‘I have not taken a flight in three years’: Readers speak of their own climate action

From retrofitting to cutting out plastics - what people are doing to help combat climate change

The Government’s Climate Action Plan will mean radical changes for business and households. Each individual is being asked to play a part.

What sacrifices are people willing to make? We asked readers for their view, and here are some of the responses. Some entries have been edited for length.

“Never visiting the petrol station again is a relief to my pocket as well as my conscience.” – M McMahon

I have not taken a flight in over three years. I bought an electric car and find the high cost of purchase is offset against the very low running costs. I have changed my electricity supplier to 100 per cent renewable. I recycle and make my own compost. I plant pollinator friendly plants in my garden and use long-life energy bulbs and switch off as much as possible, leaving no pilot lights on. I buy very little meat, eating mostly plant-based foods and fish.

I am willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that this planet is handed to the following generations in a healthy state. I believe that the struggle against climate warming should be on a war footing, to focus minds on what needs to be done. The commitment and ingenuity of the next generation is a source of hope but leadership from their elders must come first.

“If we all start to make changes in our lives, soon companies will follow where consumers lead them.” – Susanna Dowling

Living in Sydney in 2019 I got a sense of what the future may hold for us. The crippling years-long drought followed by a devastating bush-fire season turned the country into a smouldering wasteland. We drove from Sydney to Melbourne at Christmas, driving through smoke for seven hours. The previously lush green landscape was dried and burned.

I looked at what I could do to play my part in doing less to contribute to climate change. The number one thing an individual can do is to eat less meat and dairy, so our family switched to a plant-based diet. Once we got over the initial adjustments we now find it easier and cheaper to eat this way. I had already started some zero-waste practices which I upped, doing more recycling, composting and donating and creating minimal landfill waste – our waste is now a quarter of what it used to be.

We made the decision to come back to Ireland so that we could reduce the flying involved with living on the other side of the world. Ultimately, I believe that we can have a smaller carbon footprint here. In the future our goal is to get all our energy and heating from renewable sources and the next car we buy will be electric. It's going to take all of us to turn this ship around.

“For short journeys we use our bikes.” – Jean Swift

Over the years we have insulated the house on the interior, and later we had a complete external wrap. About 2015 we changed our boiler for a more modern gas boiler. In 2017 we had PVC panels installed and in 2018 we bought an electric car to replace a 14-year-old BMW.

We have done everything possible to minimise our carbon use in the house. I am very disappointed and indeed angry that the Government’s plan is so lacking in ambition. It is saying to the voter: don’t worry your head, we will do all the work and you won’t be inconvenienced and in any case it’s all for tomorrow. I am fed up listening to the Government saying there will be a shortfall in 2022 but we will make up for it in later years.

I propose a few simple starting points from next January: ban all private vehicles inside the canals in Dublin and tax private parking lots including those attached to business offices within city limits. These simple measures would call for leadership and courage, leadership we unfortunately lack.

“My retrofit was funded via savings, mortgage and SEAI grants.” – Pauline Conway

Obviously governments and the private sector have to fulfil their major responsibilities in combating climate change and do the heavy lifting. In 2011-2012 I refitted my 1960 semi-detached house to NZEB, A3 BER standard.

It was the first Irish retrofit to meet the standards of the German Passive House Institute. I'm now planning to replace the small gas back-up boiler with a heat pump and to change my water heating solar panel to enable micro-generation. To achieve the Government's Climate Action Plan targets, making private retrofits more affordable and accessible, and providing large scale retrofit funding for local authority, social and rental housing is essential.

“For several years I have been aware of the personal benefits of improving my home.” – Kieran Walsh

Having limited resources for what I thought would be a large task, I kept putting the idea on the (very) long finger. I have been assisting a family member putting external insulation on his house. I am impressed by the system used by the contractor and his efficiency. The benefits are already apparent, even before the contract is complete.

On the other hand I have a comprehensive description of an upgrade to a smallish house which included external insulation and the installation of an air-to-water heating system. I have serious doubts about the potential of the heating system and consider the total dependence on public service electricity and its ever-creeping costs to be an unproven concept. To receive the available grants, the householder had to remove all chimneys. That is very questionable. My research will continue, particularly in the light of upcoming Dáil proposals for grants and loans.

“If the Climate Action Plan is to succeed grant levels must be reviewed.” – Patrick O’Sullivan

We had planned a large retrofit but when we had our property examined we found prices were crazy. Even with SEAI grants the total was approximately €58,000 and our home is in good condition. The SEAI grant is approximately €6,100. Low-cost loans are not a benefit; it’s still an amount that has to be repaid.

“It is difficult to go beyond a certain level as an individual. It requires bigger steps to be taken at local and national government levels.” – Will

We have cut back on plastics and cut out single use items. We cycle more to avoid car use and take the train whenever possible. It is up the chain where changes are needed though. Plastic wrapping in supermarkets needs to be banned. Plastic bottles should all be returned and re used. Public transport needs to be made free (or for minimal charges) and car parks need to be built at train stations, and congestion charges in cities introduced.

“We have an area of our garden left to grow wild as an ‘ark’ though I do fear the neighbours think we’re just lazy!” – Susan

We are now a two-electric vehicle household. We have solar panels installed and got new windows and insulation on our home. We have cut back on our red meat intake hugely and eat vegetarian meals a couple of times each week. I’ve started shopping in a zero waste shop, buy all my fruit and veg in the greengrocers (no plastic waste) and we recycle as much as we can. I use palm-free soap rather than shower gels and try to avoid products with unnecessary packaging. I line dry most clothes and only use the tumble dryer for towels (or emergencies!).

“Holiday at home for the next five years so the domestic tourist market can develop and flourish.” – Tom McElligott

Even though I don’t believe individuals can mitigate much against climate change in the absence of industrial and government policy, we can change the mood music, particularly for our kids’ sake. First off only buy the food you will eat every week. Second, limit car journeys and cycle instead. Last but not least become a digital subscriber to every periodical that you read. There is simply no excuse for printed material that ends up in a recycling bin that most likely will cause even more carbon pollution when it can be read online.

“It seems to me the debate over climate has focused on getting everyone to ‘do their bit’ but the reality is that those who emit the most are doing the least.” – Mia Gallagher

I have been reducing plastic, meat, fish and petrol consumption steadily over the last four years. Appalled by David Attenborough’s documentary on ocean plastic, I started off buying as much loose food as possible, then began making my own cosmetics (ridiculously easy), and I now buy next to nothing in plastic wrapping. One thing led to another.

I reduced driving to one day a week max – sometimes on rare occasions twice – and now cycle pretty much everywhere. I am more conscious about heat and water consumption; I buy second-hand clothes and try to assess how much carbon has gone into a product if I’m considering buying it. I switch off the internet at night and try (not altogether successfully) to reduce my online usage.

These are partial strategies but they’ve enlightened me about the much bigger structural changes that need to happen if existing climate injustice and looming climate catastrophe is to be reversed. Citizens’ assemblies can result in pragmatic, joined-up, effective and often surprisingly simple solutions to what present as complex issues.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times

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