If 2018 was the year of the activist, then 2019 was the year of the climate. From Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg sailing to America to talk at the United Nations, to two more damning reports from the UN and countless headline grabbing demonstrations from Extinction Rebellion, the climate is now on most people’s minds.
With that in focus, Joyce Fegan asked some well-known Irish personalities what environmental action they already take and what their green resolutions for 2020 are
If 2018 was the year of the activist then 2019 was the year of the climate. From Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg sailing to America to talk at the United Nations (UN) to two more damning reports from the UN and countless headline grabbing demonstrations from Extinction Rebellion, the climate is now on most people’s minds.
With that in mind, we’ve asked some well-known Irish personalities what environmental action they already take and what their green resolutions for 2020 are.
Darina Allen’s work has her engaged with food waste on a daily basis. Here she shares some actions she takes, that people can do at home themselves.
“Nowadays, there is a term for everything. You have farm to fork and zero waste. But being more environmentally aware is not that kind of Road to Damascus conversion.
“We have a zero waste ethos in the cookery school and it’s part of the training the students get. We are constantly looking for more ways to reduce our waste.
“One really simple thing people can do is get a hen, not a cock, because they’ll wake up the neighbours — if you’re in an urban area. The hens will eat up all your food scraps, and that’ll come back as eggs a few days later. You’ll also get the compost for your soil and that will improve soil health, which is very important.
“People can also grow something. Even if you live in an apartment in a city, you can grow herbs on your windowsill.
“In terms of managing other food waste — the hens won’t eat the lemon or oranges peels and there’s only so much candied peel you can have.
“Bread is another one — the amount of bread that gets wasted in Ireland. You can throw it into the blender and make breadcrumbs and freeze it and then you have it there for stuffings and crumbles and gratins. I’ve about 10 things now you can use left over bread for, including things like bread and butter puddings.
“With leftover pasta, we fried it on the pan until it was a little crusty and turned it out and people will be fighting over it.
“There are loads of things you can be doing but I’m addressing food waste. I look at every piece of food that’s left over and think how can I serve that up, unapologetically, as a nice meal.
“Making compost is another great thing people can do as the soil in an incredible carbon sink.
“You also can plant some sort of tree, be it a gooseberry bush or a blackberry bush. You can make a pact with nature to plant one thing. It could be a wild rose or rosehip. Imagine if everyone in Ireland did that?
“We’re planting lots of trees here. I want to plant one tree for every student that’s here.
“Also, more generally, if you think — every time you’re about to throw something into the garbage and you challenge yourself and ask: ‘Could I do something with it?’ Every time you go into a supermarket, unwrap that plastic and give it back to them. You don’t have to be rude, just ask them to talk to their suppliers and say you don’t need all that packaging.
“With cardboard, instead of sending it for recycling, reuse it. It keeps down weeds.
“You can do something with everything.
“Once you start challenging yourself about what you can do with leftovers and things you’re putting into the bin, you get into a sort of a vibe. Soon you realise there is very little you can’t repurpose.
“If you do one thing for the environment, it gets you thinking”.
Former Olympic sprinter and Cork woman Derval O’Rourke has always had an interest in the climate, but for 2020 she plans to drive less and cycle more.
She also acknowledges the consciousness-raising role that Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg had in 2019, in terms of climate action.
Here she shares some of the actions her family takes in relation the environment.
“I have a degree in geography so I’ve always had an interest in terms of climate and the environment and my husband is an Olympic sailor and so because of that he’s always very conscious about the environment.
“So, things that we do already, we do a lot when it comes to waste so we have various different bins, we have a recycling bin, regular waste bin, our food, we also put our coffee beans into our planting.
“A lot of our scraps go to our chickens, and then we obviously eat their eggs, so that’s a good thing.
Derval has plans to buy a bike.
“I try to be conscious with how much I drive, when I don’t need my car I try not to use it, that’s something I’ve definitely focused on in 2019 because it’s good for the environment but it’s actually good for my head.
“Clothes-wise, I try not to buy too much fast fashion, I try to buy stuff that I’ll get longer term wear out of.
“For 2020, my green resolutions include wanting to minimise or get rid of take away coffee cups, because I know that’s something I fall down on, even though I have loads of keep cups.
“I’m trying to think of anything else because we are so green and conscious in my house. I’m going to try get back into growing some of my own food because we have a polytunnel and some vegetable patches.
“Greta Thunberg has definitely put a face to the issue and the fact that she is so young, I feel that she has really shaken the world and woken us up a bit more, which has been nothing but positive.
