As annoying as it is to remember to bring a cloth bag when shopping in a supermarket or convenience store, I fully support the recent imposition in Tangerang of the 200 rupiah fee for each plastic grocery bag. It is a small, sensible step not only to discourage the waste of hydrocarbons, but also to alert and involve virtually all of us here in Tangerang to the world’s dire climate situation. April 2016 was, after all, the warmest month ever recorded on earth. (See https://weather.com/news/climate/news/record-warmest-april-earth-2016 )
Jakarta, as I understand it, is opting instead to order retailers to use biodegradable plastic bags despite longstanding and lingering questions, worldwide, about the value of such programs and the trustworthiness of companies claiming to sell biodegradable products. (See “‘Biodegradable’ Plastics Are A Big Fat Lie” in the May 23, 2016 HuffPost.) I wonder if Jakarta’s course is as responsible as Tangerang’s in this regard.
I wonder too if residents and citizens of this nation are taking personal responsibility to save energy and so protect islands so vulnerable to climate change as those that comprise this archipelago.
Too often, the populace, like its governments, stands idle as the planet burns and the oceans rise. “Idle” is the operative word for the matter of this essay.
I live in a lovely complex in Tangerang. A homeowner nearby has, at any one time, at least four cars in his driveway and around his house. Given the amount of time he spends opening and disappearing into the hoods of these autos, I take him to be a car aficionado, a hobbyist. That is his right, as is, I guess, his souping up two of his vehicles, one of which is a bright blue sedan, to sound like they belong on the track at Sentul rather than on a residential street. As one who knows nothing about auto mechanics, but who takes my old Honda for servicing as soon as I hear it murmur or click in unusual ways, I fail to understand the pleasures of muscling a car’s exhaust system on purpose. Oh, yes, I have read at websites for auto enthusiasts that modifying the exhaust increases horsepower and that, “there are few things more satisfying than a rumbling exhaust on the vehicle, which seems to serve as a reminder of the power that is under the hood.” Satisfying? To whom? Not to bystanders like me, I can tell them! The article at CarsDirect.com continues, “Enhancing the sound of your exhaust gives a different, but equally satisfying, sense that the vehicle you are driving is a force to be reckoned with.”
The force-be-with-you attitude at CarsDirect unwittingly exposes owners of unmuffled cars to be selfish, aggressive beings who likely seek “power under the hood” to compensate, with a little blue car or a little blue pill, for the lack of potency elsewhere in their lives.
They certainly have no concern for those who may want to relax in their gardens or sleep in on a weekend morning.
If all such car fanatics did every morning was to start their cacophonous machines and drive them away for the day, I should not complain—although hundreds of other citizens along their routes might well grumble.
But the car zealot in my complex starts both his ear-splitting jalopies every day and then lets them sit and idle, pouring noxious exhaust into the complex and the atmosphere.
Why do so many car-owners in this tropical nation warm up their cars? What’s with that? Even in the New York winters of my adolescence, I never warmed up a snowbound car for more than a half-minute, aware that modern automobiles warm up best when they are driven, not when they idle.
In fact, excessive idling, according to Canada’s GreenActionCentre.com, can actually harm a car “as the fuel is not fully combusted when your car is idling outside of its peak operating temperature. This fuel residue builds up on the cylinder walls and can also contaminate the engine oil thereby reducing its ability to lubricate.”
The California Energy Commission notes that “for every two minutes a car is idling, it uses about the same amount of fuel it takes to go about one mile.” Thus, car-owners who warm up their cars for minutes on end are wasting gasoline to no effect except to pollute the atmosphere, damage their cars’ motors, and drive neighbors crazy.
I am afraid we cannot solve this pollution problem by charging 200 rupiah per minute of idling. No government in this nation is going to police citizens who set their cars to idle at length, at great length. Not even the security personnel in my own complex are willing to do that.
It’s going to take individuals willing to learn, to consider, and to take responsibility for their stake in the environment.
James Penha is a poet who lives and writes in Tangerang.