transport easier. Be it underground walkways in very cold weather, or covered walkways in sunny or rainy areas, encouraging walking and cycling is key. The use of mass rapid transport will be less if the last mile to the office, home or shops is unbearably uncomfortable for the average citizen. It takes your tax dollars to build this supporting infrastructure and if the population being served is small or quite spread out, it makes the provision of such infrastructure relatively expensive per capita.
A place like Hong Kong does a world-class job with its public transport. Singapore is arguably equally effective. London has extensive public transport but it is not cheap compared with Hong Kong and Singapore. This is despite London having a much larger population and extensive use of public transport by the residents of the city. Mumbai has very cheap public transport that is utilized for more than 90% of journeys made by its residents despite the last mile always being quite unpleasant. Dubai’s limited public transport does not seem to be doing a great job to serve the average resident. My favourite place on earth, Goa, has a mishmash of public transport. Over the years I can see that the increasing wealth of Goans and their susegad culture is already leading to an unfortunate increase in car ownership. This will turn Goa into a green heaven with golden beaches but hellish roads.
So, what can you do? Government – Your Power, Your Joy
Parting Message [top]
Our self-identity and personal goals help us push against the practical obstacles in our environment that usually encourage us to make poor decisions. To the extent that you can place yourself in an environment that is aligned with your goals, you will achieve better outcomes. Even when we cannot change our wider environment, let us at least not be foolish and choose harmful modes of transport when greener options are within our reach. And, to be actively wise, choose a greener option even when they are personally uncomfortable for the average person. Average choices lead to average results. Don’t be average!
If everything you do is consistent with your core beliefs and desires, then a long and healthy life of joy is pretty much guaranteed to be yours. If you want to be guided in detail, you know how to reach me, and if you found this useful, please do share it with others.
Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.