Welcome to the blog of the Broad Curriculum course Living Sustainably: A complete guide to surviving a changing planet. This course is run by Professor Nick Gray of the Centre for the Environment at Trinity College Dublin.

Friday, December 5, 2014

World Soil Day - December 5

Land as a Finite Resource

Land is now considered to be a finite resource under significant threat from farming, industry and development.  The basis of land is of course soil which provides us with our food, fodder for livestock, fuel, fibre, building materials, and much more.  It is key to all ecosystem services and to human wellbeing.  Soil also harbours a significant portion of global biodiversity and is a key component in the carbon cycle and the storage and sequestration of carbon dioxide. World soil day has been celebrated each year since 2002 to raise awareness and to support action to protect and enhance soil quality.  The FAO are now the key organizers of events all around the world to celebrate World Soil Day.

Here is a message from FAO Land & Water Division Director, Moujahed Achouri

For more information about FAO World Soil Day contact Professor Nick Gray (nfgray@tcd.ie)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Strange Weather Exhibition at the Dublin Science Gallery

The latest exhibition at the Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin is STRANGE WEATHER.

The exhibition runs from the 18th July until the 5th September and  is curated by Catherine Kramer and Zack Denfeld of CoClimate; Lynn Scarff, Director of the Science gallery and Gerald Fleming, Head of Forecasting at Met √Čireann.  Like all these wonderful exhibitions at the Gallery it is most informative and very much hands on. So you can have a try at forecasting the weather yourself, create your own micro-climates and learn just how predictable the future of weather is.

Nick Gray

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A new approach – Friendly Fashion and ‘Ecotoure’ !

A load of Rubbish!
Since a young age, I have adored fashion. Seeing models promote beautifully structured, eye catching clothing both captivates and excites me. So of course when I was asked to take part in the “Junk Kouture fashion show”, I was instantly overwhelmed with a flurry of ideas on how to dress these models in fabulous recycled material! The aim of this annual event is to ignite a passion for sustainable fashion in second level students across Ireland, while simultaneously educating them about the importance of recycling and reusing. Essentially the idea is to turn garbage into glamour!

 I began by meeting with art students of a local secondary school. We sat down and discussed materials that would be appropriate to use to create an outfit suitable for a runway show. By the next day the students had already gathered their “junk” and had started work on their designs. The materials ranged from plastic bottles, electric cables, wire tubing, tinfoil, newspaper, broken glass, wine corks, bin bags and the list goes on! Together we set to work and after weeks of hard work we had successfully assembled some terrific examples of Eco Fashion. Three of the outfits have made it into the final rounds of the competition which everyone is extremely proud of, but we could also have the winner for 2014 so keep those fingers crossed!
Here are some pictures of contestants from both this year and previous years, taking part in the fashion show. Visit the website http://www.junkkouture.com to learn more about this innovative idea and get inspired and excited about sustainable fashion!

Friendly fibres and fabrics
Although I promote this fantastic competition, I am not completely unaware that it is completely unreasonable to expect people to stroll about town wearing clothes made out of their old Chinese food containers! There is in fact, a more subtle approach to sustainable fashion.                
Recycled or reclaimed fibres are those that are made from scraps of fabrics collected from clothing factories, which are processed back into short fibres for spinning into a new yarn. There are only a few facilities globally that are able to process the clippings, and  variations range from a blend of recycled cotton fibres for strength to recycled cotton fibres/virgin acrylic fibres which are added for colour, consistency and strength.
The good news is that designers say that they are trying to incorporate these sustainable practices into modern clothing, rather than producing "hippie clothes."  In particular, designer Stella McCartney has recently drawn attention to socially conscious and environmentally friendly fashion, by promoting "Portland Fashion Week", which annually showcases sustainable apparel. It has also attracted international press for its efforts to sustainably produce a fashion
week that showcases 100% eco-friendly designs.
However here is the bad news, due to the efforts taken to minimize harm in the growth, manufacturing, and shipping of these products, sustainable fashion is typically more expensive than clothing produced by conventional methods! Let us not be disheartened, there are still plenty of ways we can improve the sustainability of our wardrobes!

