Friday, April 11, 2008

Suggestions for further reading

Saving the planet can be a good news story. It does require a sea-change in thinking though, but as Al Gore has pointed out, we’re better off steering our ship from the stars, rather than from the lights of the ships that we pass on our journey.

Here’s some further reading on the issue, and of course have a look at the Irish Government’s website and John Gibbon’s site for more information, and of course his excellent blog

Carbon Detox, Your step-by-step guide to getting real about climate change’, George Marshall, Gaia, Octopus Publishing Group 2007

Saving the Planet Without Costing the Earth’, Donnachadh McCarthy, Fusion Press, 2004

Heat, How to Stop the Planet Burning’, George Monbiot, Allen Lane (Penguin Books) 2006

Step Twelve, Working for a better world

Think about extending your influence outside of your home. If you’re working or studying, or even involved in a sports club you’ve a role to play in using energy wisely.

If you don’t have a Carbon Reduction Plan at work, then maybe you’re the person to draw one up and ensure its implementation.

It can deal with practical issues such as ensuring that your computer and printer are at a low energy setting, and turned off at work and at the weekend.

Perhaps you can take the radical step of removing the wastepaper baskets and replacing them with recycling bins instead.

Many of the measures outlined above can also be applied to the workplace.

Recently some Government Departments were startled to realize how much money they saved by simply turning off the heating over the weekend. It just shows you what can be achieved if the will is there.

Step Eleven Saving for the Planet

If you have a nest egg, or are contributing to a pension plan its worth looking at where the money is invested.

These days there are a lot of green funds out there. Some use positive screening to invest in companies that are investing in renewable energy and similar industries. Others use negative screening to exclude companies that invest in areas such as nuclear power, armaments and other sectors.

Ireland's National Treasury Management Agency recently announced plans to exclude firms that manufacture cluster munitions form their holdings, and perhaps they could go further and take out tobacco firms as well, given that they are using the money to pay the health costs of those who have suffered the ill-effects of smoking.

If you’re contributing to pension plan, ask where the money’s being invested, and maybe you can use your influence to change the world for the better.

Step Ten, Growing your own

Sure I wouldn’t be a green if I didn’t advocate growing your own. Even when I lived in a flat in the city centre, I kept a few window boxes going that supplied tomatoes and fresh herbs for several months of the year.

These days with a small garden we get pears, apples, plums, spuds, beans, peas, courgettes, cabbages, rasberries, lettuce and herbs through the spring and well into the autumn.. It’s a great way of teaching the kids about how things grow.

I’m a fan of Irish Seed Savers in Scariff, Co. Clare who do amazing work in keeping ancient plant varieties on the go.

Green waste from the kitchen can be composted and dug into the soil once or twice a year. More ambitious recyclers might even consider a wormery, which is another efficient way of cutting down on waste.

Step Nine, Eating sensibly

There’s still a lot of work to be done in calculating the carbon footprint of the food that we eat. So far the only food I’ve seen that shows off its carbon footprint is Walkers Crisps that come in at 107 grams of carbon in a packet.

Sourcing local food that’s organic and fairly traded had been talked about a lot by the green movement over the years, and this is generally the case. However, growing tomatoes in heated greenhouses in northern Europe can use more energy than transporting them from Southern Spain. New Zealand food products can have lower carbon emissions than growing closer to home with more fertiliser.

Ordering the basic food stuffs online can reduce the amount of driving that you do, but that’s usually only an option in urban areas. You might also consider joining one of the green box schemes which delivers fresh fruit and vegetable to your door once a week.

Eating less meat, and in particularly cutting down on beef is a clear way of reducing emissions, or even cutting meat out of your diet altogether.

You can also shop local, and this can promote the local economy by keeping smaller local shops open that are accessible on foot or by bike. Supermarkets tend to be geared more at the car user.

The way you cook is also important. Induction hobs and microwaves are the most energy efficient ways of getting heat to the food, rather than heating the kitchen.

