What’s Turf?

“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.

Wind Turbines

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.

Dried Turf

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. 

A Turf Bog

Eco Friendly Village?

While traveling around Ireland, I took interest into the dynamic of the Eco-Village and how their community worked. The first place we stopped while in Ireland was Cloughjordan. What was interesting about this village was the construction of the eco village and its relive location towards the center of the Cloughjordan. This eco village could have been located outside Cloughjordans main strip, but even though it was created well long after the village of Cloughjordan was founded it looks like it belonged there. Some interesting things I learned while staying at the eco village is that there is no one in charge of the village and that everybody their makes joint decisions. Mary, one of the residents, told us, “You learn love and hate everyone here”. That really stuck with me because in a community where everyone makes decisions instead of just one person being in charge things tend to get done slower. This was something I noticed about this community as they claim to be self-sustainable; however, they have not been able to use their solar panels they as a community purchased due to technical problems dating back 10 years. This is something I thought was interesting because that meant they got their electricity from somewhere else even though their motto is that they are:

  • Building
  • Sustainable
  • Community

When looking at their motto I found that their vision wasn’t being 100% achieved due to relying on outside energy. One thing I picked up on about the community is that everyone was there for a specific reason, and that was that they wanted to reduce their carbon footprint on the environment. This is something I saw throughout the village as they as a community tried to reduce waste, farm their own food, and reduced water usage. Seeing a community that truly believes that as a whole they could help make a difference was inspirational. While staying in the hostel, we came across apple juice that was for sale and asked about it. Pa, the owner of the hostel we stayed at, told us that they are sold by a member of the community and could also be bought up at the store ran by the hostel’s cook, Johanna and their husband. I thought it was interesting finding out that they tried to shop locally for their food unlike in America where majority of people shop at the supermarket. Overall I believe that if the eco-village wants to grow they need to fix their solar power issue to be fully self sustainable and work towards electing someone to make decisions for the community.

 

Ecohouse

Powering Ireland

Ireland is an interesting place when you look at the way they consume and create their energy. In America the main source of energy is oil and natural gas which are also burned to create electricity. This is something that so far from what we have seen in rural Ireland is not regarded as the same way to keep a home warm. Turf is a popular source of energy because it is virtually everywhere in Ireland. Turf is harvested from bog lands, which over the course of history compresses and creates a carbon based product that can be burned for energy. This is not a very environmentally practice, as doing so releases carbon back into the atmosphere, which is not good for our o-zone or life on Earth. Ireland, stores about 3% of the world’s carbon. Preserving these fields are in our best interest because when carbon is burned it releases a toxin call Carbon Monoxide. Turf farming isn’t a large scale problem created by farmers in the countryside burning it for personal use on their property, the problem is the large corporations that come into Ireland and buy up land to farm the turf from the bog all at once. A farmer in Ireland traditionally uses around 3-4 turf bricks every 15 minutes when trying to keep the fire going. This doesn’t seem like a lot but when you multiply that by the hour they use 384 slabs an hour and 140,000 a year. This seems like a lot but that is if they keep the fire constantly lit throughout the whole entire year, which is not true for everyone in Ireland. Turf farming is a cheap way to heat homes in Ireland and with trees not being abundant on the island, residents do not have many other viable options to use to heat their homes. Traditional farmers using this source of fuel will never be able to clear a field in their lifetime, but corporations can tear up a 50 meters by 35 meters field in under a day according to our friends in the Killary sheep farm.  This practice has pushed Ireland to try and push back on corporations having the ability to harvest turf from bogs. One type of clean sustainable energy  that can be seen as an alternative is wind turbines, in specific we saw the models known as kw3 and kw6’s.  The smaller model, the kw3, gives out an average of 4,000kW/hrs while the larger size the kw6 gives out around 8,000kW/hrs. This is the greenest way to create energy because winds is natural and abundant in Ireland and the creation and use of these devices are not harming the environment while turf farming is. Most of the turbines we saw were along the Wild Atlantic Way but they were also seen  inlet from the coast. These are great examples of clean energy because they have a low carbon footprint which is great for the environment and allows people to realize there are alternatives to traditional practices still being used today.

Kyle’s Gallery

H2-Oh No!

Stepping into the broom closet that was to be our home for the next two days at Kilronan, a town on Inis Mor, a island on the Aran Isles, we were not the happiest of campers. Imagine four guys packed into a small room, and then imagine the horror of the water shutting off unexpectedly for the rest of the night, and you have our experience. You may be thinking “But wait, no water on a island? How does that work?” You see the problem is that even though the island may be surrounded by water, none of it is acceptable for human use, and it is very hard to bring enough clean water to support an entire chain of islands to the mainland, we were told that there would be no water from 8:30 at night until 8:30 the next morning, something that we could never imagine dealing with back home! After the shock and confusion went away we all realized that cutting back on our water usage wasn’t hard, it may have been different from the norm for us, but it wasn’t impossible to do. The total amount of water that is usable by humans is about 3% of the entire water on this planet, so why do we think that we have an unlimited amount? I myself have been guilty of showers that last way longer than needed, but I never realized that my actions have consequences. Although the water shut off was only during the night time, it is still a sobering wake up call to what can happen if we aren’t careful with our resources, our planet is not a endless supply for us to take from, we must respect it and care for it, or we will not be able to care for ourselves.

Kate’s Gallery

Chicken Fingers & What?

Along our two-week journey, we stopped at several eateries offering various types of Irish cuisine. I noticed that breakfast foods often consist of cereal, toast, and if one is lucky enough to consume a sit-down breakfast, eggs and sausage. Another common meal generally eaten at dinnertime is bacon and cabbage– but the bacon in Ireland is not the same as bacon in the United States. What Americans know as ham is a term loosely used for what the Irish call bacon. Ham is also referred to as gammon, which I had never heard of before visiting the island of Inis Oírr. Similarly, what Americans know as chicken fingers and fries are referred to as chicken goujons and chips in Ireland– I received some puzzled looks when I tried to order chicken fingers and fries at lunch one day. It appears that meals offered in various regions of Ireland are generally quite similar, but methods of preparation are contrasted: for instance, vegetable soup is offered in practically every pub or restaurant, but no two soups will taste the same. Regardless of the differing terms used to describe the same foods, the overall quality and preparation of food in Ireland is much superior to the food in the United States – due to the abundance of farmland in the country, most markets source their products from local animal and agricultural facilities. At the Cloughjordan ecovillage in County Tipperary, Ireland, villagers use their 67-acre farm to grow their own fruits and vegetables for consumption rather than walking to the nearest market or grocery store. Because most American supermarkets import their products from long-distance regions of the world, it becomes difficult to distinguish exactly where these products originate. This incredibly different from the sustainable lifestyle seen in the ecovillage. Everything consumed by the villagers is fresh and absolutely delicious– after a mere three days of eating locally sourced produce, I felt a noticeable difference in my bodily health. Not only is the concept of eating local much healthier for the environment in preserving carbon emissions, but also eliminates the possibility of consuming harmful pesticides that are often found in market produce.

Water Shortage

 

The Cloughjordan ecovillage community in County Tipperary is dedicated to preserving their water supply. With the installation of a sustainable drainage system, water is kept away from houses in the ecovillage but maintained within the pipes for as long as possible before flowing into a nearby local stream. Rainwater is also collected from the roofs of each building for use in community cold-water taps.

Inside the hostel, showers are set on a timer which turns the water off after approximately fifteen seconds– a button is located on the side of the showerhead which can be pressed as many times as needed until one’s shower is complete. Bathroom sinks are on a self-timer, as well. Not to speak for all students in the program, but I felt as though we all struggled a bit with this design. I remember joking around with a few classmates about specifically counting how many times it took us to press the button before our showers were finished– my personal best record was eighteen times. The shower design alone caused me to be more conscious of my water usage, which I suppose was the purpose behind creating such a setup. In the kitchen, villagers fill the sinks with warm, soapy water to wash dishes rather than continuously running the faucet like many often do. Personally, I felt as though doing so was particularly unsanitary and quite honestly unrefined. An alternative to such a practice would be using a bucket to fill for washing dishes in half of the sink, and using the other half to rinse as needed– this would eliminate the possibility of germs from dirty dishes spreading to ones that were previously washed. As a simple reminder to conserve water, small black faucets are painted on the walls throughout the hostel with dollar signs dripping from them. Although conservation efforts appear to be fairly minimal, continuing to practice these sustainable methods will benefit the community long-term.

The Irish Drought

“I am sorry to inform you that we have to shut the water off from 8:30p.m. to 8:30a.m. while you stay here.” Those are not words anyone wants to hear while moving into a hostel nearing the night hours, but it makes you wonder why something like that would happen. Is it because they are trying to save money? I am sure that is what most people would assume at first because it’s Ireland, it rains almost 250 days a year. Well, that is not exactly true everywhere you go. There are some places in Ireland that are experiencing severe drought as of now and there is not much they can do to stop it. On the Aran Islands there has not been substantial rain in almost 15 weeks. I began to wonder, how is that possible? It rains everywhere else. I set out and found the answer to that question: as moisture and clouds are traveling from the ocean, they travel until they hit something where it triggers the release of the water as rain, typically on mountains or other high land. These islands are nearly completely flat, so all of the clouds are traveling right over while only drizzling a little rain at best, resulting in a major water shortage. Others may ask, well they are on an island – why can’t they just get water from the lakes and water around them? The answer to that is simple, the surrounding water is not clean at all. Ireland signifies the clarity and cleanliness of the bodies of water by flags. A blue flag signifies very clear and safe water, while a white flag signifies that the water is unclear and not suitable for consumption. The white flags are flying all over these islands, which also means that the tap water is not very safe for consumption.

The Irish government is getting a lot of backlash as of now for their recent proposal to tax and charge for the amount of water used by citizens. The reason the people of the nation are against this is because they believe water is a natural resource and that no one should have control over the pricing. It was clearly obvious as I talked to the locals that no one was very happy about not being able to use water after the set hours. However they are not complaining too much because it is what is necessary for the water to be sustainable. In my opinion, it is not difficult getting accustomed to the water ban, it just creates some small issues such as flushing toilets at night or showering, but nothing too important.

No Matter the Cost

“Hello,” “Good morning,” “You alright?” What is going on here? Why are these random people greeting me everywhere that I go? Where I am from, if I look at someone while near them on the street I will get a dirty look or an angry remark. As I walk down the stone path streets of Cloughjordan I am able to further my understanding of the community that everyone around the village built. When you get to villages like this, the population starts to dwindle tremendously compared to the larger cities, everyone knows everyone. There is a sense of belonging in each place I visited, and every community member knows if you are actually a part of the community or not. Residents do things for each other even if it requires some personal sacrifices. While exploring the area, in the eco-village, I spoke with a local bartender about life in the small village. Cloughjordan is a special example because of how small the village is, but the bartender said something that stuck with me: “If I closed down shop tomorrow and started collecting unemployment, I would earn more money per week than if I ran this pub.” I responded, “Then what is stopping you from doing something like that?” He replied, “I could not leave an occupation like this where I am able to be paid to see everyone in the village that I have grown up with and am close to, it gives me a sense of meaning.” He seemed so passionate as he spoke, he has been dealing with these hardships for nearly twenty years, but even with all of that he loves every second of it. To struggle for the sake of having a happy life is not an easy choice to make, but to that bartender it was the best choice he ever made.