Donnachadh McCarthy “Easy Eco Auditing”

ISBN 978-1-85675-293-0. “Easy Eco Auditing – How to make your home and workplace planet-friendly” was written by Donnachadh McCarthy. Published by Octopus publishing in 2008. This paperback has 304 pages which includes an introduction eleven chapters, Appendices, Resources, Eco-audit form, example home eco-audit report, Index and Acknowledgements. I first met the author in person before I had any idea of his fame. I certainly had no idea that he had published two books and had such a glittering writing career. If you wish to know anything about him then it is all here. Pretty much a potted history of his life over the last twenty years. And to think he used to be a freelance ballet dancer. So I brought his two books second-hand off Amazon. Donnachadh is a nice enough chap in person but I think the term “planet-friendly” jars a little. It wouldn’t have been my choice. It isn’t difficult to get to hate those tired old clichés about “saving the planet” but this author falls for it on every page. This planet friendly cliché may be partly offset on page 33 (pardon the pun) by his pro-carbon-offsetting stance.

Whereas many greens vent their spleen again carbon offsetting Donnachadh sets a more reasonable tone. He writes “the fact remains that well-run carbon-offsetting schemes have a positive role to play in moving us towards a low-carbon economy.” Indeed he manages to devote over a page (34 through 35) to the “reasons to carbon offset”. He goes as far as agreeing with exactly the point made on this web site going back to 2007 and it is this “this voluntary tax on carbon emissions” doesn’t “disappear in general taxation”. It enshrines the “polluter pays” principle. In our view most of the people paying this voluntary tax are the sort of people who are already doing more than their little bit at home anyway. This philosophy though somewhat falls down when Donnachadh reveals on page 45 that “some of my clients still use private jets”. I like the use of the word “still” in this context. Surely everyone used to use them? This tells us much about his clientele. It also explains the sections where the author explains how he needs to keep his cool with people who seem unwilling to change. You would certainly need a very calm nerve trying to “green” anyone who thinks that it is OK to fly around in a private jet. When the author isn’t trying to save the planet there is some evidence that he may be aware of the fate of mankind when he writes on page 53 of “coming to terms with the death of the oil economy.” Wow, powerful stuff.

We certainly enjoyed the author’s many anecdotes about life in the fast lane of eco-auditing. He tells of the time he found a home where they were flushing the toilets with hot water. Freaky. There are many similar horror stories like that along the way. It certainly makes it sound like his is a really worthwhile job. However, speaking as a fellow Superhomer, I found it amazing that anyone could really not manage to find this sort of stuff out for themselves. It all seemed rather self- evident. Surely it only takes commonsense? But here we betray our own philosophy and this may not be a very useful guide. Clearly MOST people are completely clueless. At this point we have to introduce a phrase that makes us shudder here at PCL – “green lifestyle coach”. This phrase combines together everything that is so wrong about eco-auditing. I would happily retort that it isn’t about being green, it isn’t a lifestyle and you sure-as-hell don’t need a coach. If you are learning something difficult like tennis or football you might need a coach. But to figure out how much loft insulation you have requires a few grey cells and some commonsense. If people really are as stupid as this book makes out then there really is no help for us. We can’t send a lifestyle coach around to everyone’s home just to check what lightbulbs they have. In essence, this is the fundamental flaw in Donnachadh’s work. However well meaning and noble the work is it will be forever nailing jelly to a wall. We give him more credit for his Books and TV work. The eco-auditing thing is a pinprick on an elephant. It won’t drive mass change. Our second major beef with this work concerns the lack of concern with scientific verification. Several recent carbon footprinting books have gone into some pretty deep math’s to try an untangle whether disposable nappies are better than Terry’s squares, whether hot air drying is better than paper towels, or whether ceramic reusable mugs are better than disposable paper cups. However Donnachadh has none of that. He fires from the hip. Screw the math’s. Hence we get real gems like (page 109) suggesting that in the works kitchen that the sugar packets be replaced by sugar shakers filled with “organic fair-trade sugar”. Really? On what evidence? And don’t get us started on the entire of chapter 5 “Nature: working on the wild side” which is 14 pages of junk that deserves no place in a serious book like this. Then chapter 6 “Cleaning and maintenance” takes a similar course. It may well play out nicely to fans of the Ecologist magazine and that peculiar form of paranoia but was it necessary in a book like this? It is full of ill-defined and quite unscientific phrases like “non-toxic cosmetics” or “natural furniture polishes” versus “chemical-based products”. It is borderline gibberish.

These seemingly never-ending criticisms to one side I have to admit this isn’t a bad book. I am just the wrong audience. If you really were born yesterday or have taken complete leave of your senses then you will be paying for the services of an eco-auditor. It is a nice-living for someone. Who would buy a book like this though? I thought it might give me a few clues about our own post-carbon-living universe. In truth we learnt practically nothing that we didn’t already know. However, if we were ever to set up in the Eco Consulting line of work this may well be a good guide on running the audit-side of the business. There is nothing parted quicker than a fool and his money. Clearly this is Donnachadh’s forte and who can blame him? If I ever bump into him again I will buy him a drink. Good job. Apart from two duff chapters with no scientific merit this is a solid body of work for anyone wishing to learn the basic of the audit process. And that is its primary strength. Look upon it as a business how-to guide rather than any form of DIY book. People – you really can audit you own lives through a simple bit of research and commonsense.

About post-carbon-man

A passionate advocate of a peaceful transition to a sustainable political-economy, Mark hails from a working class farming background. Today he is a Company Director and Chairman of the Low Carbon Chilterns Co-operative. Whilst at University (Engineering Masters) he was active in Conservative Student politics but has had no affiliation since. He has travelled widely on business covering the USA, Europe, Middle East and Central Asian Republics. In 2007 Mark founded Post-Carbon-Living and a year later co-founded Transition Town High Wycombe. He lives with is wife & daughter in a home they retrofitted to be carbon-neutral. Today he blogs about surviving politics on a shrinking planet and is passionate in his rejection of Nationalism.

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