This blog was originally based on a course ran by Professor Nick Gray of the Trinity Centre for the Environment at Trinity College Dublin who also wrote a textbook for the module Facing up to global warming: What is going on and what you can do about it. Now working as an independent consultant, Nick continues to work in the area of environmental sustainability and looking at ways of making a difference without recriminations or guilt. Saving the planet is all about living sustainably.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Adjusting to a 'Greener Lifestyle'

I never realized how different two countries and cultures could be until I moved from America to Ireland. The food is healthier, the stores are unfamiliar, the street signs are in different locations, and the lifestyle is much more environmentally friendly. In America, I can enjoy a hot, long shower whenever I please, I can keep the air heater on in my house as often as I like, and I can drive my car wherever I want without considering the impact on the environment. It only took about 30 minutes of life in Ireland for me to realize: I cannot live like an American anymore.

Upon my arrival at my apartment in Ireland, the landlord immediately explained the electricity system to me. I was handed six electricity cards- these cards are equipped with 20 Euros worth of electricity credits each. The cards are plugged one at a time into an electricity box located directly next to the front door. This box calculates how much electricity you use and it reduces the amount of Euros on the card simultaneously. In America, this pay as you go system is completely unheard of. In order to adjust to this new lifestyle, I only keep my room heater on for approximately 60 minutes a day, I only charge my electronics when they are incredibly low on battery, I always unplug all appliances when they are not in use, and I rely on sunlight to illuminate my room more often than the light switch. As a result, I find myself wearing warmer clothes, spending more time in public places, and cooking my food as quickly as possible.

The hardest adjustment I think any American has to overcome when moving to Ireland is the use of the immersion heater. Electric Ireland defines an immersion heater as, “a convenient way to heat water as they allow you to heat as much or as little water as you need”. The immersion heater simply has two switches: on/off and sink/bath. In order to take a hot shower, you must turn the heater to on and bath and then wait an entire hour before you can get into the shower. Once in the shower, you must wash your hair and body fairly quickly before the hot water turns cold. After your shower is complete, it is important to remember to turn the immersion heater off or else your electricity cards will be additionally charged. I certainly miss being able to wake up in the morning and instantly enjoy a long, hot shower, but I developed a huge appreciation for how conscious the Irish are of their electricity use.

According to the Central Intelligence Agency, the United States of America generates a total of 3.75 trillion kilowatt-hours annually and Ireland generates 26.1 billion kilowatt-hours annually (2). Dividing both of these numbers by the total population of each country concludes that the average American uses 11,948 kilowatt-hours annually and the average Irish citizen uses only 5,527 annually. This difference is extraordinary. Living in Ireland has certainly made me more conscious of my personal energy consumption and water use. Although it was difficult to adjust at first, I now realize that the Irish do it better. When I return to America in May, I plan to continue living the Irish “greener” lifestyle as much as possible.

Jenna Snyder

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