RTE went hammer and tongs (or should that be pestle and mortar?) last week with their programme of climate focused shows. I was impressed with Will Ireland Survive to 2050? which is why I tuned in to the three episodes of What Planet Are You On?, shown consecutively on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings. The fact that a family from the Tuam area was to feature also piqued my interest – what’s national TV without a bit of local flavour to cheer on?
The programme itself was simple in formula; three families were featured in the same order each night; the Cullens of Finglas, the McKevitts of Mullingar and our heroes the Gannons from Ballyglunin. In episode one cameras filmed the families going about their daily lives, which were then scrutinised by four experts in various climate-focused fields assessing their use of energy, recycling, water use and diet. None of the families did particularly well (although the Gannons did the best, yay!), but were given tips to improve their efforts over the next week, when they would present in front of the panel again.
As my tumble drier rumbled away in the background and I boiled the kettle for the second time in five minutes for a cup of tea that I had forgotten I was about to make, I shook my head in — at the families and their poor environmental lifestyle choices. The paranoid Cullens religiously used bottled water instead of tap (with Maia Dunphy’s voiceover at pains to point out every time that this was before the much publicised Leinster water notice), stacking up an enormous amount of plastic containers a week.
The McKevitt patriarch cheerfully, regularly burned his plastic rubbish in the fireplace, much to the horror of his wife and daughter who were powerless to stop this frankly alarming, baffling practice. The Gannons were let down by their lack of brown bin and habit of putting the wrong rubbish in the wrong bins; a mistake I’m sure many of us make considering the confusion in what goes where and why.
All three families had made great strides in reducing their carbon footprint by deigning to live sustainably by week two, going up from teen figures to numbers in the 20s and even 30s out of a possible 40 in the experts’ ratings. A great result, but there was still confusion over the bins, issues with eating red meat and dairy and clocking up kilometres in the car. Water usage appeared to be the easiest way of making a difference; limiting showers to 5 to 10 minutes, not leaving the tap running when doing the dishes or brushing teeth and flushing the loo only when, ahem, really needed goes a long way.
By week three, or the final episode from our perspective, the families were challenged to take their sustainable lifestyles outside the houses. They were all outfitted with electric cars, and Louise Cullen attempted a bus commute for the first time in the seven years since she started work in her current job. Did I mention her husband is a driver for Dublin Bus? She was unimpressed with the delays, fairly justifiably; we have no such trouble here with the excellent Burke’s Bus service which I use regularly and can always rely on. Just saying.
The McKevitts made a great effort with their vegan diet, surprising friends and families with how tasty the food can be and how available it is. Their bins were exemplary, a huge improvement on the fire-starting that was going on at the beginning. Their second week trip to the recycling centre no doubt had a hand in that; sometimes being shown the stark reality first hand can have the kick up the behind needed to change ways.
The Gannons paid a visit to The Filling Station, a bring-your-own containers grocery store in Galway city with an ethos not unlike the eco-friendly offerings in our very own Farrell Dry Cleaners. The Gannons’ main problem had always been the bin, which they triumphed over this time round. Removing the plastic windows from your statement envelopes seems like a bit of a faff but what takes a second to do makes a huge difference. We didn’t get to find out the families’ final score, which was apparently an act of goodwill towards their efforts but felt like a bit of a cop out, especially considering the competitive nature of some of the participants. All three went home with €2000 as a thank you, rather than a reward for reaching their goals, which was nice but was not what was initially being sold. However, at the crux of things the show wasn’t really about the competition, but a way to show that every family in Ireland can easily make some changes to help save the planet, and I think that’s one goal that truly was achieved.
– First published in The Tuam Herald on 20 11 19.