Thursday 22 February 2018

How we can make small changes to combat climate change

A clean and healthy environment can support a competitive economy and a climate resilient Ireland.

To achieve this goal means figuring out how to live better while using less - using innovative ways to switch to low carbon power sources, for example, or to manage our resources and restore biodiversity in our natural environment. 

Currently humankind:

• Consumes resources equivalent to three times those available on Earth; 

• Uses only 15 per cent of the energy in our fuel tanks to move our cars; 

• Discards 80 per cent of what we produce after one use;

• Recycles only one per cent of the valuable rare earths that we use in products. 

Our consumption patterns are at the heart of the challenge to live better and use less. To provide our grandchildren with the same opportunities we have had, we need to fundamentally change how our everyday needs are created and met. EPA funded research is helping us to figure what drives us to use transport, energy, water, and food in our every day and to develop the type of social and technical measures we require to change our consumption patterns and behave sustainably every day.

Our research is telling us what we intuitively know - that our communities are at the heart of this transition.  We do not live in isolation; all of us are part of a wider community. It is in our nature to commune with each other -, some to a greater or lesser extent - and we have a long history of successful public volunteerism in Ireland. Communities are built around shared activities be they residential, urban, rural, parish, business, educational, spiritual, sporting, artistic or social.  A vibrant, inclusive and engaged community yields better health and environmental outcomes for all its residents and endeavours.

This is because communities set the social norms – the subtle rules of behavior that are considered acceptable in a group or society and that are modified over time.  It is these social norms that can change a society.  The benchmark of our success in developing the type of sustainable society we want for ourselves and our families, present and future, will be how much we support and invest in these communities as they: 

• determine the vision for the community to adapt to climate change;

• create initiatives for social change – like mend and recycle movements such as the Community Resource Network;

• manage social resources - like community energy schemes.

Seems a little ‘alternative’? Then read the World Economic Forum’s view put forward in their Global Competitiveness report: “As environmental and social tipping points become more palpable, economies that have been investing and planning for the long run, balancing economic progress with social inclusion and good and effective environmental stewardship, will be in a better position to maintain high prosperity for their citizens, even in the presence of external shocks.”

The World Economic Forum sees value in producing the kind of society in which we want to live as a precursor to growth over the medium and long term.  Their statements reflect a growing acknowledgement internationally that our current consumption behavior cannot be sustained. 

To have an economy based on low carbon power sources requires the rapid decarbonisation of energy, transport and settlement in Ireland and also offers opportunities to deliver:

• Sustainable local food production and the elimination of food waste and food poverty; 

• A transformation of our housing stock to eliminate energy poverty;

• Renewable energy generation from the micro to the macro level;

• Zero waste and maximum reuse of resources;

• Green and blue spaces – parks and beaches, for example - that are safe, attractive and accessible.

We need to rethink, and redesign, what we mean by social and economic ‘prosperity’ to deliver the resilience essential for us to prevail. In other words, we need to think globally and act sustainably locally.

You can start today by checking out


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