Two days ago I’d never heard of Andrew Bolt, but now I know he’s an Australian journalist, and a grade A fool.
He came under fire for mocking Greta Thunberg (climate change activist and all-round incredibly, impressive human being) and more specifically for the fact that she has autism. Bolt called Greta “freakishly influential” and wrote, “I have never seen a girl so young and with so many mental disorders treated by so many adults as a guru.” Yeah, really, he said that.
Bolt is not short of critics. He has justifiably been lambasted for his cruel and offensive remarks towards a young girl, and his “ignorance” about autism.
What I found most worryingly familiar about Bolt’s comments is his deadpan denial of the climate crisis, and his self-satisfied conviction of that denial. He’s one of those people, who lives in the same world as the rest of us but is blind to the facts, the endless studies, and many lauded scientists who have been trying very hard, for a very long time, to warn us of impending catastrophe and destruction.
Whatever about being too weak-willed to create change and make sacrifices for the good of yourself, your loved ones, future generations, the planet and all it’s living organisms, it’s another to write an article with contempt for a 16 year old girl who is braver than most adults, two, three, four and five times her age, doing things we as adults should be doing for young people like Greta.
Bolt writes with derision of Thunberg’s decision to travel to the US by yacht; “Of course, she’s going by racing yacht, because she refuses to fly and heat the planet with an aeroplane’s global warming gasses.” I read this in total seriousness, but Bolt writes this with ridicule. I see dedication and passion, Bolt sees a fundamentalist, someone “deeply disturbed” and “strange”.
I was recently at a meeting where a young man raised his hand and challenged the Irish Green Party’s leader, Eamon Ryan, if he would close down the airports, if he became Taoiseach. Ryan gave a solid reply about having to coax and nudge people in the right direction, because we all know no one will vote Green if they can’t take their holiday abroad. And I think Ryan is right in his evaluation of the voting electorate, but it still doesn’t make it the right choice for the planet. And Greta is one of those people who knows that too and is not standing by while “our house is on fire”.
Bolt is like a bystander at an accident with his smartphone out. Telling a relative not to bother trying to resuscitate their loved one, while simultaneously filming it all on his smartphone. At the very least he can stand back and let them get on with it.
At the latest Velo City conference, the annual international summit of the European Cyclists’ Federation that was held in Dublin this year, Dutch blogger and cycling enthusiast, Mark Wagenbuur, was quoted in the Irish papers on Dublin’s cycling infrastructure;
I couldn’t remember when I last felt afraid on my bicycle. Not just anxious, but genuinely fearing for my life. I do now, after I cycled in Dublin last week.
He went on to write, “Cycling infrastructure in Dublin is planned and built at the expense of pedestrians and trees. The city really needs to do something about the free reign of motordom in the city centre.” You can read his entire article here.
When I first read Mark’s comments, my initial feeling was that he was exaggerating. As a regular cyclist in Dublin over the past five years, I have never had an incident and frequently advise others that cycling in Dublin is “really not that bad, I promise”. It prompted me to reconsider my position and research what good cycling infrastructure really looks like. I quickly came to realise that my previously held belief that cycling in Dublin wasn’t “that bad”, was because I didn’t know what good cycling infrastructure looked like.
After doing some research, I’d like to share with you just some of the impressive and innovative ideas and plans I found cities have put forth to prioritise cyclists and their safety. In turn these changes have helped their citizens to reduce their personal emissions, improve their health and reduce traffic congestion.
Denmark’s Cycle Superhighways
In Denmark 9/10 people are said to own a bicycle, with cycling representing a strong element of Danish history and a symbol of freedom for the Danes. In the 1970s, Denmark introduced car free days during the Mideast oil crisis, with large parts of the city closed off to vehicles allowing pedestrians and cyclists to have a not too oft, joyous free reign of the city.
In order to facilitate the large numbers of cyclists, town planners had to look at ways they could widen cycle paths and increase cyclist safety. Hence the cycle ‘superhighways’.
These highways are designed to provide cyclists with wider pathways that have fewer stops and better connections in their city. This encourages residents to leave their cars at home, reduces the risks of obesity, increases positive mental health, lessens traffic congestion and improves air quality. The Dane’s unique perspective on the economical benefits of improved cycling infrastructure has helped politicians and town planners to develop this kind of infrastructure for their citizens.
