First published in an abridged version, Irish Independent, 1st October 2016
Now that we realise climate change is a problem, what can we do in our daily lives to make a difference? All too often it feels like we’re stuck in the headlights, unsure as to do to reduce our impact on the planet. The good news is that we can take some practical steps to limit our contribution to climate change. Here’s ten points to help you move towards low carbon living.
Start at Home
When was the last time you poked your head up into the attic? If it‘s been a while, have a look, and if there isn’t thirty centimetres of insulation over the entire roof space then maybe it’s time for a trip to the DIY store this weekend to load up on insulation. As we head towards chillier evenings now is a good time to insulate your home, and save money on winter fuel bills.
If the boiler’s starting to rattle and over ten years old then maybe it’s time to upgrade to a high efficiency condensing replacement, or install thermostatic valves so rooms don’t over-heat*. If you’re still losing heat through single-glazed windows consider double or treble glazing, or the lower-cost option of lined-curtains to keep the heat in. If there’s a draught coming through the door, a €20 roll of tape from your local DIY store can solve the problem.
If you haven’t been on a bus in a while you might enjoy the free wifi, rather than the hassle of driving. Check out the journey planner on transportforireland.ie or download the app. You might be surprised at the convenience of walking, cycling or taking the bus. For employees the Bike-to-Work scheme can cut down the cost of a bike. The TaxSaver scheme saves you money on annual travel passes. If you use a Leap card, you can join it up with a DublinBikes subscription so that you can hop from bus to bike on the same card.
If you have to drive, consider ride-sharing with a neighbour one or two days a week. In Dublin you can join the GoCar or Yukõ car sharing clubs that provide a car when you need one. Maybe test-drive an electric or hybrid vehicle for your next car. Some employers allow you to work remotely one day a week, and a day on the laptop at home can be more productive than the office.
Are the kids nagging you for a dog? Well, the carbon footprint of a family pooch can be surprisingly high. If you do opt for a dog, consider a smaller breed that won’t eat you out of house or home. When it comes to feeding time, there’s lots of cereal based foods available that have significantly less carbon emissions than meat-based diets.
Time for a holiday
A staycation can be fun, relaxing, and good for the planet. How about renting a camper van and heading down to Dungarvan for a cycle along their newly opened greenway? Or you could leave the car at home and hop on a train to Belfast to check out the Titanic Quarter with the kids.
Bord Bia is big on Irish fruit and vegetables, and their website is full of recipes for using Irish produce, as well as a ‘food dudes’ section to encourage children to eat healthily. Most of us love red meat, but maybe think of it as a treat rather than as an everyday must since even Irish produced meat has a high carbon footprint. Choosing organic is also good for the planet, as fertiliser-free food uses much less energy to grow.
Grow your own
If you have room for a window box you can grow your own herbs such as parsley and chives all year round. A balcony gives you space for tomatoes, and even a small back garden can allow you to grow some of your own spuds, and serve them up as treat for your friends. Growing and buying local has a low carbon footprint.
You’ve made the easy decisions, how about taking a bigger step and ask yourself is your home the right size for your needs? If the kids have left home maybe you might consider downsizing to a two-bed apartment within walking distance of the shops. As you enter the ‘third age’ an easily maintained smaller home may be less hassle than a draughty semi.
Drop the paper habit
We all like to catch up on news and gossip, but did you know going digital can be cheaper than buying a paper newspaper every day? Paper takes a lot of energy to produce and reading online may be the greener option. An online Independent subscription can deliver all the news seven days a week for only €160 a year.
Maybe you could become the energy tsar in your workplace? Teleconferencing saves money on travel costs. Encouraging your workmates to choose energy-saving settings on the laptop or turn off appliances at the weekend can save enough money for a decent office party at the end of the year.
*Since writing some readers have suggested that a heat pump is a lower carbon and more efficient replacement for a boiler. I tend to agree, but talk to your heating engineer to ensure your radiators are sized correctly.
Ciarán Cuffe is a Green Party city councillor and lectures in the School of Transport Engineering, Environment and Planning at the Dublin Institute of Technology.