One day in the green life of a man on a mission
Donnachadh McCarthy is the author of 'Saving the Planet Without Costing the Earth' and works as a freelance environmental writer and eco-auditor
Thursday 26 October 2006
7am It is Tuesday 23 October, the second day in the national Energy Saving Week. I wake up and go downstairs for a shower. But as the weather was cloudy yesterday, for the first time since April I have to use the back-up electric immersion to bring my solar-heated water up to shower temperature. I flush the loo without guilt as the rain-harvesting tank which fills the WC is full following heavy rain. I fling on the second-hand clothes I got at the weekend at the Crusaid charity shop. I got a good Jermyn Street shirt and perfect jeans for a tenner. A quick breakfast of organic muesli and fruit, delivered by my local veggie box scheme, and I'm off.
9am While my journey to a charity's office where I am carrying out an eco-audit takes only half an hour by bike, very little of the journey is by cycle track. London, even under Ken Livingstone, is years behind Europe. Cycling saves me a packet as public transport in London is among the most expensive in the world. The charity is in rented offices on the 5th floor of an office block and the reception desk is lit with 26 halogen bulbs. I meet the chief executive and head into a staff meeting, where I give a presentation about what the eco-audit is about, why the climate crisis requires urgent action and how they each can help. I have been hired by the Bridge House Trust to do 12 such eco-audits for non-environmental charities, as a trial project to spread good eco-housekeeping.
After the meeting, the office manager and the cleaner accompany me around on my detailed site visit, inspecting the lighting, heating, stationery cupboard and loos. I find a great ally in the cleaner, who enthusiastically volunteers to implement many recommendations straight away.
The office is typical, with much light, heat and air-conditioning wasted and no recycled products are in use. There are three urinals on every floor, flushing nine litres every 20 minutes day and night. That adds up to a whopping quarter of a million litres wasted per urinal!
1pm The equally enthusiastic chief executive takes me to lunch at the Place Theatre, which I am pleased to see uses real crockery. I order a baked potato with cheese, avoiding meat as it takes 10 times the land to feed a meat-eater as it does a vegetarian, and the Amazon rainforest is disappearing rapidly to provide food for our European cow herd.
After lunch I have another round of meetings with various staff members, to see how they can green their tasks. They take longer than I expected as people are genuinely interested and so I eventually hare off on the bike, heading back towards Camberwell where I have a meeting with a home eco-audit client and planning officers from Southwark Council.
He needed a letter of exemption from the council for the installation of solar panels. However, the council initially said he would have to get full planning permission, which meant his grant from the Energy Savings Trust was in danger of being lost. This had become more urgent as news emerged that the Government's grant programme for domestic renewables had run out of funds - halfway through the financial year.
4pm Due to the bike I got there in plenty of time and when the officers arrive I list the other councils who do not require planning permission for solar panels. Having argued that the panels do not change the roof line and his house is not listed, they agree to reconsider.
I then head home and a Denby fruit bowl, which I bought second-hand on e-Bay, has arrived. I am a bit disappointed as it is over-packaged. I then get on the phone to try and sort out the delivery of my new wood burner, which is delayed. It will reduce my winter CO2 emissions and I need it from October to April. In addition, my domestic wind-turbine is having teething problems. Since 1998, I have paid nearly £3,000 in tax for the eco-technologies that I have installed in my home, and got one government grant of £400. There is no grant for the burner.
5pm I go through the day's e-mails. I have a laptop which uses far less electricity than a PC and for which I got a one-watt LED lamp which fits into its USB port, so my lighting energy whilst working is tiny. The bulbs in my house use 190 watts. I have found some of my home eco-audit clients using up to 13,000 watts in total! This is the eco-warrior's nightmare - designer lighting with wasteful bulbs.
6pm Having cooked a curry, using the remaining tomatoes and apples from the garden, I tidy up the house as a mate is coming over to chill out. Almost for the first time this autumn, I light my flue-less gas-fire. These are an astonishing 100 per cent efficient, compared to the open coal-effect gas-fires which are less than 20 per cent efficient. This raises the question: If the Government is serious about climate chaos, why is it still legal to sell energy-wasting light bulbs, energy-wasting gas fires, have constantly running urinals and gas-guzzling cars?
Having done the dishes, using my bio-degradable English washing-up liquid Bio-D, I settle down to chill out with my mate Tony.
Midnight After he goes, I again check the e-mails, brush my teeth with my disposable-head toothbrush and natural toothpaste and head off to bed, ensuring that everything is turned off, including the phone-charger and broadband, and snuggle down to sleep in my organic cotton sheets. I finally doze off, happy with what for me was a fairly average day.
If the rest of the country could achieve the same negligible level of emissions and waste, then we would not need any more special energy-saving weeks, every week would be energy saving!
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