France’s Reconquest of the River Seine in Paris
Two years ago, the left wing parties won a controversial vote to close off 3.3km of riverside road running along the river Seine. Car drivers met the decision with shock and anger, saying it would not decrease traffic congestion or pollution and would simply move it elsewhere.
The deputy Mayor and member of the Ecology Green Party, Christophe Najdovski, disagreed, “Behaviour will change. Habits will change. And our objective, to reduce traffic and thus pollution, will be achieved.”
The plan was launched in 2016, and in 2018 the courts ruled that Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s ambitious plan to remove cars from the once congested stretch would remain car free.
Norway’s Cycling Lift in Trondheim
The Trondheim bicycle lift aka Trampe bicycle lift, was invented and installed by Jarle Wanwik in 1993. To someone viewing the lift for the first time it appears strange, but as any cyclist will contest, it also looks undeniably useful. It is supposedly the first and only bicycle lift in the world.
I know many people who bought a bicycle for their daily commute and ended up selling it because what seemed to them an insurmountably steep hill. Would the Trondheim Lift prevent such resales? I think yes.
Daejeon-Sejong Solar Cycling Pathway in Seoul
One of the few solar panelled roadways in the world and stretching 20 km from Daejeon to Sejong, the solar panelled bike lane generates electricity while also protecting cyclists from harsh sunlight.
Critics claim cyclists are exposed to traffic fumes. However, without these new and innovative designs being piloted, cars will continue to command our city spaces and win out as first-choice for commuters.
Morlan’s Tunnel in San Sebastián, Spain
Once the thoroughfare for a railway train, Morlan’s tunnel was created in 2009 to connect the neighbourhoods of Amara and Ibaeta in San Sebastián. The tunnel itself is 840m long and runs on a 2km cycling path stretch. It’s a perfect example of how currently obsolete infrastructure can be reimagined spaces for the benefit of all. It’s model is not unlike the Waterford Greenway, a 46km cycling path from Waterford to Dungarvan in Ireland, also previously a railway track.
Holland’s Bicycle Carparks
If you’ve ever parked your bicycle in a “bad” neighbourhood, you know that feeling of relief when it’s still there when you get back. To make bicycling parking that bit easier, Holland has introduced multi-storey cycling carparks, with Utrecht boasting one of the biggest in the world.
An impressive 12,500 spaces are available in the parking lot, and the interior design leaves enough space for cyclists to cycle inside in order to quickly find the nearest parking space. These cycling spaces are separated from the walkways to prevent accidents between pedestrians and cyclists.
The Hovenring “Cycling Roundabout” in North Brabant, Holland
If I was going to mention any country twice in this list, it had to be Holland, and the Hovenring is such a cool bit of architectural engineering that it’s hard to leave it out of this list. This entirely suspended cycling path is the first of it’s kind in the world and was designed to increase the flow of traffic, while also improving the safety and infrastructure of cyclists.
My list ends here, but these are just a few of the fantastic inventions and changes forward thinking developers, engineers, architects, politicians and citizens have welcomed into their cities. It’s good to keep in mind that there are other tried and tested models out there and that Dublin and Irish cyclists should not settle for anything less than improved infrastructure that keeps them safe, improves congestion and prioritises the planet.
Venice is sinking and Lapland has no snow. Locals increasingly face extreme rainfall, drought and heatwaves. The damage to our climate has impacted our ecosystems, economies and human health, and worryingly, projections show that these extremes will only increase and worsen over many European regions.
Even if we were to reduce our carbon emissions to zero, the emissions that have already been and continue to be sent into the atmosphere will have an impact for centuries to come.
The tourism sector seems to be in denial about the impact and no country has a specific climate change tourism strategy. It’s unacceptable to place all the responsibility on the tourist, but in the meantime, what can we do to be responsible tourists, and lead the way for responsible action?
The aviation industry accounts for 2% of carbon emissions (some studies say more) and is one of the fastest growing source of CO2 emissions in the world. Technology is being developed to produce more sustainable airplanes, that are powered by battery or biomass fuel rather than kerosene, but for the time being, it’s expected it could take decades before this technology will be available to us. In the mean time, high altitude planes produce contrails (trails of water vapour condensation) which are highly damaging to the earth, and whose effects double at night time, according to Dr. Piers Forster from the University of Leeds.
Shifting all UK night flights to the daytime would save the equivalent of 2.5% of the UK’s annual carbon dioxide emissions, he said.
So we can’t hang around for the aviation industry to fix this problem overnight, and without public pressure the industry won’t have the real motivation to make the changes, nor will governments feel they need to regulate it. Just look at Finnair, recently caught out for providing misleading information about it’s carbon emissions reduction. So how do we do better?
Trains and Buses
Public transport in the form of trains and buses, are infinitely better than airplanes, and many are government owned. It’s always good to support a government funded service, as ideally that feeds back into government funded sources and amenities.
It’s also becoming easier for tourists to hire fully electric cars in many destinations around Europe, with Enterprise adding electric cars to their fleets from as early as 2011. But what if you need to cross the water?
Ferries are more complex and it can be difficult to define their benefits in relation to airplanes as there are many factors in play. Cruise liners for example contribute high emissions because of the electricity needed to power onboard services. More modern boats and ships are made with lighter metals, such as aluminium, so they require less fuel to be powered. They are also painted with non-pollutive paint, which helps prevent water pollution. The Passenger Shipping Association’s (PSA) carried out an independent study and found that ferries contribute CO2 emissions of 0.12 kg CO2 per passenger kilometre. For airplanes it has been figured at 0.35 kg CO2 per passenger kilometre. However, it all comes down to the boat or plane model, passengers on board, distance travelled, time of day scheduled, and definitely more factors, my puny brain can’t emotionally deal with right now.
Walking and Biking
However, if you are considering a biking holiday or a walking pilgrimage, you are courting with the possibility of enjoying a potential near zero emissions holiday. The less time we spend in the sky and the sea at the moment, the better, and opting for public transport or leg powered transport carves your way to a much more environmentally empathic holiday.
Use your next holiday as an opportunity to support local businesses and local initiatives. Drink the local beer. Visit a restaurant that prides itself in selling in-season and local produce. Spend your money on locally produced food, goods and services.
A common definition of “buying local” is consuming food and products that are grown or made within 100 miles of their selling point. Food that is bought locally tends to be safer, healthier and better for the economy of the country you are visiting and the environment as a whole. The less food has travelled, the less carbon emissions have been emitted into the air due to transport.
It’s not always straight forward to know the travel miles of all the food and products you buy, but start having those conversations with sellers in the market, seek out restaurants that advertise themselves as organic, local or in-season and visit local craftspeople’s shops and stalls.
Visit local charities and initiatives that support the local ecosystems and help support wildlife conservation. Book tours that are eco-friendly and help you learn about local customs, traditions, nature and the landscape.
We’ve gotten much better (not perfect) at rejecting single use waste and opting for reusable coffee cups, water bottles, lunch boxes, shopping bags utensils, etc. However, still so many people don’t take this good habit abroad with them. When we make these clean choices, we make them for the planet as a whole, so don’t get lax when it comes to your holiday. Do your best to use your reusable and refillable products and even try learning a few helpful sentences that will make explaining you don’t want that straw or you you brought your own cup, easier to explain in Swahili.
Likewise, collect and dispose of your waste responsibly, giving equal respect to the beaches abroad, as you would at home. Recycle wherever possible and don’t litter.
Sea, Sun, Safe
Avoid toxins for you and the sea, by using Ocean Safe or Reef Safe® sunscreens, that use natural ingredients and are preferably vegan and cruelty-free.
Opt for non-motorised sea transport like, kayaks, canoes, surfboards, etc., so you can avoid fuel waste entering the water and damage to sea-life.
Coral reefs are extremely diverse and sensitive ecosystem, never ever touch the coral, as they can be affected by the oil on your skin. Dive Inrecommends using buoyancy aids to help prevent overzealous kicking and causing damage to coral.
These are just some of the ways you can help the planet when you go on holiday. Please share any other ideas you have in the comment section below.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.
