02 Oct 2009
Kolkata governor's lessons to Al Gore: Sufficiency, not just efficiency
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Gopalkrishna Gandhi, the governor of West Bengal knows that we need to learn to walk the talk. He lives, as he says, in a 84,000 sq feet building – the majestic Raj Bhawan (Governor’s residence) – in a massive 11 hectare plot of land in the heart of Kolkata city. He gets ‘uninterrupted electricity’ for his stately consumption – since the rooms are large with high ceilings, artificial lights are needed through the day and many rooms have grand chandeliers with 20 bulbs’.

He wanted to find a way that he could reduce his carbon footprint. But not only did he takes steps to cut consumption and change lifestyle, he asked Joyashree Roy, professor of economics at the Jadavpur University to validate the steps he and his office had taken: what had worked and how much. The answers are fascinating.

Firstly, what was done?

Energy use: The baseline study estimated that the Raj Bhawan emitted some 408 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually from energy use in 2005-2006. The Raj Bhawan decided to:

1. Ensure new bulbs are replaced with more efficient CFLs: in two years, between 2006 to 2008, of the total 3000 odd bulbs, nearly one third – 843 – were changed to CFL.

2. Increased the occupancy in the cars used for official travel

3. Cut all lights for 2 hours every day to reduce total consumption

4. Reduced the number of cars in the governor’s convoy from five to four

Secondly, what did it cost?

Interestingly, not a lot: the cost of CFL conversion cost the governor’s office just over Rs 1 lakh. But the annual saving in the electricity bill because of all measures taken together was Rs 2.70 lakh. Annual electricity bill reduced from Rs 18.49 lakh in 2004-05 to Rs 15.79 lakh in 2007-08.

Thirdly, emission reduction?

All the steps put together, according to estimates prepared by Roy and her colleagues, cut carbon dioxide emissions from 408 tonnes by some 73 tonnes, bringing the Raj Bhawan’s total to roughly 335 tonnes of CO2 annually. But it is not just what is cut but how it is cut.

More fuel efficient vehicles: 9.3 tonnes CO2 /annually

More efficient lights and appliances: 13.3 tonnes CO2/annually

Shutting off electricity: 50.4 tonnes CO2/annually

Fourthly, reduction by offseting its own emissions

The Governor’s estate has large land area and according to the estimates as much as 140 tonnes of CO2 is annually sequestrated.

What in all this are the per capita emissions of this massive and majestic Raj Bhawan – then and now? Interestingly, not very high: given the sheer numbers of people who inhabit it and use its resources:

In 2006 (pre-action): 0.64 tonnes CO2/person/year

In 2007 (post-action): 0.53 tonnes CO2/person/year

Next mission: become carbon neutral

The Governor’s estate has cut its emissions by 73 tonnes CO2 annually and it offsets another 140 tonnes of CO2 annually. It is left with 122 tonnes of CO2 annually to cut to become completely neutral. How will this be done? The Governor is now discussing the various alternatives suggested by Jadavpur university – from going to solar to battery vehicles – in his grand house.

What is clear is that sufficiency will have to be part of the climate change package – cutting use domestically and changing lifestyles to minimize waste.

Will Al Gore follow?

Maybe US former vice president and Nobel laureate for climate, Al Gore, should do the same. Go green by cutting consumption and not just fixing his massive and obsence emissions by ‘buying’ offsets – paying to plant trees in faraway lands to pay for his excessive carbon dioxide emissions. He and many should take a lesson or two from Gopalkrishna Gandhi. And fast.