'Climate change doesn't have to be boring - but it's important not to come across as preachy'
The past few months have seen us all make drastic changes to our lives so it's perfect timing for RTÉ's What Planet Are You On? to return to our screens. We catch up with presenter and author Maia Dunphy as she chats about the environment and adapting to Covid-19 with her son Tom
DUBLINER Maia Dunphy has proven to be one of Ireland's most popular utility presenters. Afraid to be pigeonholed, her list of achievements in the world of television covers everything from motherhood to dieting and women's sexuality to dating.
On top of each of those water-cooler shows, she has also appeared on MasterChef and Dancing With the Stars, proving there is so much more to her than her hugely successful mummy blog The M Word.
Never afraid to speak her mind on social media and willing to chat about pretty much anything when talking to the press, she has been a regular in these pages through the years. But it has been nearly two years since I last interviewed the 43 year old, and now she is preparing for one of the most "serious television projects" of her career.
What Planet Are You On? starts tonight on RTÉ One and will follow the efforts of four families as they try to reduce their carbon footprint by making changes in their daily routine.
"This started out as a science programme last year and was shown each night for a week. This time, the format has been tweaked to make it far more entertaining," the mum of one revealed. "It is a competition between each household and the winner will walk away with €5,000, so it is in their interest to make a serious effort.
"We will be testing every single element of their carbon footprint through daily life, and the family who improves the most at the end of the series, will win. There are no token prizes for the others, even though they will have made huge inroads into their own carbon footprints.
"I am not the expert and I don't pretend to be either, by the way. I am very clearly the presenter. Our dedicated team of data experts will be monitoring their every move, around the clock, over four weeks. We've fitted each house with cameras, counters, meters and monitors, and we'll be tracking their mileage. There is Dr Brian Kelleher (waste), Prof Fiona Regan (water), Prof JJ Leahy (energy) and Dr Marco Springmann (food).
"There is no hiding place as we measure the environmental impact of their water, waste, energy and food consumption. We'll count their toilet flushes, dissect their bins, analyse every meal and add up the energy of every appliance.
"At the end of each week, the families must face a panel of experts to see if they've done enough to save the planet."
So assuming there is a vegan family or entrant, does that mean they have an advantage over the others?
"Nope, not in this. We have a huge mix of families, who have a wide variety of lifestyles, work arrangements and diets. The vegan won't necessarily win against the burger eater, because we are calculating their improvement for the win, so it should make great watching."
But as Magazine+ discovered, it's not pure entertainment either.
"There is definitely an element of education here. We all have so much to learn about the environment and climate change. I remember picking up a few nuggets from last year's show, so I can't wait to get stuck into this year's. There are some lessons for everyone in this, but it is also really important not to come across as too preachy because that can put people off."
Maia admits that Ireland is getting way better at controlling carbon footprints and helping climate change, but thinks we have a long way to go.
"We are definitely getting better. We have to. My boy Tom is five and has just started school and I know he knows more about climate change and being eco-friendly than I did when I was a kid.
"We live in a Dublin city apartment, so we walk everywhere so we are not the worst offenders - but we need to make an effort.
"He is a great kid and has been so resilient throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. We all just can't wait for a bit of normality.
"We eat relatively normally. I mean, in an ideal world there would be healthy portions of vegetables in every meal and he would eat every single thing I make him. But he is a five-year-old boy.
"I have to pick and choose my battles with him, so I have to admit that sometimes frozen waffles are on his plate," she giggles. "That's why I wouldn't do what these families are doing on the new show. They are very brave. They are opening themselves up to the whole country here."
⬤ What Planet Are You On? begins tonight on RTÉ One at 6.30 pm