Here are the main factors to bear in mind when considering the sustainability of a material:

·         The renewability and source of a fibre
·          The process of how a raw fibre is turned into a textile
·         The working conditions of the people producing the materials
·         The material's total carbon footprint    
When shopping, look at the clothes labels and keep an eye out for fabrics like organic cotton, naturally coloured cotton or those made from soy, hemp or bamboo fibres.   These are all examples of excellent sustainable fabrics.

They may still be a little bit hard to come by in our local shopping centres but I have included a link to one of my favourite online shopping websites “Reformation”. They are an environmentally sustainable fashion brand that repurposes vintage and surplus materials to create a chic, limited edition collection.

So start your fashion revolution now!   http://thereformation.com/

Fiona Molloy

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Glaring signs of active desertification and the hopeful yet strategic words of a wise man

A recent report entitled UN report: one-third of worlds food wasted annually, at great economic, environmental cost sparked in me a concern over land usage and destruction caused by our very own food wastage. Our wasted food accounts for a staggering 28% of the worlds agricultural area or 1.4billion hectares.  All of which ends up in our bin. The article discusses a recent report published by the FAO on our Food Wastage Footprint. With the drastic spreading of desertification, we simply cannot afford to allow 28% of our fertile land produce to be thrown in the garbage. As the diagram below indicates, areas surrounding now desert land (marked in red) are at high risk of desertification, these areas often belong to small countries who are highly dependent on their agricultural use and whose desertification will only cause a ripple effect of increased dependence and indebtedness on agricultural land belonging to more economically wealthy countries.
Copyright: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/68/Desertification_map.png

The results of a study undertaken by A. Challinor in 2010 suggests that for China, climate change will result in increasing spring wheat crop failure in northeast China due to increasing extremes of both heat and water stress. Now according to this quotation, that study correlates with the image above, where North-east China is at high risk of desertification. There has also been a lot of coverage on rice crop failures in China and the millions of tonnes of GHGs released as a result of this. Although there are ideas being developed to create heat-resistant and drought-resistant crops, the real answer is right in front of us and within reach. Following the FAO report cited earlier, the FAO provided a free toolkit on reducing our food wastage footprint.

Copyright: http://www.rmaf.org.ph/userfiles/

Another view of desertification which I would like to touch on is that of Masanobu Fukuoka. I recently read a book of his, One Straw Revolution which spoke of his system of natural farming where crops could be grown without plowing his fields, using no prepared fertilisers or agricultural chemicals and did not flood his rice fields as farmers in Asia continue to do. A method which he himself developed and lived by for over 65years and in fact yielded greater quantities of crops than the most productive farms in Japan. This book is highly relevant to the individual and although delves into some technicality, Fukuokas book serves a far greater purpose than farming methods. However it is his second and last book which I find so relevant to this topic of desertification, called Sowing Seeds in the Desert. Although Fukuokas influence has been only marginal so far, the increased rate of desertification begs us to look at alternative possibilities, which include a return to simple but effective methods of farming. Fukuoka reminds us that the present state of our land is not natural but rather a result of our own destructive actions, his silver-longing however, is it can be remedied and perhaps eventually reversed. HIs aspiration was to achieve global food security by natural farming which he practiced and preached in Africa, India, Southeast Asia, Europe and the United States.  Fukuoka offers us an opportunity to put aside our guilt as we face this earths degradation and take a step forward in the right direction.

Una Quinn

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Ecotourism...creating a positive change

Ecotourism is defined as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people." (TIES, 1990)  The International Ecotourism Society is a non-profit organisation with members in over 120 countries. They promote awareness of sustainable practice in the tourism sector, and provide guidelines on standards, training, technical assistance and educational resources. In the decade between the Earth Summit in 1992 and the International Year of Ecotourism in 2002, a web of over 100 certification and award programs appeared, (most of which are of varying quality).

The World Ecotourism Summit (WES) is organized by UNEP and the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) aiming to strengthen ecotourism as a tool for sustainable development and conservation. Separately, the World Ecotourism Conference aims to provide a networking platform for businesses and policy makers, but with little apparent impact. The European Ecotourism Network (EEN) and the European Ecotourism Labeling Standard (EETLS), which is co-funded by the European Commission, has been recognized by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) and in comparison with WEC and WES, there is more focus on certification and standardization. However, there is no single ruling body for global ecotourism certification, and this has inevitably led to considerable controversy and uncertainty. As it stands, the GSTC appears to be the most credible.
The Green Globe Standard was one of the leading certification bodies to come out of the Earth Summit in 1992 and is based on the following international standards and agreements: GSTC, Global Partnership for Sustainable Tourism Criteria (STC Partnership), Sustainable Tourism Certification Network of the Americas, The ISO 9001/14001/19011 (International Standard Organization) and Agenda 21. EcoAustralia, in conjunction with Green Globe, has proven to be a successful international standard and has also employed in India.

Basic ecotourism principles:
  • Sustainable management e.g. design and construction, health and safety and communications.
  • Socio-economics e.g. supporting local community initiatives such as education, fairly traded goods and securely integrated local employment.
  • Cultural heritage e.g. protection of historical, archaeological and spiritual sites and respectful incorporation of local culture.  
  •  Environmental e.g. sustainable management of water, energy, waste and protection and awareness of biodiversity.

Case Study – Lapa Rios Eco-lodge, Costa Rica
In 1993, a professional couple from Minnesota liquidated their assets and bought 930 acres of rainforest in the south west of the country. In 2013, they signed an agreement endorsed by The Nature Conservancy and CEDARENA that perpetually protects the land as a primary forest. It neighbors a National Park, which is home to 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity and acts as a migration corridor.

Although Lapa Rios eco-lodge is a leading example of ecotourism, it has not been certified by organisations such as Green Globe. Instead, they are certified by the Costa Rican tourism board agency known as the Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST), following similar principles outlined above. The CST has been recognized and approved by the tourism ministries in every country in Central America, as well as Mexico, Belize and many countries in South America have expressed interest in developing similar programs. Learn more about Lapa Rios here.

It is evident that ecotourism can and does create real positive change, even when it operates outside of well-intentioned conferences, however, many resorts will often use it as a buzzword to attract gullible travellers, so beware!
Conor Dolan

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Eating Insects To Save The World, Don’t Let It Bug You!

Source: http://www.ibtimes.com/cupcakes
Minestrone with buffalo worms and mealworms (grasshopper garnish optional); termite porridge; ‘land shrimp snack’ made of grasshoppers or locusts with hot pepper oil, lime and salt and protein bars made with cricket flour. These are just a handful of recipes from “The Insect Cookbook: Food For a Sustainable Planet” published by Dutch entomologists Arnold van Huis and Marcel Dicke, along with cooking instructor Henk van Garp[1]. The books main aim is to open our eyes to the fact that our aversion to insects as a food source is senseless and outdated. Unlike livestock and other forms of animal protein, insects are plentiful and nearly everywhere. Whilst, culturally we tend to overlook the possibility of caring for ourselves by insect means, they are a nutrient-rich and sustainable food-source that deserve consideration.

Jon Foley, head of the Institute for the Environment at the University of Minnesota, recently referred to the global food crisis as ‘the other inconvenient truth’ stating that he believes we are at a ‘critical crossroads’. Currently, the population of the world increases by about 75 million people each year. According to the United Nations Panel on Global Sustainability, the world will need at least 50% more food and 30% more water by 2030[2]. As developing countries adapt to modern needs and their economies grow, their demand for meat will increase and to meet this we will need to triple our food production. Unfortunately with current agricultural practices this is an impossible goal.

Source: http://finedininglovers.cdn.crosscast-
A recent report issued by the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) promoted human consumption of insects as an environmentally sustainable means of feeding the planet. Although it was met with disgust and tossed aside by many, others such as food expert, Ruth Reichl, former editor-in-chief of Gourmet and award winning author recently told the New York Times that “We should all be eating insects, and we all will be eating insects. They are a perfectly reasonable source of protein.”   Like it or not, eating insects (or entomophagy) provides a far more sustainable source of protein than our existing consumption of meat and animal products. Also, most edible insects are very protein rich while being comparatively very lean. For example, a cricket has all the essential amino acids that beef contains but is far higher in iron and calcium. Other insects can provide other micronutrients such as B-vitamins, beta-carotene, and vitamin E.

