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.
“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.
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.
Why won’t my phone charge? Why does the water keep shutting off in my shower? What the heck is going on here?! Welcome to living more mindfully of your carbon footprint.
As soon as I arrived in Cloughjordan on the first day and was shown to my Django hostel room I immediately started pinpointing all of the differences between this place, and America. Two of the biggest differences being that the outlets had to be turned on when you were using them, and turned off when you weren’t, and that the shower did not stay on by itself. Every 20 seconds or so the shower water would turn off and if you were not done then you had to keep pressing the button so that you could continue on with your shower. These two things might have seemed inconvenient at first, but as I learned how beneficial they are to the Earth, I did not mind them at all. Pa, the owner of the Django Hostel in the eco-village, is a older man that truly believes in climate change and making differences now before it is too late.
One of the projects that we completed during our time in the hostel was to go out and purchase “Irish” goods to make and serve a traditional Irish meal for the other half of the students. Because we had to cook for around 20 people there was bound to be leftover ingredients and food. However, this did not make Pa very happy. I remember him saying, “Look at all the food you have left – this is such a waste.” In America, we may not look at leftovers as a bad thing, but kind of a good thing because now we have a meal prepared for us to eat tomorrow. But Pa looks at it like this – you should have known exactly how much food to buy and how much food to cook so that you can ensure that nothing goes to waste. He also taught us how he washes dishes – instead of running the water and wasting it while you scrub the dish with soapy water, you can fill up one sink with the sudsy water, wash it in there, and then rinse it off in another sink. This not only saves water, but also helps to keep the eco-village’s ecological footprint low.
As I continued to travel around Ireland I saw more indications that sustainable energy is a big concern. I noticed that there were some small wind farms with about eight wind turbines that work to create a sustainable and realistic form of energy in Ireland. We do have these in America, but we are still using coal and other pollutants to create energy instead of putting up more and more wind farms around the globe – why? Well, for starters, these wind turbines are certainly expensive, but should be seen as an investment. In fact, according to The Journal, “Wind energy use in Ireland in 2014 saved us €200 million in fossil fuel imports.” We could and should be making the same changes to our country’s ecological footprint that Ireland continues to work so hard to do. Not only would it aid in saving our Earth, but it would cut down on lots of American federal spending to the wrong places.
It may seem like Ireland is completely sustainable considering how green everything is and how small a population there is, but they are not entirely perfect. Cows are actually the biggest contributor to methane production in the world, and as you travel through Ireland, the amount of cattle that catch the eye is staggering. This country had to make a very difficult decision along with other developing countries around the time of the industrial revolution, and that’s how this country will retrieve most of its energy in the future – nonrenewable or renewable resources. As you are traveling through the country, it is nearly impossible to not pass a field of wind turbines at one point. Wind turbine fields are able to gather immense amounts of power to distribute around the areas, they also place these turbines in places that will not impact the environment’s aesthetic appeal either. The idea of a nuclear power plant scares Irish people greatly due to the fact they were harmed from the aftermath of a nuclear meltdown in Europe. Understandably, they have the right to be nervous about something such as that, but the concept not getting through is how a nuclear power plant is the most sustainable way to gather energy as of right now. When I was having a conversation with a local about how he feels the country was headed in terms of sustainability, he was extremely proud of how his country is going right now. I asked what his thoughts on a nuclear power plant were, his response was “Nuh-uh, we will never allow a nuclear power plant in this country, no matter how hard anyone tries, this will not be something that would settle well with anyone.” For something that could progress the country as much as a power plant, it seems that people are just a little misinformed on the topic and if the government ever plans on it, hopefully they release the proper information for the population to grasp a better understanding. The government did try to pass legislation to build a power plant in the late 1970’s, but as I stated before, they received major backlash from the community. A valid argument to worry about is where to dispose of the nuclear waste. The answer to that question is the government should not even consider placing a nuclear power plant in the country unless they had a plan for the waste disposal in the end.