Step Eight, Reduce Re-use, Recycle

Waste isn’t in the same league for carbon emissions as housing, transport or agriculture, but every little helps.

I bought sturdy cardboard boxes from Klee Paper for dry recycling, but you can pick some up from beside the check-out of your local grocer or supermarket. I printed up labels, so that everyone in the house is clear about what goes where. I then put in shelves in an unused but accessible corner of the house, and you can recycle clothing, thin plastic, plastic containers, green bin waste (cardboard, paper, metal, tin and some plastics), and glass containers in separate boxes. I combine trips by car to the recycling centre with journeys that I had to make anyway.

Composting can be a bit daunting, but I’ve finally realized that if you cut out the orange peels, you’ll get less acid conditions in the composter and get rich black compost that is a great addition to the soil in the vegetable garden.

Even though there are six of us living in the house, we now only put out the grey bin about once a month. The downside is that if you open the lid, there’s quite a whiff, but we use biodegradable bags to cut down on this.

Step Seven, using water wisely

Not everyone will jump in the deep end and opt for a composting toilet, but there’s lot’s that you can do to cut down on water waste. A shower generally uses less water than a bath, but if you’re using a power shower consumption will rise.

Newer toilets use lots less water than older models, and you’ll save even more with a dual-flush version. Even if you’re not upgrading you can put a brick or a Hippo water saver in the cistern and save with every flush.

Recycling doesn’t have to be confined to the kitchen; you can place two bins in the bathroom, one for gray bin waste such as cotton buds and razor blade, and keep another for plastic containers, paper and cardboard destined for recycling.

Try not to go overboard on additives in your soaps and shampoos, and there’s loads of products out there that flaunt their environmental credentials.

If you use an immersion electrical heater to provide hot water, use it sparingly. If you leave it constantly on your electricity bills will spiral. Finally you’ve read step one, so you know all about placing a lagging jacket on the hot water cylinder.

Step Six, Relaxing on Holidays

Air travel has increased enormously in recent years. It’s can be hard not to be tempted by €5 ads for flying to cities that you haven’t even heard of. However maybe the added costs of climate change don’t appear in the ads, a bit like the mysterious charges that only become visible at the check-in desk.

Traveling by ferry and train to the UK or the continent can be a magical way of relaxing and simply enjoying the ride. The UK travel website Seat 61 is a mine of information.

Maybe think about Galway, instead of Prague for that weekend away, and a holiday on the Aran Islands can change your mind about staying at home, particularly if you get the weather.

Flying less is one of the real challenges in reducing your carbon emissions, but it can allow you to enjoy the journey as much as the destination.

Step Five, Slow Travel

After commuting long distances for many years I took a deliberate decision to cut down on car travel. It can mean a smaller home or garden, but it can reduce the stress of traveling.

If you have to drive, can you share a ride occasionally, or leave the car at home one or two days a week? If you’re replacing your car think about an A or B rated model with emissions just over the 100grammes of carbon dioxide per kilometer. You’ll be surprised at what’s available.

Travelling by bike can be fairly stressful in our towns and cities, but it does give you some decent exercise, particularly if you’re stuck at a desk during the day. Both walking and cycling are predictable in journey time, and allow you to be less affected by changing traffic levels.

Then there’s always the ‘no mode’ of not traveling, or teleconferencing or using email or even simply picking up the phone.

Step Four, Powering Down

Think about how you use electricity. Perhaps you could change to a renewable energy supplier. 90% of Airtricity’s power comes from renewable sources. If you can reduce your peak load between 5 and 7 in the evening it takes the pressure off the National Grid, so spread the load if you can.

If you like gadgets you can buy a semi-smart meter down at the Cultivate shop in Temple Bar in Dublin City Centr . It tells you instantly how much electricity is being used, and encourages you to reduce your consumption. It shows at a glance the load that a kettle or immersion water heater uses. That’s all the more reason to only fill the kettle with the excat amount of water that you need.

