Saturday 24 August 2019

Frank Coughlan: 'It's not easy being Green - so how do you measure up?'

Green wave: Green Party’s Ian Carey celebrates his election in Swords with wife Ciara and their children Molly (2) and Art (six months). Photo: Frank McGrath
Green wave: Green Party’s Ian Carey celebrates his election in Swords with wife Ciara and their children Molly (2) and Art (six months). Photo: Frank McGrath
Frank Coughlan

Frank Coughlan

A listener texted Pat Kenny on Newstalk the other morning to moan that had he known the Greens were against Galway's ring-road he would never have voted for them. There's one man who didn't think through how best to exercise his franchise.

Is this indicative of how shallow a pond eco-politics is paddling in, or is there really something more profound and sustainable going on?

Was this election wave, even if not the tsunami originally predicted, a genuine indication that Irish voters are shifting when it comes to the environment or were they simply sticking up a defiant two fingers to those in power?

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Voting for these nice, earnest people is the easy bit, but living a prudent life and making the inevitable sacrifices is not unlike giving up the drink for Lent: once the novelty wears off it's a bit of a slog.

But that only lasts 40 days and nights, while the climate wars are for keeps.

So here's a simple test for Green voters and all of you really.

It was created without recourse to any scientific methodologies or modelling. The only criterion employed was common sense, if only because it isn't common at all.

No mention here of the really obvious ones, like domestic water waste, single-use plastic bottles, non-biodegradable take-way coffee cups or the school run. Those are a given at this stage. If you're justifying any of those then you're beyond eco-redemption. But there are countless more boxes to tick and I've chosen a relevant if random 10.

Fudge your answer on four or more and your green turns to amber. Demure on six and you are in the red. That means you are a present danger to busy bees and a menace to your grandchildren, born and unborn alike.

Some are fixable by simple and sensible life choices, others we are hardwired to keep doing due to the lazy laws of convenience and our religious devotion to consumerism:

1. Concrete jungle: Have you paved over your front garden to park the second car or because of lawn-phobia? London, for instance, loses about 700 acres of garden greenery a year. This destroys vital habitats and causes urban flooding.

2. In a spin: How often do you re-use towels, change bedsheets or fill the laundry basket? Washing and tumble-drying a load every two days for a year is equivalent to flying from Dublin to London and back with 25km taxi rides to and from airports. When did you last use the clothes line?

3. Frequent flyer: Are you an obsessive mini-breaker who can't resist a bargain hop to anywhere and swoon at the scent of a duty-free? Do you enjoy retail-binges in New York, stags in Prague, pilgrimages to Old Trafford or Medjugorje? As a guide, we average six flights each per annum

4. Clothes encounter: Check the labels on your threads and guess how many air miles they clocked up before you put them on your back for next to nothing. If you're not paying, someone else is. So who's the bigger victim; the 100-hour-a-week Asian seamstress or our planet?

5. Beauty and the beast: Toothpastes, lotions, shower gels, shampoos and detergents, and many of the things that make us presentable and smell nice contain microbeads that contaminate marine habitats. The EU plans to ban them by next year. In the meantime, do you really have to power-shower every day?

6. Caffeine fix: Capsule coffee machines are the hipster must-have of the decade. You probably need a shot first thing in the morning. But millions of aluminium and plastic capsules end up in landfills every year. Even the Nespresso CEO admitted they are a disaster. Really, George? Really?

7. Wet behind the ears: They began as the saviour of parents tackling nappy Armageddon, but baby wipes are now common as adult cleansers, disinfectants and hand washers. But they are over 90pc non-biodegradable and they bung-up sewerage systems creating massive fatbergs. Not to be sniffed at. Doesn't bare thinking about, does it?

8. Weeded out: Those of you who haven't paved where nature once flourished might be doing something equally genocidal in the room outside. Lethal weed-killers and pest-sprays can do untold damage to habitats while contaminating soil and groundwater. They're not particularly good for you either. Did you bother to read the label?

9. Click and buy: Shipping stuff you don't need across the oceans is bad enough, but that's only the half of it. Then there's the belching vans and trucks that deliver millions of these parcels every day and the extraordinary amount of packaging and bubble wrap that goes with it. Amazon alone dispatched 4.4 billion last year. Did you really need another T-shirt?

10. Waste not, want not: A bewildering 1.3 billion tonnes of food is thrown away uneaten globally every year. Up to 300 million barrels of oil are used to generate the power to cultivate this unwanted grub, 550 trillion litres of water is wasted on growing it and a 12th of all harmful greenhouse gases go into producing it.

Feel bad? Shouldn't we all.

Irish Independent

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