8 things you can do to help protect the planet

Eat less meat, car-share to work, and holidaying at home are some of the practical changes we all can make in our lifestyles to try to reduce our carbon footprint, writes Susan O’Shea

‘Our children and grandchildren will not thank us if we don’t take every step we can take.’

This is how former president Mary Robinson reacted to the recent UN-backed study on climate change, warning of dire consequences unless ‘unprecedented’ action is taken to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5C.

And while there is huge pressure on governments across the globe to act, each and everyone of us also needs to make changes to our lifestyle and eating habits, to help protect our planet.

Think before you drive

Before you turn the key in the ignition, ask yourself can I walk, or cycle instead? Do I really need to take the car?

Reducing the mileage of the average new car from 15,000 to 10,000 miles a year will save more than a tonne of CO2, about 15% of the average person’s footprint.

If you commute to work, explore the option of car-pooling with colleagues, or if you commute from a rural area to a city, use notice boards in your local shop, or social media networks to see if anyone is prepared to share the journey.

It means one less car on the road, and lower fuel costs for you.

Equally, when it comes to children’s activities see if you can organise carpooling for travelling to GAA/soccer matches, swim galas etc.

Recently 10 cars from our local U10 GAA team travelled 40 minutes to a blitz and 40 minutes back… with better organisation, we could have reduced that by half.

The bike to work scheme is a great incentive if you live close enough to your place of work to be able to cycle.

And remember, how you drive also has an impact, with speeding and unnecessary acceleration upping your carbon emissions.

Meat-free Mondays

We cannot continue to consume meat at the current rate.

That is the stark message from the climate change report, as the average person now eats twice as much meat as we did 50 years ago.

While turning vegan could cut your carbon impact by up to 20%, it’s not an appealing option for many, and would probably hurt the Irish food industry more than Brexit, but most families can certainly afford to cut back on their meat consumption.

Begin with a meat-free Monday and then extend it to a second day in the week.

Lamb and beef are the biggest producers of methane gas, but remember battery-reared chickens are heavy users of water and power.

Make sure on the days you opt for meat, it’s locally sourced, and read labels carefully.

And, it’s important you get the most out of the meat you buy. A chicken should last a family at least two full days, and use every last bit, including the carcass to make a stock.

Electric dreams

If you are planning a new car purchase, then give serious thought to going electric, or failing that hybrid.

The Government has been slow in throwing its weight behind EVs, despite its protestations to the contrary, and as a result, the uptake has been well below the targets set, with a charging network that’s patchy at best, and non-existent, in some areas, putting many people off from making the switch.

But there are incentives — a €5,000 SEAI grant towards the purchase price, a charging point installed by the ESB at your home free of charge, VRT relief, reduced motor tax and tolls.

Maintenance costs also tend to be lower as there are fewer moving parts, and some insurers offer special rates.

And with oil previously nudging $86 a barrel — although it has fallen back in recent weeks — prices at the pump are only going to get more expensive, and eventually, Ireland will have to follow the example of some of its more-forward thinking neighbours and ban diesel cars outright.

Man for all seasons

While you may hanker after strawberries in December, chances are they’ve been imported from Spain, Holland or Morocco and thus carry quite a heavy carbon footprint.

Try and limit your choices to what’s seasonal and thus local.

Farmers’ markets and your local fruit and veg shop are good places to shop in this regard, and when hitting the supermarkets opt for as many locally produced foodstuffs as possible, to reduce your carbon emissions from the use of fossil fuel-based fertilizers, pesticides, and gas required to produce and transport what you eat.

Bananas, obviously, are not native but neither are they a big offender as they come by sea, but do you really need those sugar snap peas flown in from Kenya?

Buy less, of everything

Almost one-third of the food we buy ends up in the bin, which is a big waste of land, water and power. But clothing is also a big environmental offender.

The rise of cheap, disposable fashion, designed to be thrown away after one season, has got us all into bad habits, with non-natural fibres releasing damaging nitrous oxide into the atmosphere.

It’s time to scale right back on those purchase, buy two or three key pieces each season that will last.

Any old clothes pass on, send to a charity shop or a clothes recycling centre. Nothing should ever be binned.

Equally, our addiction to the latest technology and gadgets is costing the planet dearly.

The energy needed to make a new computer or phone is many times the amount used to power it over its lifetime.

If you need to replace a home appliance, like a dishwasher or washing machine, opt for the one with the best energy ratings, and use the ‘eco’ setting as much as possible

Power down, power off

Water shortages during the summer had us all reducing our shower time in a bid to save water, but your electric shower is probably the biggest drain on your electricity in the home.

One minute in the electric shower is the equivalent of boiling the kettle SIX times, so halving your shower time can save on electricity costs, and cut your carbon footprint.

If you are having a cuppa, only boil enough for what you need.

Turning your thermostat down by 1C can save 8% in heating costs (and the equivalent in emissions).

Leaving TVs, gadgets etc on standby mode can equate to up to 20% of a household’s total energy usage, so get in the habit of turning them off when finished.

Turn off lights you’re not using and when you leave the room. Replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent or LED ones.

Cosy up

The first step is to ditch the coal. Now make your home more energy efficient.

There are grants available from SEAI to boost the insulation in your walls and attic, which will reduce heat loss.

Solar panels are a no-brainer, and while the early models could only heat your water, and relied on sunlight, photovoltaic panels work in daylight, heat your water and house, and can cut your energy bills by up to 70%.

There’s an SEAI grant of up to €3,000, but rumblings that this won’t be around forever, and many of the providers are now offering finance options, allowing you to split the cost over a number of years


This one will really hurt you sunworshippers, but until petroleum-based aviation fuel is replaced air travel is still a big offender.

For example, a single return flight from Dublin to New York contributes to almost a quarter of the average person’s annual emissions.

It doesn’t mean a complete ban on trips abroad, but maybe replace one trip with a break at home.

It will also give a boost to the local hospitality industry, still howling with indignation at having the Vat rate returned to 13.5%.

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