A-rated appliances have come down in price in recent years, and it’s worth asking yourself, do you really need a fridge freezer that you can practically walk into?

You’ve probably changed over to compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) at this stage, but have a look at the new Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) that are out there. You may be able to change your low voltage halogens (that’s the bright lights over the kitchen counter), and reduce your carbon emissions even further.

Step Three, Cleaning at Thirty Degrees

A simple way of reducing your energy demand is to cut down on the energy needed for washing clothes. Thirty degrees Celsius is generally warm enough to clean your washing thoroughly, unless you have a very soiled wash. Getting rid of the tumble dryer is another simple way of reducing energy requirements.

There are a lot of detergents now available that go gently on the environment. There’s no great need for optical brighteners unless you want to look like emulate the man from Del Monte. Read the instructions so that you can minimize the amount to what’s absolutely necessary.

A drying rack or two can dry most of your wash within 24 hours, and if you have a balcony or a garden, air drying works well for most of the year, and the clothes feel fresher too. There’s a certain smugness about bring in a wash that’s dried quickly on a windy sunny day.

Step Two, Heating Appropriately

Think about how you use your home, and when you use the different rooms. Often it makes sense to turn off radiators in rooms that you seldom use, and put on an extra layer of clothing instead of turning up the heating.

If you’ve a boiler that’s more than ten years old, then maybe its time to think about a high-efficiency condensing model. If your home is large enough, you might consider as wood or wood pellet boiler, as it’s a renewable low carbon energy source. Open fires are high in atmosphere, but a wood stove can make much better use of fuel. Firewood is a more sustainable resource than peat briquettes or coal, and there’s other fuel briquettes made in Ireland from compressed sawdust that are also environmentally friendly.

Upgrading to a smarter thermostat that responds to the outside temperature, and adding thermostatic valves to your radiators can also reduce your energy consumption.

Step One, Insulating and Draught-proofing

One of the first things you can do is to make sure that your home is properly draught-proofed and insulated. In newer homes it can make sense to install double glazing, and some new developments are opting for treble-glazing. In period homes you can make sure that your shutters are used on winter nights, and make good use of you’re fond of books, placing curtains.

There are lots of products out there that can be used to keep out draughts from doors and windows. Insulation has never been cheaper, and you can opt for extremely environmentally friendly options made from lambs wool or recycled newspaper.

It’s worth your while sticking your head up into the attic and if you don’t have a foot of insulation there (350mm), maybe it’s time for a trip to Woodies DIY or somewhere similar this weekend.

Terraced houses gain from the insulation value of the homes next door, and apartments are even more energy-efficient. One-off houses can be harder to heat because they have more external walls.

You might consider dry-lining external walls if you don’t have wall insulation, and if you’re an avid reader you might like to place bookshelves inside external walls as they can work wonders for your insulation values.

Don’t forget about your hot water cylinder. These days they come with foam insulation already attached, but if you can the copper is exposed, buying a lagging jacket in your local DIY store will pay for itself within the year.

Introducing Twelve Green Steps

The Earth’s atmosphere is heating up, mainly through emissions of greenhouse gases from what we eat, how we travel, and the way we work. Developing countries will be more affected than countries such as Ireland. There’s a lot that we each can do play our part and reduce emissions so that future generations don’t feel the heat.

Most of us are suffering from a bit of an overdose on climate change over the last while. This blog attempts to show what we can do within our own lives to reduce our individual carbon footprint.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a good source for more technical information about global warming. The IPCC was established to provide the decision-makers and others interested in climate change with an objective source of information about climate change.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) sets an overall framework for intergovernmental efforts to tackle the challenge posed by climate change. It recognizes that the climate system is a shared resource whose stability can be affected by industrial and other emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

In Ireland you can find out more from our Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI).