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Eco living

What would Ireland need to do to become fossil fuel free?

From passive houses to ‘poo buses’…

IN DECEMBER ENVOYS from 195 nations approved a plan to tackle global warming at COP 21, the 21st annual United Nations climate conference.

The Paris agreement sets a target of limiting warming of the planet to “well below” two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) compared with the Industrial Revolution, while aiming for an even more ambitious goal of 1.5 degrees.

To do so, the emissions of greenhouse gases will need to peak “as soon as possible”, followed by rapid reductions, the agreement states. We also have to nearly eliminate most use of fossil fuels by 2050.

Recently the idea of Ireland going fossil fuel free was discussed in a TEDx talk at University College Dublin.

Dr Cara Augustenborg is an environmental scientist who was selected as Ireland’s first climate leader as part of former US Vice President Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership Corps in 2013.

TEDx Talks / YouTube

During her presentation, Augustenborg spoke about the type of world her five-year-old daughter Eva will live in when she’s older – and the type of steps Ireland needs to take to become fossil free.

Augustenborg said a big part of the problem is that we constantly hear about climate problems and “rarely ever get to talk about climate solutions”.

Maybe you see these words – climate change – and you feel like you’re about to watch some apocalyptic horror movie. I feel that way every time I read another article about yet another impact of climate change, and they are endless.

Augustenborg noted that in order to reach temperature targets, we can only burn 20% of our known fossil fuel reserves – and can’t go looking for more.

She said that people need to change how we approach building houses, driving cars and eating foods if we are to end our dependency on fossil fuels.

She praised the Cloughnjordan Eco Village in Tipperary and the Aran Islands Energy Cooperative for making strides in sustainable living patterns.

clough Cloughjordan Eco Village

In the future, passive houses – with an energy demand up to 90% lower than most buildings – could become the norm.


Augustenborg encouraged Ireland to look abroad for inspiration for developing more sustainable transport such as electric cars and waste-powered public transport.

She noted that two-thirds of buses in Sweden are powered by clean ethanol from sugar cane, and that in 2014 the UK introduced its first buses powered by human and food waste – adding that it’s sometimes referred to as “the poo bus”.

Meanwhile, 45% of people in Copenhagen cycle more than any other form of transport.

Augustenborg said we also need “a food revolution” and to try to eat local, seasonal food.

By implementing some of these ideas, she said we can live in “a world of climate action” rather than “a world of climate change”.

Need for action

Speaking after the Paris agreement was reached, Poul Holm, Professor of Environmental History at Trinity College Dublin, said we need to “transform” how we live.

The deal agreed upon in Paris gives rise to hope that the legacy of this generation will not weigh as a burden on the next. People need to see to it that governments and businesses follow through on the promises made in Paris. But the real transformation is about the transformation of the minds and actions of us all.

“We need to change wasteful and harmful behaviour to pro-environmental action. We need to transform our ways of living from ripping off the resources of the world to building a smart and sustainable planet,” Holm said.

- Contains reporting from  © AFP 2015

Read: 195 nations approve deal that could save the world from a climate meltdown

Read: Why Ireland won’t be turning to nuclear energy anytime soon

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