Stay green in a heatwave

Living

IN THE SHADE Awnings, shutters and other coverings on south facing windows can help limit the heat from direct sunlight.  Pic: istock


Green Living
McKinley Neal

While our recent heat waves have seemed very enjoyable – it’s exciting to feel as if we are living in a tropical country for a week—it’s hard to see the consequences of extreme heat on our ecosystems and on those in countries across Europe.
We can both enjoy the finer weather that we are having while preparing and trying to mitigate the adverse impacts that increased heat can have – deaths of people over 65 and those with compromised health increase during prolonged periods of high temperatures, and of course there are consequences for our water supply and the viability of crops.
Even if it were affordable for many home owners (which it likely is not in any case!), installing air conditioner units in all houses would only exacerbate the strain on our electricity supply and contribute to increased burning of fossil fuels. One tried and tested way to cool homes is to provide shade around them, as foliage cover from deciduous trees in the summer, especially along south facing areas, can provide very useful shade (and they won’t block the light in the winter when it is required). Awnings, shutters and other coverings on south facing windows also help limit the heat from direct sunlight, and reflective paint can also reduce the amount of heat retained.
In our towns and cities, creating more green corridors will help keep public spaces cooler and more pleasant as well. The shade from trees is helpful to pedestrians when walking around in the heat, and also helps prevent pavements from heating up excessively, a factor which exacerbates the heat in urban areas. Creating more car free areas and/or traffic-free days also helps control air pollution, which increases with the stagnant hot air during heat waves.
We are experiencing many more prolonged periods without rain, making it harder to keep crops watered. Of course, throughout the year and in between sunny periods we do get a good amount of precipitation, but many of us are ill-prepared to store water. For small gardens, it is sufficient to have a number of buckets dotted around to capture water to use as needed. In larger gardens, rain barrels or other larger tanks can hold a good amount of rainwater. We have a rain barrel fed by the runoff from the gutters on a small shed, and from this we run a hose for watering the plants in our polytunnel. Some families also use rain water for household use, as it is a much better option for flushing toilets especially, and can often be easily installed.
Planting native plants that are more efficient at establishing themselves in the Irish climate and leaving natural areas as wild as possible builds in more resilience, as lawns with only grass quickly start to go brown when deprived of water for longer periods. Other options include saving excess household water for outdoor watering: a bucket in the shower can quickly fill up, and water from rinsing dishes can be used on plants.

McKinley Neal co-runs PAX Whole Foods & Eco Goods, a minimal-waste shop in Westport offering bulk organic toods, reusable goods, household products, eco-trendly personal care Items and gifts.