Monday 27 May 2019

First Look: The world's first visitor centre devoted to climate change opens in Wicklow

Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

"We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it."

Barack Obama was quoting one of America’s governors, Jay Inslee, when he said this at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015.

This quote is also one of the first things you’ll read when you visit Wicklow’s Cool Planet.

This interactive visitor centre is thought to be the first of its kind in the world, taking children and adults on a journey of what the world will look like in 2050 if we keep up the lifestyle habits that are damaging the planet.

The centre, which aims to educate everyone about climate change in a fun and interactive way, gives every visitor “an agent ID” at the start of their visit. Everyone then becomes an “agent of change”, organisers hope, by the end of their visit.

“The first thing we do is get you to work out your carbon footprint,” says Vicky Brown, CEO of Cool Planet. “We have two types, one for kids under 16 and one for over 16s. It’s all touch screen technology, lots of visuals, so it’s really simple and fun to do.”

The centre is housed in what was once the old bakery and laundry of Powerscourt House and Gardens, beside Avoca, and it’s the brainchild of Norman Crowley from Crowley Carbon and Sarah Slazenger, the estate's custodian.

“Sustainability is in the Slazenger’s DNA and they’re so proud because this is what their grandfather bought the estate for… he actually bought it for the waterfall, he didn’t know he was buying the house and gardens as well. He was buying it because he believed in renewable energy and believed in a carbon free future as such."

“The Slazenger family feel really passionately about this, that they need to pass on this estate to the next generation in exactly the same state that they inherited it. And that means not having the impact of climate change happen to it.”

"So put those two heads together, Noman and Sarah’s, and they said why not do something here.”

The centre eschews reams of grim statistics and figures about climate change, and instead arms them with simple ideas on how they can be kinder to the environment.

“We have this view, ‘let’s make sustainability so cool that it becomes the norm’, and what we mean by that is we’re not going to point our finger at you and say you’ve got to be a vegetarian, and you can’t drive a car, and you can’t go on foreign holidays, because that’s moving backwards, and nobody wants to move backwards. Everyone wants to move forwards.”

“But if you actually think I can change my diet a little bit [and eat less red meat], it’s actually healthier for me, irrespective of the planet, it is actually better if you eat a plant based diet. It’s better for your heart.”

“What we’re trying to say to people is maybe think things through a little further. Maybe hold onto your old diesel or petrol car two years longer than you’d planned because the next change will be electric vehicles or hybrid, as opposed to making the switch now. Just little things that make sense.”

“There’s a great movement about plastic now, straws are a big thing, coffee cups. Everyone in our office is going around with keep cups but every now and again you make the mistake of forgetting it.”

“It’s even thinking about what you eat. In our house, we would have had typical Irish food habits, we’ve young kids so there was lots of shepherd’s pies, lasagnes, spaghetti bolognese, you know the things that kids will eat and they’ll eat loads of. Now it’s just thinking about it differently – we always have vegetarian chilli, we never have meat chilli ever. My youngest son became vegetarian... he does it partly around the planet and partly around what we’re doing to animals.”

“The rest of the family has gone from eating meat maybe five to seven days, now we eat vegetarian for at least four days, and then red meat once a week at the most.”

Householders who are renovating their homes, or are looking for ways to make their homes energy efficient, could consider installing a heat pump instead of continuing with fossil fuels like gas and oil, Vicky says.

Or even, instead of using a plastic toothbrush, how about using a bamboo toothrush?

“We have bamboo toothbrushes and bamboo straws on sale here, and they go out the door. We have beautiful little ‘Cool Planet’ soaps that are made with no palm oil as well, as well as other products like keep cups.”

She added: “We always say we’re not the greenies - they’re brilliant, but they’ve already been converted.”

“Also, we’re not the Donald Trumps. We’re not the people on the other side who are completely denying it. We’re about every day people living busy lives, people who ultimately want happy, sustainable communities. So you have to work within that and be aware that that’s what people’s lives are like. So make those choices easy for them.”

“We’re not going to stop driving our cars. We still want to go places and in terms of flights, we know where air travel is going to go. They’re looking at lower carbon emissions fuels, they’re looking at electric planes, you can carbon offset your flight, you can do things that make it easier and better.”

Most of all, Vicky and the team, say Cool Planet is about fun, and it's an opportunity to look at how we live in a fresh way.

“Not bamboozling people with lots of facts and figures and not making people feel bad for what they’re doing because nobody wants that either."

School groups who want to take a tour between now and the end of June, can visit Cool Planet for free if they book it in advance.

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