Not only are insects often more nutritious but they are also a potential solution to the current inefficient food system because of their marginal environmental impact. In general, insects are extremely inexpensive and relatively safe and only require a fraction of the feed, space, water and maintenance of conventional livestock. The current livestock industry is estimated to be responsible for 17-18% of greenhouse emissions and accounts for 70% of all land cleared for agriculture[3]. Almost half of global water is used to produce animal-based foods. Insects, on the other hand, can live off agricultural byproducts such as food waste (e.g. fruit peels) and only a tiny portion of them produce methane, with those that do only producing very small amounts. Also as insects are poikilothermic (i.e. their body temperature remains the same as their surroundings), they are much more efficient at converting nutrition into protein. For instance, crickets need 12 times less food than cattle to produce the same amount of protein and unlike the cruel practice of factory farming, crickets and other bugs actually thrive when they are packed on top of each other[4]. Convinced yet?

With an estimated 1417 species of insects being regularly eaten by over 2 billion people across 3,000 ethnic groups in 80% of countries around the world, it seems it is the Westerners who will suffer most in the long run. But why are we so squeamish when it comes to the idea of chomping down on nice slice of crittle (a cricket and peanut brittle hybrid)?

Most of the Western world readily eats prawns and shrimp, which are arthropods-just, like insects, spiders and millipedes! Therefore, we need to get over this idea that insects are disgusting and stop trying to live in an insect-free world where everything is sterile and clean (after all we wouldn’t be here without the pollinating insects!). But before you get too excited and run down to the local park with a homemade pooter, take heed of the following advice. Like plants, some insects are good for you and some are toxic, aswell as the fact that you can never be sure that wild insects haven’t been exposed to pesticides, therefore, only farmed insects should be consumed. There are also several ‘pestaurants’ opening up around the world with a variety of insects to suit every palate. Experts also caution that we must be careful to develop sustainable cultivation and harvesting methods, as there are examples of human overconsumption that has led to the collapse of some insect species.

Jakub Dzamba, a man who’s researching radical approaches to urban agriculture, is working to build insect farms that can go right into the walls of an apartment building. The idea is that families could feed their food scraps and leftovers to the crickets, and then eat those same crickets, thus solving the dual agricultural problems of production and distribution.  It would therefore seem that these six-legged critters might just find a spot at our table in the not-so-distant future. If we can just start to accept and overcome our fear of munching on food that creeps and crawls, the future looks a little brighter for us humans. Unfortunately, I’m not so sure the same can be said for the future of our possible new food source, who have more of a reason now than ever, to stay away from the ‘light’!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Trinity College Dublin participates in first Intervarsity BioBlitz

On 1st and 2nd of May four teams of scientists, in four different universities, will race against time to see how many plants and animals can be recorded on their campus in a 24-hour period. TCD is one of four universities taking part in the event, which also includes DCU, NUI Galway and UCC.
But anyone around campus can join in by visiting the BioBlitz Public Lab upstairs in the Science Gallery. The Lab will open at 9.30am on Friday, 2nd of May and provides a great opportunity to meet the scientists involved and find out about the plants and animals that inhabit the TCD campus. Visitors can join in one of three different plant walks at 9.30 which will survey TCD’s gardens, or find out about bugs, birds and moths at the Lab.
One of the key aims of BioBlitz is to raise awareness about biodiversity. As part of the TCD BioBlitz public engagement programme 4th class from St. Mary’s Boys school will visit the Gallery for a workshop on pollinators with Green Bee Education (www.greenbeeeducation.com). The class will make nests for solitary bees which will positioned around campus and will be revisited with a primary school class at next year’s BioBlitz.
Students and staff are being encouraged to get involved by raising awareness of Irish wildlife and the BioBlitz event through social media. Different species flyers created by @daveendangered have been distributed across the campus with specific social media contact details. This is an opportunity for everyone to support the BioBlitz and get involved by creating a SpeciesSelfie through e-mail, twitter and facebook.
For more information about the BioBlitz or how you can get involved please contact Dr Rachel Kavanagh at tcdcbr@tcd.ie.

Visit the Science Gallery on Friday, 2nd May to join in the fun.

The BioBlitz is an initiative of the National Biodiversity Data Centre and An Taisce Green Campus.  This initiative is supported in Trinity College by Trinity Centre for Biodiversity Research, the School of Natural Science, The TCD Green Committee and the MSc students in Biodiversity and Conservation and Environmental Science.

 Dr Rachel Kavanagh