She says it was a good time to do it because people are starting to become a lot more aware. “The fact that it took a teenage girl to do that says a lot. But I’m really glad for her efforts this past year”.
The five-star Park Hotel in Kenmare, Co Kerry, is making its own changes, inspired by the ‘children of today’, and the kind of world we are handing over to them. The hotel’s new actions will not only benefit the environment, but staff and guests financially.
Proprietors John and Francis Brennan have undertaken several green initiatives, with a goal of assisting sustainability and to encourage the team and guests to consider the environment.
The green initiatives, such as sourcing food locally and eradicating plastic wrap, were inspired by some of the actions young people around the world.
“We as a team have been greatly moved by the youth of the world peacefully raising awareness of climate change. It has made us think and look at everything we do differently.
“Park Hotel Kenmare is committed to a path of initiatives to ensure we adopt the best practice for our environment, community and guests. This process is led by John, and supported by all heads of department, who are all involved in implementing a better sustainability practice throughout the property,” said a spokeswoman for the hotel.
“It is the children of today, our guests of the future, that will inherit a very different world to us. If, as is scientifically proven, global warming increases by 1.5% by 2030, the world will reach a point of no return. It is a given, unless we as individuals act, this will happen. Park Hotel Kenmare dates to 1897, it is our responsibility to mind it for future generations to enjoy,” added the spokeswoman.
“Some of the initiatives at the hotel include discounts for guests and staff who are more environmentally aware.
“Any guest staying in the hotel for two nights or longer will receive a 10% accommodation discount if they arrive by electric car. In anticipation of electric cars, Park Hotel Kenmare has installed an EV (electrical vehicle) charging station.
“Parties of four or more people will receive free return transfers to and from Killarney train station.
“The initiatives also extend to employees — so any staff member who walks or cycles to and from work for 30 consecutive working days will receive a dinner voucher for two people. And any member of staff who buys an EV can use the company car for long-distance trips.
“Transport aside, the kitchen garden at the Park Kenmare will be developed further to supply as much vegetables as possible to the hotel.
“In terms of suppliers and sourcing, the hotel will now endeavour to source most of its food from within 30 miles. The hotel will also insist that suppliers deliver goods with minimum plastic packaging.
“All bottle supplies for their bars will be collected directly from the wholesaler to eradicate cardboard and plastic shrink-wrap.
“A full programme of light bulb replacement is also well underway throughout the hotel, with all incandescent and halogen bulbs being changed over to energy-efficient LED versions.
“Things like used ink cartridges and batteries are recycled and timers have been installed on sensor-operating lights to reduce energy waste.
“For 2019, single use plastic was eradicated from the hotel. For 2020, the Park Hotel Kenmare has a goal of eliminating 90% of its plastic.”
Larger changes like the installation of heat pumps and solar panels will be in situ by 2022.
“Changes are occurring outside of the hotel too, with a positive knock-on effect for biodiversity. All fertilisers and sprays need to be environmentally friendly and a wild meadow is being created to provide food sources for native Irish birds and pollen for bees."
Labour party leader Brendan Howlin’s first ever political act was an environmental one, and an act that had a lasting impact on Irish life.
In order for Ireland to take responsibility when it comes to the climate in 2020, and beyond, the politician says that it comes down to a well-regulated economy.
“My very first political act, years before I entered politics, was as an organiser of the protests against building a nuclear power plant in Carnsore Point in Co Wexford. What we expected to be a small enough rally drew thousands of people from around the country, and we did it again the following year with more participants.
“Not only was the nuclear power plant never built, but the whole notion of a nuclear Ireland was stopped by those protests. Our ambition back in the late 1970s was to promote wind as a sustainable alternative. It is a joy today to see a windfarm on the Carnsore site.
“In terms of my politics, I have always been very clear in my mind that the climate issue is centrally about the economy.
"You can’t really be a critic about carbon emissions unless you are also critical about the profit motive, and how that leads some people to make money while leaving the rest of society to pay the price of the pollution their business creates.
“The solution to climate change can only be found in a well-regulated economy and, for me, the north European social democratic market economy is the more environmentally-friendly economy that is possible. You can see it working very well in Denmark, Finland, Sweden and in the Netherlands, all of which not only lead the world on climate action but also in productivity, gender equality and decent wages.
“Labour has also got a clear vision of how we can practically achieve our climate targets.
"It will require a massive home insulation programme to reduce energy costs, and it will require state enterprises like ESB, Coillte and Bord na Móna to become leaders in new industries that will provide the clean, sustainable jobs of the future.”
