Energy Diet

A Frustrating Week on the Diet

1) My epic failure over the last week

The last week and a half has been a bit frustrating for me in terms of the Energy Diet. I had set a personal goal of cutting down on my transportation-related CO2 emissions and, instead, I believe my carbon shoe size increased by a digit or two.

I like walking. It’s refreshing, introspective and helps you lose weight; and if you add to the equation an iPod with a playlist that’s been tweaked to perfection, it’s a nice way to relax.

I do not, however, like to get drenched. I do not like to get splashed with dirty water by passing cars; I do not enjoy feeling mud rise up through my jeans by capillarity; I do not have a fun time when my socks and shoes go “squish” every time I take a step; and I abhor carrying an umbrella (which I religiously forget and misplace all over town).

The weather had been really nice, here in Portugal, up to a couple of weeks ago; I was wearing my summer t-shirts and skirts up to mid-October, and having nice visions of power-walking the town. And then winter arrived with a bang, and it hasn’t stopped raining since. I am embarrassed to say that I have not had the willpower to walk all that much under the pouring rain, and have taken most of my trips by car or by bus.

2) Cycling in Portugal
In the summer, everybody in my town packs up and moves 40 km down the road to establish a pseudo-colony on an airy beachside locale we take by storm. It’s a nice, quaint, traditional place; but its main selling point is, in my view, the local cycle route – a simple, straight route running parallel to the beach and (at one stretch) over the vast expense of sand, that I ride every day in my vacation-time. The most surprising thing about that cycle track, though, is the fact that it even exists.

Contrary to many European countries, towns and cities in Portugal aren’t cyclist-friendly, and you’ll only rarely find one with a dedicated cycle route. While many people own bicycles, these are usually seen as a leisure item; those that use them as a bona fide everyday method of transportation are few and far between.

The fact that there are no cycle routes, and that the bicycle rider is not respected by drivers (I’d even say they are actively disrespected), means that less advanced cyclists (and I count myself among the group) never have the chance to venture out into traffic and become more experienced at riding in the road. So we don’t; and we don’t.

As I spent the last week thinking about these issues, I happened to come across a poster by a group of students* from a small local technical college with circa 900 students and 120 lecturers, which caught my eye.

It was a short survey of 76 students and faculty members, which found that 40 percent walked to school, and only 15.2 percent took the bus. Though 30.3 percent owned a bicycle in town, they didn’t use it, due to the lack of dedicated cycle routes. The authors of the poster calculated that if all those who parked their car in the school rode a bicycle instead, there would be a monthly reduction of 102.6 tonnes of CO2 emissions. If we could extrapolate these numbers to the largest Tertiary Education facility in town (the University of Coimbra, with over 20,000 students and 1,500 lecturers), we’d be looking at monthly savings of around 2000 tonnes of CO2.

That’s a lot of carbon.

3) Plans for next week
Over the next week, I’ll try to achieve the improvements in my transportation-related carbon footprint that I had aimed for this week.
I’ll also be looking into optimizing the insulation of the apartment, as well as monitoring our use of water.

*Queirós, Simões, Matias and Damas, for a class lectured by A. Ferreira and N. Sá at Escola Superior de Tecnologias da Saúde de Coimbra (Health Technologies College of Coimbra)