Navigating, dieting your way to greener pastures

Drive by GPS, think green every day and eat grass. Odd as it may sound, these seem to be the messages that came out of Earth Day this week.

Drive by GPS, think green every day and eat grass. Odd as it may sound, these seem to be the messages that came out of Earth Day this week.

Apr. 22 marked Earth Day and this year, its organizers initiated a two-year Green Generation campaign that they hope will inspire people worldwide to think and live green.

Earth Day Network President Kathleen Rogers said in a CNN report: "Earth Day has never been about a day. It's always been about an individual doing something tied to a broader goal of government and corporations following their lead."

And if Navteq has its way, these individuals will be led by navigation systems. According to the GPS (global positioning system) applications provider, a new study it conducted revealed that drivers without navigation systems spent more time driving and drove longer distances. As a result, those who are equipped with GPS increased their fuel efficiency by 12 percent, decreasing their carbon footprint by 24 percent per year.

Alright, I confess, I have a lousy sense of direction--so lousy that I can get lost in shopping malls. My lack of geographical bearing was one of the main reasons why I had initially resisted the idea of getting a car. And when I eventually did get one, I would often get, erh, misplaced even if I've driven to the same location umpteen times before.

Fact is, though, I hate getting lost and I hate the feeling of being lost. So, even if I'm just a tad unsure exactly where the building is located, I make it a point to check the street directory--right down to the exact location of the carpark entrance.

My brother had nagged me for months to get a navigation system, but I resisted doing so simply because I didn't want to get lazy about referring to maps and learning the roads in Singapore. But, lo and behold, my brother had to get me a GPS for Christmas last year.

So, great, I thought. It's free, it's high-tech, and it's a shining new toy for a gadget freak. Gone are my "lost' days...yeaaarrrh right, not quite.

I found that when I relied solely on the navigation system, I was less confident on the road because I kept waiting for the GPS to bark out the next instruction--whether I should "make a right turn in the next 100 meters", or "keep left and take the next exit on the highway".

And I kept second-guessing myself. Is this 34 meters already or is it 67 meters? Is it referring to the exit I'm driving up to right now, or the next one after this?

Okay, so perhaps I drive a little faster than the average driver and my navigation system isn't high-end enough that it knows to adjust its directions according to my driving speed. As a result, I kept taking the wrong turns or missing the right ones. And a couple of times, it tells me that I've arrived at my destination when in reality, the building is on the opposite side of the road or the carpark entrance is actually three turns away.

So, I ended up spending more time getting to my location and burning more fuel. Worse, I drove more hesitantly because I was solely dependent on the GPS to give me directions, and that probably annoyed some drivers behind and around me.

My brother said it might help if I glanced through the street directory and knew vaguely the area in which the building was located--to which I replied, then what's the whole damn point of having a navigation system?

The primary problem here, I think, is my inability to put complete trust in a piece of technology when issues like road safety and security are concerned--just like how companies find it tough to deploy unproven technology to support mission-critical business.

Even if my navigation system was a top-end model from a leading GPS equipment maker, I'll probably still find it difficult to relinquish control and put complete trust in the device to guide me on the road. That said, I won't discount the possibility that I can learn to trust and have more faith in navigation systems that can, over time, prove their accuracy and reliability.

So, until then, I've mostly reverted back to my paper-based street directory, activating my GPS only when I feel an urgent need for someone to talk to whilst driving.

This brings me back to my point about green efforts. While I agree Earth Day shouldn't just be about one day in a year, and that we should all learn to inculcate a "green way of life", we shouldn't need to feel compelled to adopt every green practice that's preached.

Start by embracing those that make the most sense for you, and that shouldn't inconvenience you so much that you dread having to do it just to be...politically-green.

And speaking of political correctness, researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have come up with a study that preaches the good of being thin so that we can all contribute less to global warming.

According to the report, a global population of heavier people--compared to thinner people--contributes more harmful gases to the planet because of increased food production and transportation requirements. Working on the premise that it takes more energy to transport heavier people, this group of, erh, heavyweights consume more fuel and hence, produce more greenhouse gas emissions.

Phil Edwards, senior lecturer at the London school, said: "The main message is staying thin. It's good for you, and it's good for the planet."

It all sounds good, though the study doesn't actually say how "thin" should "eco-friendly thin" be--or is the thinner the better? And this study isn't exactly comforting to those who've tried every possible diet and way to be "thin". After all, which sane mind wouldn't want to be thin since that's mainstream society's definition of beauty these days?

So, I guess we should take to eating grass soon. Lunch, anyone?