Local County Councils in Ireland have been issuing warnings for, Palm Oil Fatbergs, that have been washing up on Irish Shores. Some of the Fatbergs are oversized chunks and others are large, boulder sized fatty deposits lining our beautiful seashores.
Fingal County Council wrote; “A number were found on Sunday at Hoare’s Rock, Skerries, and results from laboratory tests have showed that the substance was Palm Oil. It is believed that the Palm Oil was part of a consignment which came off a ship in the English Channel about 18 months ago and was washed ashore by the weekend storm. The congealed substance has been turning up sporadically on beaches and coasts in England but this is the first time it has been recorded in Fingal.”
Most worryingly, these Fatbergs are toxic to dogs, who can be attracted to their diesel like smell.
A Fatberg is not just a term for Palm Oil though, it refers to any large mass of solid waste and is often a term used when describing London’s sewage problems, where congealed fats, oils and sanitary products have become congealed together to form solid masses.
The best way to help this problem is to make a concerted effort to cut down on single use waste, and opt for reusable items for cleaning your face, make-up removal, nappies, kitchen cleaning, etc.
Household oil is a trickier product to recycle, but pouring it down the sink can cause these blockages, and can build up, causing oxygen levels in the water to shrink and wildlife to suffocate. Instead, you should let the oil cool first, transfer it to a sealable container and take it to your local recycling centre (if they accept oil, which not all will). Where they are accepted, these oils are cleaned and recycled in animal feed and fuel adapted for cars.
Otherwise, you can compost oil in small amounts, but large amounts of oil slows down the composting process.
For large quantities of oil, Enva offer a pick up and recycling service.
For more information on what you can recycle in Irish recycling centres, click here.
Last year, a study showed about 8 million metric tons of plastic waste flowed into our seas and oceans, enough to grow a second Brazil.
Most of this trash comes from ten rivers that are highly populated; Yangzte, Indus, Yellow, Hai, Nile, The Ganges, Pearl, Amur, Niger and Mekong. The article states, it would be best to catch the waste at the source, but even better would be to reduce the use of plastic altogether.
Ireland, doesn’t rank high on the list of countries that produce the most plastic waste, however the sad reality is we rank as low as we do, because we choose to export our problem overseas and we are one of the top producers of plastic waste in Europe, producing 61 kilograms of plastic waste per person, per year.
In January 2018 it was reported that Ireland was exporting 95% of it’s plastic waste to China, who have declared they will no longer be accepting it. So what can we do to help our island, the oceans and the planet? “Give up straws!!!” you say. Well if it was only that easy. Straws aren’t helping, but being a not too incaaonvenient piece of plastic to give up, the straw bandwagon is overflowing with do-gooders and part-time “eco-warriors”. Alternatively, I give you a much more worrisome list of plastics that are destroying our oceans, laying siege to our rivers and holding our marine life hostage.
Fishing Nets – When a fishing net begins to disintegrate, it too often gets dumped in the ocean leaving it for marine life to eat or become entangled in, and either way starving to death. The ocean’s creatures fill their belly up with plastic and can no longer eat anything of actual sustenance, leaving them to die a painful death, or they become caught in the net’s hooks and are left to languish on the end of a spike. These nets are commonly referred to as “ghost fishing nets”, as they drift through the ocean with a ghostlike quality forcing creatures to submit to its wake. Initiatives and businesses have been set up to recycle these nets in a more efficient and environmentally friendly way, however they haven’t yet been able to fully tackle the problem. Adidas designed a runner made from recycled fishing nets, which is a good way to highlight the issue, but this will not be enough to get us out of the red, so how can we make a significance difference here? My number one way would be to give up eating fish. The second option is to eat fish that has not been caught with nets. Easier said than done. Useful source on sustainable fishing from The Irish Wildlife Trust; here.
Plastic Bags – Reusable shopping bags are widely available, and in Ireland we have the added incentive of avoiding them, as we’ve had to pay for our plastic bags since 2012. Long gone are the days when you get your plastic bag for free. You can extend the policy of bringing your own bags to replace the plastic bags we place our loose fruit and vegetables in. Caught without a bag? While packing a few vegetables in a plastic bag before weighing, consider if you can leave them loose? I personally weigh all my vegetables loose, and it saves me using a plastic bag with a life span equal to the time it takes you to travel from your local supermarket to your kitchen. For me, that’s about ten minutes.
Coffee Cups – It came as a shock to many that their paper coffee cups were not actually recyclable. Recent pressure has encouraged coffee chains to offer incentives for customers who use reusable cups and some coffee houses now even use recyclable/compostable cups themselves. However, reusable is still the best option, as recycling cups is thirsty business, and requires a lot of energy and resources.
Plastic Water Bottles – This one doesn’t seem to get the same coverage as coffee cups have enjoyed in recent years, but it’s as bad if not worse for the environment. BPA free bottles are readily available, so save yourself money, and help cut down on waste and plastic.
Disposable Cutlery – A plethora of eco-friendly cutlery is out there. Same goes for lunch boxes. Try http://www.earthmother.ie for a range of options.
Single-use cleaning products – J-cloths, bounty, wipes. They all make me cringe. One simple wipe and it’s dumped in the bin. Use tea clothes and at the very least cloths that have some durability. It’s even worth throwing your j-cloths in the wash to get a few more uses out of them.
Menstrual Products – As women we need these products and it’s a personal item with some proving more user-friendly than others. If a menstrual cup feels out of your comfort zone, consider tampons without the plastic and cardboard applicators. But know that most tampons are drenched in some very worrisome chemicals.
Microplastics- Microplastics consist of decomposing plastic waste, micro beads, synthetic fibres, to name but a few. They are believed to absorb toxins which can be harmful to humans, and microbeads have been banned in the UK since January, 2018. We know these toxic plastics enter our bodies through the water system and by consuming fish, but we don’t yet know how it might be affecting us. What we really need to do here, is cut down on every possible plastic to make our oceans healthier and happier, as well as ourselves.
The consoling thing here, is that all these plastics have more environmentally friendly alternatives. Please see a list to get started with below;
Want to help the planet, but you aren’t sure where to start? How does starting small sound to you?
I’m a firm believer in making small changes, if everyone made a small change to how they consume, we would be looking at a very different future for our planet. I’m also a fan of small steps, because small steps can be the gateway we need to monumental changes. Ireland ranks one of the top in the EU for its recycling rates and according to Repak.ie, Ireland had 154 landfills 20 years ago, now it only has 4. That’s a pretty amazing turn around for a small change in households across the country, a change that no one really gives a second thought about now.
So here are ten small changes that anyone can do and that if everyone did, would lead to one big change for our planet and its inhabitants.
1. Use reusable coffee cups – Conscious Cup Campaigndetail how Ireland is estimated to dispose of 200 million non-recyclable coffee cups every year. Their aim is to focus attention on the plight and encourage consumers to use reusable cups and cafe owners to both accept and incentivise their use. Insomnia just recently announced that all their cups would be recyclable, so coffee chains are breaking under the pressure. It’s great to see. If you are interested in learning more and seeing how you can take action e.g., encouraging your local coffee shop to become a conscious cup campaign supporter, check out their website.
Most importantly, make a once off purchase of a reusable cup. I have a William Morris designed cup made from the world’s most sustainable crop; bamboo fibre. However, Keep Cup is very popular, and comes in many different shades making it a good alternative, especially the glass ones. More and more cafes are offering discounts to customers who use reusable cups too, so expect a regular saving on your coffee. Melanie May’s blog has a map of cafe’s that offer said discount.
It goes without saying, plastic bottles fall directly under this column too. So swap your plastic bottles for a refillable bottle.
2. Be a bag lady, not a plastic hag – A “bag for life” is not a plastic one in my opinion. Though the plastic bag levy has done wonders, and been very effective in reducing our plastic waste, I would encourage you to go the extra mile and avoid plastic bags on your next shopping trip entirely. Getting into the habit of keeping a small tote bag every time you leave the house will never leave you stranded in the supermarket and having to reach for an icky piece of plastic. I really like these ones from Amazon that are machine washable and have an extra piece of canvas for your overflowing shopping. I also use it when I need to carry a lot for work or as an overnight bag. However, there’s endless choice in local shops, if you don’t wish to order online.
