Measuring our carbon footprint


Going about our daily business; travelling to work, looking after our families at home and even just eating all contribute to the greenhouse gases that are heating up our atmosphere. Throughout our boom years we went on a sort of carbon binge pushing out ever greater levels of pollution as our consumption levels increased. We left the CO2 Limitation Agreements we signed behind us in the dust as we blazed our way to our bright new future. We left our European and World partners amazed at our ability to create an economic miracle and at the same time aghast at our capacity for excess. If everyone in the world lived like we do, we’d need the atmosphere and resources of 6 planet Earths. Clearly the Irish model is not something we can boast about or can afford to have it replicated around the world. As we now face a very different future economy it’s time to settle our bill as it were and deal with our carbon hangover. The good news is that as we prepare to tighten our belts in a faltering economy there are real individual savings to be made, if we can finally wake up to this global problem. Could it be that a recession could be one of the key ways of dealing with our carbon addiction? Today we are going to explore our carbon footprint, explain what it means and show ways we can reduce it, best of all we are going to show how we can all save money doing it. Do you know what your carbon footprint is? No. Well I’d say it’s your impact on the environment maybe the amount of energy that you are wasting maybe in household or cars. Have you ever tried to calculate your carbon footprint? No I’ve never done that I know you can on the internet. You can calculate exactly how much your carbon footprint is based on how much electricity you are using and stuff like this. The average output of greenhouse gases per person in Ireland today is 17 tonnes per year. As individuals, we can do little about 9 tonnes of this, caused by our social and economic activity and infrastructure. The other 8 tonnes however are directly within our control and it’s here we can make real savings. If you want to know what 1 tonne of CO2 looks like imagine a swimming pool 25 metres long, 10 metres wide and 2 metres deep. In order to stop global warming we need to get down to 2 tonnes of greenhouse gases per person per year. How are we going to do that? Frank, how much greenhouse gases have we put up into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution? Well right now we’re about double what we were before the Industrial Revolution so we have actually doubled the concentration of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere which is quite an achievement, if you think about it. And how does Ireland perform in all of this? We’re pretty bad. There are reasons for that; I mean, we have a large agriculture sector which contributes to it and also the way we generate our energy is also quite heavily dependent on the use of fossil fuels. And it’s inefficient. And it’s inefficient. So if we are going to calculate our own personal carbon footprint what do we need to know about our transport in terms of the fuel we consume? Well typically if you go to one of these calculators you should have some knowledge of your activities, you need to know the key activities that you are dealing with such as perhaps the distance you would travel to work, or the distance you’d travel on a daily or a weekly basis. Also if you have your electricity bill, you can get the number of kilowatt hours that you’ve used and by having accurate information about these activities you can get a more accurate number of your own emissions associated with your lifestyle. Do you think we can get a big reduction in our own personal carbon footprint? Most people have a significant potential to reduce their emissions and if you look at the way the European Union is going, they have recently indicated that 2 tonnes per person would be a long-term goal in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. So if we are around 8 in our own personal activities, that gives you an indication of the type of challenges that we are facing. It’s time for us all to realise that we’re on a deadly path right now to a significant amount of global warming and sea level rise. Ireland is one and a half times the European average per person in greenhouse gas emissions. At our present rate we’ll exceed our proposed greenhouse gas reduction targets for 2020 by millions of tonnes. I decided it was a good idea to calculate our carbon footprint for real, so I paid a visit to our volunteer who had agreed to act as a guinea pig. Hi Yvonne. Hi Duncan, welcome. So before we actually tackle the calculation the things we are going to find on a carbon calculator are going to be first of all the amount of electricity we use in our home, the amount of heating we use in our home, the amount of travel we do, whether it’s by car or by public transport and then finally the amount of air travel we do or travelling abroad. So they’re the 4 areas. If we start with your transport, Yvonne often drives up and down from Dublin to Cork and uses her car for short journeys into town even though there’s public transport. She also likes her foreign holidays so that gets her off to a bad start. Do you fly much? I do yeah, I absolutely love my sun holidays I have to admit so I try and get away a few times a year. So electricity in the home next and there’s five of you sharing this house isn’t there? That’s correct Duncan. Again 5 people coming and going at different times is a disaster for her footprint as the lights and appliances are rarely off and everyone cooks at different times. She’ll have to look to her housemates for help if she’s going to bring down her CO2. So now let’s look at your space heating here and your hot water heating. There are huge savings to be made by reducing the heating in a house like this; turning down the thermostat and minimising the use of the electric emersion for hot water would also help to bring down her total CO2. Obviously you’ve got a big problem here because oil first of all is very carbon intensive, your house is badly insulated, it’s a large house and you seem to heat the rooms quite warm. We do yes and we tend to leave the doors open because people are always in or out and there’s somebody cooking in the kitchen while someone’s watching TV. Okay Yvonne the moment of truth. Final figures coming up and I think you shouldn’t look here at the moment. Okay. Yeah 21.28 tonnes. That’s bad. Yeah but there’s a lot you can do I think after talking to you, I can see this being dramatically brought down, you can get that down to half actually. Really? I’d appreciate any tips because that is really bad, I’m actually really shocked. I left a camera with Yvonne and asked her to get her housemates to help her reduce her carbon number. So these are my friends. This is Catriona… hi Niamh… and today we are going to find out what my carbon footprint is like and see if we can do something about it for the better. This is the number one problem we have with you I’ve never seen it full Abby why is that? Because you fill it up with two cups and then you press the button. Okay? What are you doing Niamh? I’m putting the fire on. You don’t need to put the fire on, put a cardigan on. We need to turn down the thermostat according to Duncan I’ve never done that before. I think this is the timer put it on for less time that would probably save energy… Yes like an hour less. Yvonne and her housemates are doing well but she can do a lot more by tackling her transport issue so I’ve lined up a surprise for her. What are you doing? I’m going out. Where? To the shop. Come here, can you get some of those energy saving CFL bulbs? Sure Hi Yvonne. Hi come in. This is your present. Oh my God wow, really? So now you won’t be driving so much in your car. You can cycle all the way from Cork. My first bike! Your first bike. Thank you so much. What we’ve been talking about may seem extraordinary if you are hearing it for the first time but as we start to put a price on carbon we’ll all be looking for ways to cut back because it’s going to hit us where it hurts us most – in our pockets. Live where you can drive less. Eat less meat. Set concrete goals to reduce travel. Buy organic products. If you can, walk, use a bike or public transport. Choose your own car for you, make sure it’s the right size for your needs. Use lights and household appliances which cost less to run Reduce the environmental cost of heating and hot water. Think twice before buying another car. To calculate your own carbon footprint log onto change.ie or greenme.ie

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