Actor and model Nadia Forde is also mother to one-year-old Wyatt.
Becoming a parent really drew her attention to making changes that would benefit the environment, so her daughter could enjoy the beauty of the world around her. Here she shares some of the actions she already takes and what she’s planning for 2020.
“I’ve just become more conscious in the small choices I make day-to-day. So really small things like a Keep Cup for my coffee or a bag for life for shopping, I’m always on the lookout for vintage or second-hand pieces, I’ve always loved owning items that have a story or a little history to them.
“As a busy working mum, I’m pretty practical with the choices I make, and I love finding new products or ways that are eco-friendly but also super efficient.
“I’m also vegan, which has a huge impact on my carbon footprint. I think it’s all about balance. The changes don’t need to be radical but the small ones add up to make a difference.
“For 2020, I plan to get outside more once the weather is better and I’d love to find more practical but eco-friendly baby products. Some of the more eco brands I’ve tried can be less reliable in functionality.
“Being a parent is a tough enough job so I’d love to find easier ways to help people make those choices without compromising on practicality.
“I do love some of the sustainable children’s clothing brands out there though.
"I was on holiday in Italy while I was pregnant and I remember standing on the beach where it was obvious there was a real plastic problem in the sea.
“It was the first time I had seen it for myself and that really woke me up to the immediacy of making eco-friendly choices to protect the environment around us.
“I want Wyatt to be able to visit these incredibly beautiful places and for them not to be destroyed by pollution”.
From recycling to buying less clothes, and from eating a plant-based diet to carrying reusable bags, author Cathy Kelly incorporates lots of personal actions into her daily life when it comes to the environment.
“We are heavily into recycling here.
“I got rid of clothes this year and gave all saleable ones to the charity shop Five Loaves in Bray (Co Wicklow) which helps the homeless, and the rest into the nearby recycling centre.
“I am a vegetarian and certainly buy less clothes, though that’s wisdom. You have only one back — how many tops can you put on it. Much earlier this year, I got lovely washable face things that stand in for cotton wool. You get 20, keep them in a little bag, wash when nearly all dirty and Bob’s your uncle: you use them again.
“For 2020, I will be using my cotton fruit and vegetable produce bags because I keep forgetting to bring them with me. I am definitely going to use the ‘take-off packaging’ sites at shops more as grocery shops will only change their packaging when they are financially pushed to do so. If they have to pay to recycle the waste rather than pay a measly 5% levy, then they will take more notice.
“I think Greta is marvellous and has energised a whole generation, as well as putting us older ones to shame.
“Also, with my work for Unicef, I see how climate change is affecting crops which is causing famines, tribal wars as tribes move to fertile land, and creating more human suffering”.
Donate on unicef.ie; Kathy’s new book, The Family Gift, is out now.
At just 22, environmentalist activist Keelin Moncrieff is changing how people live, shop, and play.
She uses her large Instagram following (@kee_mon) to talk about fast fashion, sustainability, and politics. Here she explains a bit about the work she already does and how she incorporates environmental action into her personal life.
“So far I haven’t made a change that inhibits the capacity of my day-to-day enjoyment, but of course, that is subjective and open for debate.
“In terms of individual change, I eat a low-carbon plant-based diet, which entails the self-explanatory non-consuming animal products as well as avoiding high-carbon foods from transport or manufacturing such as avocados, meat substitutes or anything containing palm oil.
“In terms of small-scale environmental activism, I use positive reinforcement to encourage my friends and family to take part in more sustainable practices including: More attentive waste management, less red meat consumption, and alternative transport.
“I’ve used my social media platform to inform my following of the dangers of a warming climate accompanied with the changes that can be made to save it.
“I’ve given presentations on environmental concerns with a focus on sustainable fashion, in colleges, secondary schools, and at festivals around the country, and strongly believe sufficient and proper education surrounding the climate crisis can be the driving force for unanimous positive change.
“Although I have previously been involved in protests and rallies in Dublin, I haven’t been able to attend as many since moving to Galway, I’ve found that there’s less encouragement or awareness on this side of the country.
“One of the systemic changes I would like to see from our Government is a just transition into decentralisation — a lack of transport, housing, and job opportunities outside of the capital is putting a huge strain on resources in the city and forcing many people to emit huge carbon emissions from commuting.
“Focusing and educating this aspect of the issue, I believe could be a good way to encourage more people to get involved in fighting for change, especially outside of Dublin.”