INTERVIEW: Donnachadh McCarthy
Not too long ago Treehugger's UK based Bonnie Alter highlighted Donnachadh McCarthy, the man who can rightly claim possession of the first wind-powered home in London. Donnachadh does many things worthy of note (see below) but in becoming the first Londoner to legally erect a wind turbine holds an esteemed position for all us City Hippy's. In fact I hereby canonise him as City Hippy's first patron saint. Patron Saint of Urban Off-Gridders ;)
He uses the StealthGen turbine but I personally prefer the look of the uber stylish Quiet Revolution turbines also mentioned on Treehugger here and here. Gotta love Treehugger eh?
Anyhoo...a while back (around Christmas time to be precise) I contacted Donnachadh for an interview but what with my wife giving birth and Donnachadh being pretty busy himself this interview took a while to pull together. I have had it lined up for a couple of months now just waiting for the right moment and by jove I think that moment is now.
Now unlike my Craig Sams interview series over seven parts I am just going to let this one loose in all its glory in one big fat juicy post. So here goes. Enjoy. Donnachadh is a great guy.
CityHippy: Hi Donnachadh, great to talk to you. Journalist, Green home pioneer, Author, Guru, Human and so on...can you outline what you do? What pays your bills?
Donnachadh: Currently work part-time for a children’s charity but have just given in my notice to concentrate on my environmental media work and home and business auditing, which have begun paying my bills also!
CityHippy: What first prompted you into caring for the planet?
Donnachadh: I was a professional ballet dancer when my homeopath invited me to join a group of alternative practitioners who were going to visit the Yanomami in the heart of the Amazonian rainforest in the summer of 1992. I ended up spending two weeks by myself with a tribe and was so gutted at the continuing genocide and forest destruction, that I decided to do what I could to stop Britain destroying the planet when I returned.
CityHippy: What was your darkest moment when pursuing a green career? Did you ever think 'This is not going to work'? What got you through that dark time?
Donnachadh: Advocating an alternative approach to how we live in the modern world was always going to be a challenge but when I feel a bit disempowered, I always go down to a woodland that I organized the planting of in 1993 in my local park which had been ear-marked for a car-park and which now has trees over 30 feet tall and it reminds me that an individual can always make a difference.
CityHippy: If you had a mantra (perhaps you do?) what would it be?
Donnachadh: Whatever it is that you are doing, always stop and think with the time and money available, can I do this in a way that is less damaging to the planet
CityHippy: What is your favourite book, movie and album?
Donnachadh: My favourite book is that old romantic chestnet Wuthering Heights, my favourite movie is The Mission (showing my age!) and favourite album is Beethoven’s Pastoral – I absolutely love the music portraying the sunshine re-emerging after the storm.
CityHippy: Where were you born and how did that shape you, both positively and negatively?
Donnachadh: I was born in Tipperary and grew up in Cork. This meant I grew up in what was then a very narrow Catholic society but the beauty of the countryside in West Cork where I spent many youthful summer holidays gave me a love of nature that now manifests itself in a determination that my local park in the inner-city should provide local kids with a taste of that natural beauty. Catholic intolerance bizarrely gave me a deep intolerance of hypocrisy, something that many organizations practice when it comes to the environment.
CityHippy: You are trapped in a lift with George Bush & Tony Blair. What do you say to them?
Donnachadh: Listen guys let me show you how and you will fine!
CityHippy: What is your favourite meal?
Donnachadh: Erm…hard to answer. I am vegetarian and 95% of my food is organic but food is not the huge issue for me as it seems to be for so many people nowadays, who watch all these famous chef TV programmes – with the climate change crisis I thing that there are more important things to be concerned about but I do like a nice mixed fresh salad with French dressing and rocket!
CityHippy: How do you prefer to relax?
Donnachadh: I read sci-fi fantasy novels and practice Ashtanga yoga.
CityHippy: Where in the world do you call paradise?
Donnachadh: Agios Pavlos, Crete
CityHippy: What has been your proudest moment in life?
Donnachadh: When as then Vice-Chair of the Liberal Democrats, I spoke in front of ¾ of a million people in Hyde Park at the largest war-time peace rally in UK history and challenged all those there to cut their car use and switch to a green electricity supplier as their use of fossil fuels was what fed Blair and Bushes illegal war for oil in Iraq.
CityHippy: On the UK energy debate: Nuclear, Alternative energy or a mix of the two?
Donnachadh: Energy efficiency and alternatives. Nuclear is too little, too late, too expensive and too dangerous.” I reckon it is 40% change in our habits eg only lighting and heating the rooms we are in , 40 % changing to more efficient equipment such as energy efficient bulbs and washing machines and 20% from renewables – then we are sorted!
CityHippy: Food: Which is most important? Local, organic or faitrade?
Donnachadh: Local AND organic is best. But there is room for a proportion of our food to come from abroad as a luxury and that of course should be Fairtrade and organic. My coffee is Fairtrade, organic and decaf!
CityHippy: You coach the Independent's Green Goddess, Julia Stephenson, on greening her life. Some people often write letters into the Indy complaining that Julia is a bit hypocritical: she flies a lot and so on. City Hippy understands their frustration but believes being green is not that black or white. What would you say to them?
Donnachadh: I think it is great having someone like Julia writing about the process of gradually changing and waking up to the changes she needs to make in order to save the planet. It is a process and I am enjoying helping her go through the process faster than I did. My target as her eco-coach this year is to cut her flying emissions by 50%.
CityHippy: What keep you positive?
Donnachadh: I was lucky in learning early on that the impossible is possible when I started training as a ballet dancer at 20 ( 7 years supposedly too late) and yet still managed to dance for the Royal Opera at Covent Garden, I am far less likely to listen to people when they say things are not possible. Every year in London has given me great fun and excitement for which I am really grateful. It has been a real privilege to be allowed to have done the political, environmental and media projects I have been involved in.
CityHippy: What promoted you to write Saving the Planet? How hard was it to get it printed on recycled paper? Any plans for follow-up books?
Donnachadh: I was approached by the publishers who were aware of my ground breaking retro-eco house and thought I would be the perfect person to write a book about how to live a green lifestyle. I was busy organizing the Lib Dem opposition to the war at the time but the book wrote itself as I battled repeated legal threats from Charles Kennedy after helping to bounce him into attending the Peace March. My editor was fantastic in moulding into the shape it became.
I refused to sign the contract unless they promised to publish it on recycled paper which to be fair to them they did. It is a disgrace how many supposedly eco-books are not on recycled paper. I have a proposal for a new book with my publishers at the moment and waiting to see if they think it is as exciting and challenging as I do!
CityHippy: What is your green vision for the world? What gets in the way of that vision?
Donnachadh: That humanity learns to live in harmony with the planet’s vibrant health, in other words we model our lives on a forest which constantly recycled its nutrients using the sun’s rays and rainfall. Short-term lack of knowledge and vision is what prevents it being manifested. Unfortunately, from first hand experience, all of our top level politics are controlled by the corporate interests, who have a vested short-term interest in preventing change.
CityHippy: What is your favourite green feature in your home?
Donnachadh: I love the LED displays that show how much electricity my PV panels and wind-turbine are exporting to the national grid from the roof of my home and the ones that show the temperature of the water in my tank, heated by the solar panels also on my roof.
CityHippy: What one green thing should every household in the UK do?
Donnachadh: Heat and light only the rooms that they are using.
CityHippy: Thanks Donnachadh it has been a pleasure speaking with you. Your answers are very positive, encouraging and thought-provoking.
Donnachadh: Thanks Al, a pleasure speaking with you too.
So there you go folks...interesting stuff from one hell of a green guru!