3. Frequent farmer’s markets – Unfortunately it’s near impossible to avoid plastic when you shop in your local supermarket and farmer’s markets can be more expensive, rarely offering the deals you receive in big chains like Tesco or Aldi. However, visit your local farmer’s market and see if there’s some foods you can adapt into your larger supermarket spend. You never know, you might develop a taste for it, and the more we support local produce the better the options will be in the future. Below are some of my favourite markets and shops that offer fresh produce without the plastic waste;
The People’s Park, Queen’s Road, Dún Laoghaire, Dublin. (Every Sunday)
4. Change your toothbrush you scurvy riddled, scumbag – Another important, everyday item that’s made of that gross plastic goop. Time to dump the plastic teeth shiners for a more environmentally friendly option; bamboo toothbrushes. Unfortunately after stringent testing it seems not all companies are delivering on their claims of 100% biodegradable materials. A burning test has exposed the sad truth that some companies are making false claims. Brush with Bamboo avoids pig hair with bristles made of 62% castor bean oil and 38% nylon. Unfortunately biodegradable bristles is not something that actually exists, so companies that offer such a thing, should be avoided.
Bonus points if you don’t leave the tap running while you brush them too.
5. Be a transport troll – I own a motorbike and I’m all too aware of how it negatively effects the environment, so to counteract my hobby I stick to public transport during the week. If I need to travel Monday to Friday, I need my green card. As well as trains and buses, I cycle and walk as much as possible. Thankfully Dublin boasts a great transport system, but admittedly it’s more difficult in the countryside or even in other towns in Ireland. Offer lifts or car share if possible. It might not seem like a big deal, but doing it and explaining to others your reasoning why, will be a conversation starter, will encourage good will, might influence others, and help highlight environmental concerns, at the very least.
6. No straws – Next time you are handed a straw with your drink ask yourself, “Do I need this straw to drink my drink? Really?” Straws are one of the top items of rubbish and plastic found in our oceans. They get lodged in the stomachs of our marine life and while their stomachs slowly fill with plastic waste, they die from starvation. Now look at this cute picture of a turtle and tell me that’s right…
It’s estimated that the US uses 500 million straws a day and it takes up to 200 years for plastic straws to decompose. The most popular plastic, bendy straw wasn’t patented until 1936, which means every one that was simply tossed, is lying around somewhere. Isn’t that simply terrifying?
If you can’t get over not having your little, slurpy, phallic friend or you suffer from teeth sensitivity, you can purchase a recyclable straw online and it never has to leave your side.
7. Turn off the lights – I think we are all guilty of this one. Literally being too lazy to hit a switch, and it goes for heating, electronic devices, hot water, and more. If you aren’t using it, turn it off. If you want to be a real “hardcore” eco-warrior, turn off the lights when watching TV or using your phone. The campaigners behind Earth Week explained; “If we all turn off 2 lights in our homes for an hour, every day, we’ll save more than 5 million kilowatt hours of electricity nationwide, every year. The amount of coal it takes to produce that much electricity could fill up the Empire State Building – almost three times!”
In Ireland, we’ve been steadily increasing our electricity sources from renewable energy, but we are far from 100%, so it’s important to get into the mindset that every time you switch on the light or buy non-recyclable materials, that’s a resource that will never return to a planet you live on with finite resources. Puff. Gone.
8. No to kitchen towels – What a waste to produce a plastic packaged tissue that is thrown away after one use, and just for spills. We are already doing that on our bum, do we need to do it in the kitchen too? J-cloths are a much sounder alternative and can be gently machine washed a few times, but even better use actual fabric tea-towels and rinse them out after use. Have a small bounty of them, so you are never at a loss.
9. Take shorter showers – It can be very comforting to linger in the shower, but it’s really a waste of water. Get in, get out, and get on with your day. If you are partial to a cold shower, you can expect that to save you on your heating bill.
10. Run full loads – This one really gets my goat, and it goes for the dish washer, dryer and washing machine. If you are someone who puts a couple of towels or under garments in the washing machine for three hours, you must have been spawned from the fiery pits of Mordor itself.
So that’s my list of ten simple steps, but note the operative word is “simple”. This is far from extensive and far from the biggest changes you can make for the planet. However, it is undoubtedly a positive step in the right direction. So get out there and start saving the planet!!!