As a country, Ireland has signed up to the Kyoto protocol, an international treaty on climate change that sets limits for countries on greenhouse gas emissions. We have agreed to limit our increase in such emissions by just 13% over 1990 levels by the first commitment period of 2008-2012. However, Ireland's emissions in 2005 were calculated at over 25% above 1990 levels. This works out at 17 tonnes of greenhouse gases per person, over one and a half times the EU average!
Now for a little good news! While many of the issues and impacts relating to climate change are global, there are many actions we can take as individuals (and as schools) to help make a difference. Not only that, but if you are successfully working on your Green-Schools programme, then you are already tackling the problem of climate change head on through your themes! Most of the actions we can take to reduce CO2 production relates to a reduction in fossil fuel consumption, either directly or indirectly. Let's look more carefully at how this fits in with our Green-Schools themes ...
Litter and Waste
"Reduce, reuse, recycle" is our mantra for the Litter and Waste theme, but also plays a vital part in reducing our CO2 production. Such actions preventing and minimising our waste saves on the raw materials and energy needed to make new paper or cans or glass. Saving energy leads to a reduction in carbon emissions. For example, recycling one aluminium can saves 90% of the energy needed to produce a new one - 9kg of CO2 emissions per kilogramme of aluminium! Similarly, recycling a glass bottle saves 20% of the energy needed to make a new one, but it will still be better to reuse the bottle!
It is important to also remember that buying recycled products, avoiding unnecessary packaging, and purchasing only what we need all helps in reducing CO2 production. As well as this, composting organic waste helps prevent methane, another greenhouse gas that is otherwise released from landfills.
The main advice here is to buy less stuff! Purchase what you need, and look for items that can be easily repaired or reused.
Further information can be found regarding the Litter and Waste theme can be found here. Also see www.raceagainstwaste.ie
Whether it is in the home or in the school, when we talk about energy we are mostly talking about heating, lighting, and electrical appliances. In most cases, and particularly in Ireland, the energy required for all of these will come directly or indirectly from fossil fuels such as coal, gas, oil and peat.
As we have seen in the energy theme of the Green-Schools programme, small changes can make a big difference. This includes turning off lights and appliances (fully!) when they are not needed, using energy efficient light bulbs and appliances (just one CFL bulb can reduce your lighting costs by up to € 60 and avoid 400kg of CO2 emissions over the lifetime of the bulb), turning down the thermostat by even 1°C (and reduce your bill by up to 10%), and improving insulation. Each of these small steps can help you not only reduce your CO2 emissions, but can also be very effective in saving you money!
Some further information and tips can be found in the Energy section, as well as sites such as www.powerofone.ie
Other methods of saving energy may require a greater initial investment, but should save money over the long term. This could include the use of solar panels, geothermal heating, double glazing and improved insulation, and wood-chip boilers to name a few. Buying renewable energy from your supplier may also be an option available to you. This electricity will usually come from hydropower or wind turbines.
It is difficult to calculate the effect of water consumption on CO2 emissions, as there are different sources of water. However, most schools will get their water from a public water supply. This water needs to be treated and pumped to the school, with energy being consumed at each step. As for the energy theme, increased awareness and simple changes in habit can help lessen the amount of water we use, reducing our carbon footprint. As it is also thought likely that climate change will have an impact on the availability of fresh water, it is important that we learn to be more efficient in the use of this precious resource.
Go to the Water section for more information, and check out www.taptips.ie
How do you get to school? Do you know how many of the teachers and students in the school travel there by car? How many use public transport? How many car-pool?
Travel accounts for a large proportion of our greenhouse gas emissions. About 2.5kg of CO2 is released for every litre of fuel burned in a car engine. The most effective way of tackling this is to use the car less often! Could we walk, cycle, or take the bus? A survey could give information on the distances and types of transport involved (car, bus, bike, walking) in teachers and students getting to school.
For car drivers, ensuring the tyres are at the correct pressure, and avoiding driving too fast, all improve fuel efficiency. If the car is to be replaced, the fuel economy of the new car could be taken into account. For further infomation, ideas and tips, check out the Travel section.
A further issue relating to transport is the growing concern relating to ‘food miles'. While growing and buying organic food may seem better for the environment, what if it is then transported huge distances to its final destination? Onions from New Zealand, potatoes from Cyprus, and strawberries from a greenhouse in Spain to be enjoyed here in January!
While there are always going to be certain types of fruit and vegetables that cannot be grown here, buying local produce when possible usually means fresher and healthier food, as well as less environmental impact. It is up to us as consumers to make these choices to support our local farmers, and create a demand for fresh local fruit and vegetables.
For an EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) activity sheet on food miles aimed at older primary school students, click here: