“Adapter”. It was written on my pre-departure packet and I remembered Professor Speakman telling us about it before we left. My dad came into my room with a big bag, dumped it, and spread a bunch of plugs and cords on my bed. I looked at him in awe as he tried to click one piece into another. I never thought about the difference in the little things like charging personal devices in other countries.
We arrived to Cloughjordan and quickly settled into the hostel. I connected the adapter that my dad showed me to my charger and plugged it into the wall. Nothing. My phone didn’t charge. “It must be the outlet”, I thought to myself. So, I plugged my phone into the outlet on the other side of the room. Nothing. Why wasn’t this working? My dad showed me exactly how to connect the adapter. What was I doing wrong? Maybe my dad gave me an adapter that didn’t work. So, I tried the two back-up adapters that he gave me. Nothing. It had to be the hostel outlets. I made my way downstairs to find someone to talk to. I encountered Pa, the owner of the hostel, in the kitchen and explained what had happened and he laughed. He said, “Follow me.” He led me to the lobby area, knelt down, and pointed to the nearest outlet. “You plugged it in?”, he asked. “Yes, and nothing happened”. He nodded his head and replied, “you have to switch this on”, as he pressed a button that looked like a light switch. He explained that by switching the outlet off when it’s not in use, it saves energy. I figured that this wasn’t going to happen for the rest of the trip because we were in the Eco Village in Cloughjordan. There wouldn’t be a stress on saving energy everywhere else. But, to my surprise, there was. Most of the outlets have had these switches and I’m still getting used to turning them on. On our 9th day, in Inis Mor, I plugged my phone in and it didn’t charge. I was about to try another outlet until I remembered about the switch.
As Americans, we aren’t conscious about saving energy while charging our devices. People just leave their chargers plugged in even when their devices aren’t plugged in. This is a huge waste of energy. During this trip, I have become a lot more aware of turning the outlets on and off and unplugging my adapter when I’m not using it.
Ireland by many is known to be an ecologically and energy-efficient place. Ireland has earned this reputation despite its lack of natural resources because of the impressive lack of energy waste created. Although one may think that this is due to the small population size of 5.5 million, this is not necessarily the case. In fact the most pollution that comes from the country is from peat.
Peat is a deep brown natural material formed from moss creating a deposit of acidic, boggy ground. This deposit is dug, dried and used as fuel. You can find this outside almost every grocery type store in the country to be used for fuel to heat homes. Peat may be considered a form of renewable energy due to its ability to grow back at a millimeter per year, however, it acts as a carbon sink. The peat takes in around 30 percent of carbon emitted into the atmosphere, even more so than a forest does. When it is burned, it releases all of the carbon it had absorbed into the atmosphere. This causes devastating long-term effects on climate change. The carbon that is emitted reacts with the oxygen in the air creating carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, so when it is emitted into the atmosphere it adds to the thermal blanket which continues to heat up the earth affecting climate in totality.
When you stand on peat it feels as our guide Tom said, “like you might just sink right into the ground as if it were quick sand.” Luckily the earth does not suck you down into it but this was an accurate way of describing the buoyant feeling of the ground. Peat starts as moss known as sphagnum. This decomposes over many years and eventually turns into something that looks like soil. The moss is able to absorb so much water that you can ring it out like a sponge. Sphagnum’s ability to retain water is what gives the ground this feeling. In fact, it can hold such a large amount of water that during the first World War it was used as a bandage for the wounded.
While the people of Ireland are quite proud of being environmentally friendly, it was quite interesting to see how many people still burn peat as a source of heat in their homes.
“My charger won’t work!” says someone on the trip panicked at least once a day. Inevitably almost every time they’ve just forgotten to switch on the outlet, something we’re not used to doing in America. Ireland seems to take energy seriously, all of its outlets turn off and on saving electricity, the last hotel we stayed at even had you put your room key into a socket to enable lights to turn on so that you couldn’t forget to turn them off when you leave. Small things like this can make a large impact when implemented over an entire country and are a good step towards sustainability and conserving energy. Another unfamiliar sight to many on the trip are the abundance of wind turbines throughout the countryside, doing cartwheels above the trees. Producing energy in a way that’s better for the environment. Ireland as of 2017 had over 2,000 megawatts of wind power with wind turbines providing 23% of the country’s electric power.
It’s not all perfect however, all over Ireland many people, especially in rural areas, are burning turf as a source of heat for their homes. With little tree cover in the country many say turf is the only material easily accessible to them to heat their homes with. Turf or peat is built up over thousands of years by wet moss compacting over time. Much of Ireland is covered by these turf bogs, easily accessed on family’s land dug up by farmers as a cheap source of fuel. It is dug out of the ground and left to dry out, shriveling up into small, course, black bricks that can be burnt. The problem with this is that turf is a “carbon sink” holding in a large amount of co2, 30% of carbon in the world is stored in peat according to one of tour guides Anthony. When burned the carbon is released into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. The government has made moves to try and get people to stop this practice but for many it’s their best access to fuel and they are unwilling or unable to stop the practice. Stopping would mean importing oil or gas because there are no natural gas sources or pipelines in these areas, and this would be costly and also unsustainable.
Many Irish people are aware and conscientious of the effects of turf burning and care a lot about the environment. They say that on such a small scale, as is the case in many rural areas, only taking what they need does not release enough co2 to make a large impact. People have many different views on the subject, all aware of the consequences and with different view points depending on their lives but make a general consensus. “It’s done here on such a small scale that it’s okay, it’s large scale industrial businesses that would be the problem” is the quote I heard, with little variation, from multiple different farmers who use turf.
Arriving in Ireland the topics of bogs and peat never failed to be regarded with the utmost importance. I had never before heard of these two terms and was not in tune with what they were, or the usage behind them but I was excited to find out. One of the biggest characteristics Ireland is known for is the bog. It covers about 1/6 of the island. For recent centuries, bogs have been exploited as a source of fuel. Many bogs in Europe have either vanished or are quickly fading, which makes Ireland extremely important to the scientific community, as well as the tourist industry. From bogs, peat is readily harvested, generally wherever there is high rainfall, which lands typically in western Ireland. A bog is formed when a lake or land with high rainfall begins to fill with plant debris which then causes new plants to grow on the older, decomposed plants. Once dug up, the peat must dry before it can be used as a source of heat. Following the harvesting of peat, immense amounts of Co2 are released into the air. The burning of peat is an extremely controversial topic. The environmentalists discuss on one side of the spectrum that turf is damaging to the quality of air, which it is because of the Co2. On the other hand, farmers who have bogland which contains turf do not want to let this source of fuel go to waste. Why would one pay for gas or an alternate energy source when one is readily provided and free? Peat is most certainly renewable, but the downfall is that the rate of replenishment is immensely slow. It can easily take thousands of years for a bog to to restore after just one years harvest. Not only that, harvesting peat is a very slow process. Tom, the owner Killary Sheep Farm discussed how a bog the size of size room can easily take up thousands of years to regrow which was fascinating.
While driving through the west coast of Ireland, it was evident that rural Ireland uses wind turbines and turf as their main sources of energy. Looking out the bus window, I saw miles of wind turbines generating power. Wind turbines are efficient but they haven’t always been used in Ireland. Throughout Ireland’s history, they relied on cutting and burning turf as the main energy source. Recently, cutting turf as an energy source has been called into question after environmental issues were brought up about burning peat.
Burning turf has been used as fuel to heat people’s homes for the majority of Ireland’s history dating back centuries ago. Many farmers lived on bogland which is where the turf is cut. The farmers would use a sléan to remove the peat and leave it out to dry throughout the summer. Since peat is made up of 90% water, the turf bricks would shrink in size as they dry. Once the turf was dry, it would be burned in a fire to heat the house and to cook with. This practice is still used today by farmers and many people in Ireland to heat their homes. Although using peat as fuel was feasible because it was accessible, it presents a danger to the environment.
A majority of the world’s CO2 is stored in the turf from bog lands. When the turf is burned, that stored CO2 is released into the atmosphere. At the Céide Fields, our tour guide explained, if the CO2 is released into the air it is very dangerous to the environment, therefore, peat land should be protected. On the other hand, we met people who rely on peat as their main fuel source. These people, including Farmer Tom (pictured above), do not think the government should stop them from burning the peat because they as a small farm do not make a large impact on the environment. Tom explained, “The government cannot ban burning peat because it would start a civil war.” But, he does believe the big machines that cut turf are bad for the environment because they can do more damage in one day than he has over 13 years. Although cutting turf has yet to be banned, the government incentivizes farmers to stop cutting turf by offering them monetary compensation. There has yet to be a clear plan for cutting turf going forward since it has been a part of the culture in Ireland for many centuries.
“This is turf.” Anthony, our guide at the Ceide Fields holds a lumpy-looking black block dug up from the sodden terrain. We watch with curiosity as he continues, “Only three percent of the world is made up of peat land—where turf is sourced—but this landscape holds thirty percent of the world’s carbon… Peatland is more of a carbon sink than the tropical rainforests.” My eyes widen as I survey my surroundings. The ground squishes beneath my feet as I crouch down to study a nearby sod: Sphagnum moss curls around grasses, its acidity preserving other organic matter as it grows at the rate of one millimeter per year, gradually turning to turf.
Thus, turf is considered a renewable resource and has been used throughout Irish history as fuel. However, Anthony cautioned that some things are better left alone. He explained that out of all fuels, turf is the worst to utilize in terms of the carbon emissions it releases. Indeed, Ireland is in the midst of a turf controversy as the government has recently proposed banning its use all together.
“Banning turf would cause a civil war,” Tom, the owner of Killary Sheep Farm proclaims later on in our travels. He demonstrates turf digging to our eager group, using a traditional edged spade to hoist the dripping blocks out of the earth. “I’ve been digging this patch for thirteen years,”he waves an arm towards the small terraced chasm in which he stands, “this is how we heat our homes… It’s the machines you have to worry about, they can strip an entire area in half a day.” I think of his remark in contrast to those of Anthony and wonder how many individual turf farmers cause as much pollution as one turf machine. How much damage are those rural villages actually causing?
In Ireland, turf is abundant. I have observed it burning from the majority of houses passing swiftly by our bus windows: gray tendrils reach up through chimneys, casting a distinctive earthy aroma that many of the Irish consider the scent of home. Turf, as a central and seemingly inextricable element of Irish culture, makes me contemplate whether the ‘scent of home’ can become less of a contributor to climate change.
Ireland is innovative in many environmental respects, from keycard light switches to push-button showers. On our way to Spiddal, I observed many fields adorned with wind turbines and was informed by Des that there are many offshore wind farms as well. I am curious to see what the future holds for the fate of turf, given the recent developments in sustainable energy sources. Can the shift to clean power be culturally sensitive, respecting the interconnectedness of turf to Irish history while also respecting the planet?
“If you ever want to hide a body the last place to do so is in a bog” said Charlie. He helped restore a 17th century thatched cottages in Cnoc Suain Conamara. In this beautifully rich green country, I have noticed areas with brown dirt like blocks stacked in the shape of tepees. Wondering constantly what they were, I learned it was called peat; they come from ancient bogs that for centuries that have been dried and burned in homes. Bogs form from sphagnum moss. The moss grows at a rate of 1 millimeter a year, but it never dies down.
My first true lesson on peat was at Céide Fields, known as a natural bog blanket. Anthony, our tour guide that day, filled my brain with knowledge. The bog blanket is well-known for peat protecting the remains of an ancient community. It preserved stone walls and houses. Witnessing how the bog blanket preserved the walls was breath taking. If someone had told me I would not have believed them. Bog blankets are squishy. They allow researches to examine how the people used to live in their old days.
Tom Nee, the farmer at Killary Sheep Farm, showed us how to block cut the turf. You have to use a tool called a Sleán. You place the Sleán right into the soggy wet peat and scoop it up. The shape is a rectangular cube. Tom, among many others in this country, use peat as a source of energy for heating homes. Ireland saves a reasonable amount of money for electrical heating. Bogs are everywhere and the people are able to harvest their own peat right in their backyard.
Peat however, only will burn for short amount of time. Families normally have five pieces of peat in the fire pit at once. Unfortunately, this means Ireland burns a lot of peat. Bogs only take up 3% of the worlds lands but hold about 30% of the world’s CO2. When the peat is burning it releases CO2 into the air. This energy source is close to home and is the most accessible.
Throughout the places that we have traveled to during the past two weeks, we have talked a lot about energy and conserving energy. In Ireland the people are very concerned with conservation and using sustainable resources for their energy. However, the one source of fuel that is the most common among the areas that we have seen, is peat or turf. They burn the peat to create energy for things like heating a building, in which they would use a couple bricks of peat in their fireplaces. During the earlier times in Ireland when their only source of energy was from the peat, they would use the burning peat to heat the houses, heat the water and to cook their food over. Our tour guide from the Killary sheep farm, Tom, informed us that one brick of peat could burn for “approximately 15 minutes,” and to create a fire they would just add around 4 to 6 bricks and keep adding more throughout the day.
Until the year 2000, the island of Inis Oirr used diesel generators to power the island. This is because the island is mostly made out of limestone and there are no bog lands full of peat. Their way of creating energy by using diesel generators is extremely bad for the environment and lets off harsh fumes that pollute the air. Since then they have updated the systems that they use to create energy.
At all the hostels that we have stayed at on the northwest side of Ireland, they are very concerned with the conservation of water and this connects with the conservation of energy. In order for water to be heated, the water heater needs to be turned on and this requires energy usage. There are signs in the bathrooms asking the users to try to save water by not using a lot of running water, as well as specific times that the hot water will be turned on. They do this to preserve energy and there is no use in keeping the hot water on all day because it is wasting energy that people aren’t using. In the Valley House hostel, one of the owners explained to us that it is pointless to keep the water heater on in the middle of the day and the middle of the night because people tend to shower either in the morning or at night before bed. By conserving this energy, it is creating healthier environment because energy is not unlimited.
“Mother Nature is the best sculptor,” is what my tour guide at the Céide Fields said when he was explaining the landscape around us. Looking to the horizon you can see an endless view of hills and grasslands. This is the view that the Irish grew up admiring. In 2001, the landscape of Ireland began to change. Slowly, large wind turbines were installed. Now a total of 2,878 wind turbines have made their way into Ireland’s hills. In 2015, these turbines provided 23% of Ireland’s energy. Wind turbines were one of the things that Ireland has done to try and use their environment to reduce the ecological footprint they were creating. Flying into Shannon airport, the few things I could see out my window were cows, and wind turbines. Whichever direction I looked, there were a cluster of windmills up close and off in the distance. Most people might think that these structures are obstructing their view of the landscape that Ireland has to offer or deem them “ugly.” However, when people understand what the wind turbines are doing for the environment, they will no longer see them as ugly, but rather something beautiful for something so important.
Another energy efficient step that Ireland has taken are their outlets. When I first arrived at the Park Inn, I immediately ran to an outlet with my adaptor in hand, to charge my phone before the days endeavors begun. I plugged in my charger to the adaptor and plugged it into the wall, and waited for my phone to charge. However, nothing happened. It was as if my phone was not plugged into an outlet. After trying every outlet in the room, and my anxiety levels growing by the second, I finally noticed the little switch in the middle of the outlet. I plugged my charger into the wall, flicked the switch, and finally my phone began to charge. I was confused at first about this modification of the outlet here, because I had never seen anything like this in America. I later learned that the switch turns on and off the electricity in the outlet. That way when people are not using the outlet, energy is not escaping it in the process. I noticed that every time I plugged something into a wall the switch was always turned off because someone remembered to switch it off when they were done using it. For me, I always forgot to flick the switch when I was done using it. It occurred to me that for the Irish, it must be second nature for them to flick the switch when they are done. Exactly like it is second nature to get in the car and put on your seat belt. After a learning curve, I quickly learned to remind myself to shut off the switch when I was done using it.
As Des, our driver, was saying on a bus ride, we are the generation that is going to make these environmental changes, “It is our job to be the change.” Collectively, Ireland has been taking steps in the right direction to become an energy efficient country. They have learned to work off of the land to give them renewable energy. This way of living keeps the land whole so people can continue to enjoy those stunning views. While some of these methods might be unconventional to us Americans, the way the Irish are living can teach America about the small steps we have to take to become a more energy efficient country.
Located in Cloughjordan, (klok-JOR-dən) Ireland, is the only eco-village in all of the country, a place with a population of around 5 million. The village is located in a small area in the heart of Ireland. An eco-village is a self-sustaining ecosystem that prides itself on being earth friendly and is meant to provide everything for itself limiting the carbon footprint compared to a typical village. It is important that they are taking steps to limiting their carbon footprint in my opinion, because other countries are not taking enough precaution and they have to compensate for their own sakes as well. Limiting the carbon footprint can be done in many ways such as: decreasing your energy usage, utilizing renewable energy, growing local foods, limiting food waste, recycling, and much more. I believe the eco-village is a great way to do this, while having a beautiful functioning community. During my three-day stay at a hostel located in the village, I found it interesting the multiple ways they as a community practiced an environmentally friendly lifestyle, although they were limited financially.
The village has a large farm which was great for getting fresh food naturally and not having to get it delivered. This is because transportation is one of the highest sources of carbon emissions, therefore having local food is a great way to reduce their footprint.
Unfortunately, as mentioned briefly before, the village does as well as they can to reduce their carbon footprint, but, “they are limited due to financial issues,” as one of the community members of the eco-village put it. A huge issue that the eco-village has is the fact that the solar power farm is not operational and the technology is outdated. This is a problem since they don’t think it would be effective enough to try and fix, and it could be a wasted expense. The village certainty does not have enough cash on hand to get a new one. This would be extremely helpful because of the benefits of solar power in the long run. Energy is a large source of emitting co2 into the environment and creating reusable solar powered energy would not only give the community money from the government. The renewable source of energy will also be a finishing touch on the village becoming practically off the map in terms of poisoning our environment and contributing to global warming.