27 September 2007
If you fill your clear bag or blue box every week for the council to collect and it makes you feel like you could give Swampy (without the smell and dirty clothes), a run for his money in the eco-warrior stakes, then I have bad news, writes John Prendergast...
A Peckham resident is leading the way in the green stakes and he'll give Swampy a lesson in sartorial elegance too.
Donnachadh McCarthy's house is pure green, if not in look then certainly in every other terms. He has wind turbines, solar panels and rain harvesters that ease the eco-conscience but also cut all those household bills too.
But the issue is not cost cutting or a sense of well being, Donnachadh explained. "It's agreed that if climate change rises by more than 2 degrees Celsius then we are in trouble. The planet has warmed by 0.7 degree in the last century and no matter what we do now it will rise by another 0.6 degrees, so we are already at a 1.3 degree rise and we now only have a 0.7 margin."
All pretty depressing stuff, so why isn't he in politics, making a difference where it counts? Having served as a local councillor he feels he’s already worn that T-shirt and found it somewhat ineffective. "No matter how much I got through and got done I could not get the leadership to adopt things, for whatever reason."
So instead he chose to go out and do it, prove to everyone that it's possible for a simple home in inner London to play its part in saving the world. It's not just a hobby or obsession, it's also his job as he describes himself as an environmental auditor, quite a leap for a former ballet dancer with the Royal Opera Ballet.
His road to Damascus moment came when some of his dancing colleagues were heading off to the Amazon. Donnachadh took the place of someone who dropped out at the last minute and it became a life-defining event. "The people out there had no hope really, so I came back and resolved to do something about it."
If saving the world is not your reason for going green then the financial benefits may appeal. Donnachadh pays only his standing charges for water rates, had gas bills of £26 last year and he sells electricity to his provider.
But don't solar panels and rain harvesters all require initial investment? He insists there are things we can all do. "If you think when you get in the house in the evening, you turn on the light in the hall, maybe go in the kitchen and turn on the light there, you might turn on the heating. Then you will go and settle down in the front room, turn the TV and the lights on and your entire house is lit and heated and you are in one room."
Was this guy following me? He just described most evenings when I get in from work. "If you look at how we used the house in the 1950s we only heated rooms we were in - now we heat the entire house."
Ok he got me there, but doesn't he use airplanes for business trips, I knew he made regular trips to Ireland for instance, and nobody goes by road anymore with Ryanair offering flights where it costs more to get to the airport than to actually fly.
"Actually despite the press the budget airlines are the most eco-friendly route. They have the most modern planes, are usually full and have no first class section."
And charging for luggage got the thumbs up too. "You should bring as little luggage as possible, so as not to add extra weight to the plane, so I'm all for it."
He added: " But also when I take these flights I am going to audit a business or home and I will be offsetting that. People criticise Al Gore for taking a transatlantic flight to preach his message, but how much good will he be doing."
However he still advocates that flights should be taken as little as possible, and changed his holiday plans this year and took a train to Paris rather than flying elsewhere. If he has to fly he also plants a tree, and a section of woodland in Burgess Park offsets some of his air travel.
The message he wants to leave is there is so much we can do, and it's easy too. "Just look at a website like www.energysavingtrust.org.uk and you will see the simple things you can do straightaway. Also there are details of grants and such on offer if you want to take things further."
Top green tips
1. Wood Burner - £800 to buy; £1800 to install - By using wood collected between his house and the shops Donnachadh generates the majority of his heat.
2. Solar Hot Water Panels - £4000 to buy and install, grants available to aid payment - Even over a miserable summer like this one, 70% of Donnachadh's hot water is heated this way.
3. Rainwater Harvester - £600 - £3000 to buy and install - It never stops raining so collect your own like Donnachadh.
4. Turn off lights in other rooms, turn off radiators in room you aren't in and heat the room you are in, not the whole house.
5. Use energy saving lightbulbs. 20watt energy saving bulb equals 100watt normal, 11watt is 60 watt and 9watt is 40watt.
6. Get a keyhole cover, put excluders around drafty doors and look at areas around pipes too.
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