Welcome to the blog of the course and textbook Facing up to global warming: What is going on and what you can do about it. This course is run by Professor Nick Gray of the Trinity Centre for the Environment at Trinity College Dublin.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Energy saving in public buildings

The Friends of the Earth have suggested that massive cuts in emissions as well as financial savings could be made by adopting more rigorous energy saving in schools, hospitals and other public offices.  It especially highlights buildings that are heated when empty during weekends and leaving computers switched on when not in use.  It estimates that it could save the state 1.75 billion euro over 10 years and  calls for  retrofitting such buildings with better insulation, reducing dependence on air conditioning and using low carbon heating systems. However, small changes can make a difference. A school in Clara in County Clare was able to reduce its electricity usage by 70% by simple actions such as lowering the heating setting on the central heating, using  time switches for heating rooms that were not used all the time, turning off the boiler at night and weekends, and encouraging staff and pupils to close doors and turn off lights.  Plans are already in place by the Government to reduce electricity use in over 10,000 buildings run by central and local government under the National Energy Efficiency Action Plan. It is claimed that the plan has already reduce energy usage by 33%  across the public sector.

More information: Friends of the Earth (2013) ‘Cuts that don’t hurt’. Friends of the Earth , Dublin. 

More information: The Second National Energy Plan launched in February 2013. 

Nick Gray

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Irish farming and climate change

Irish farming will be affected by climate change but not as severely as more southern countries.  The problems will primarily be the reduction in summer rainfall by up to 25% and an increase in winter rainfall by 17% by mid century, with Southern and Eastern counties most affected.  This will  result in extended dry periods leading to drought, flooding, heavy rainfall events and extreme temperatures, in fact far more unpredictable weather patterns making farming activities difficult to plan and execute.  While this will mainly make tillage farming more difficult from sowing to harvesting of crops, livestock farmers will also feel the pressure from increased stress to animals  and providing water in the summer to ensuring sufficient winter fodder.  The wet summer of 2012 led to a massive fodder crisis in some parts of the country during the winter and spring of 2012/13, leading to massive imports of hay and silage from the UK and Europe. The increased prevalence of pests and diseases ,especially new pests as their ranges increase in response to higher temperatures, will affect all farming sectors.   It is not all negative because the higher temperatures will increase cereal and beet yields, which is in stark comparison to countries such as Romania and Hungary which will see a steep decline in crop yields due to water scarcity.  The solution is for the Irish farming sector  to  increase crop diversity, alter planting and harvesting regimes, develop more climate resilient crops, and to introduce water management strategies.

Nick Gray

Friday, November 8, 2013

Air pollution reaches a new high in China

The airpocalypse is what people are calling the extended periods of smog that have been intensifying over the past few years in China’s capital Beijing.   In the city deaths from lung cancer have increased by 56% over the decade up to 2010 coinciding with massive industrialization and an increase in the number of cars using the city’s street exceeding 5 million. The most serious problem appears to be PM2.5, minute particles released from fires and vehicle exhausts which has strong links to lung cancer.  To counteract the effects of the smog particles all schools in the capital will be closed when smog  incidents persist for more than three days.  Twenty percent of the world’s confirmed cases of cancer now occur in china with atmopsheric pollution a major causative factor.  Seven of the top 10 most polluted cities in China are in the Hebei province in the North of the country which is a major centre for coal powered electricity generation and steel manufacturing resulting in the heavy atmospheric pollution that also contributes to the problem in Beijing.  In 2014 the city will be setting even stricter quotas on the number of new car registrations to just 150,000, a reduction of 40% over the previous year’s quota.
Nick Gray

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Ireland's Greenhouse Gas Emissions 2012

Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions rose by 1% in 2012 to 57.92 million tonnes, reversing a six year downward trend.  This was primarily due to a 5.9%  increase in emissions from power generation using coal and peat, and a 3% increase from the agricultural sector due to increased livestock numbers.  Industrial and commercial emissions rose by 1.8% overall, although the cement industry alone showed a 18% increase in emissions as the economy begins to recover. Transport, residential and waste emissions all fell by 3.5, 5.9 and 2.7% respectively. The reduction in residential emissions is thought to be due to the mild winter while the reduction in waste emissions is due to a 11.7% reduction in methane emissions from landfill sites.

EPA emissions by category 1990-2012. Image.

The EPA has blamed low carbon prices for the increased use of peat and coal for electricity generation and has  called for the decoupling of carbon emissions from economic growth.

For a full news briefing: Link

Explore the full Report: Ireland's Greenhouse GasInventory 1990-2012

Nick Gray

Friday, September 20, 2013

Mobile phone ownership soars in Africa

Mobile phone usage and using the Internet all have definable carbon emissions and the ownership of mobile phones and especially smart phones is continuing to rapidly rise, and this is also the case in Africa according to a recent article in the Times Higher Education Supplement.

The economy of Africa has grown by 5% per year for the past 10 years and is predicated to continue to grow faster than any other continent over the next 5 years.  The growth of mobile phone ownership in Africa has soared as a consequence from 25 million in 2001 to 650 million in 2011.  Ownership rates are close to the global average with 86% of the planet’s population having a mobile phone connection.  The highest ownership rates in Africa are the Cote D’Ivoire at 93%,  Senegal 90%, South Africa 90%, Egypt 90%, Ghana 88%, Cameroon 86%, Nigeria 82%, Tanzania 80%, Uganda 79% and Kenya 71%.  In sub-Saharan Africa there are 40 mobile connections for each land line connection.  However, Internet penetration is poor and expensive with average current penetration only 15.6% compared to 83.6% in the UK, although this varies widely falling to just 1.2% in Somalia. The full article can be accessed here.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Dinner’s on me

The food we eat everyday forms a critical component of our carbon emissions. How we get this food and what we do with the waste form the integral part of this problem.While as consumers we have limited control over the agricultural practices, food wastage is entirely down to us. What makes this problem even more dramatic is the fact that food wastage is a completely unnecessary and avoidable in today’s modern world. Coming from an agricultural background and working part time in a local supermarket, I have experienced first-handthe huge wastage that exists among society today.
According to the Department of Agriculture’s websites, 29% of Irelands total national carbon emissions in 2009 came from the agricultural sector while food wastage accounted for approximately 15 million tons of CO2emissions each year in the UK.  This area urgently needs to be addressed. Working part time in my local supermarket has given a prime insight into the food wastage that occurs there on a daily basis. Date checks have to be carried out on all products on a daily basis. When most products near their expiry date they are marked down in price, however meat and dairy products have to be removed a day before their ‘best-before’ or ‘use-by’ date, resulting in huge wastage. These products are simply thrown in the bin. Similarly, living on a farm has given me an insight into the wastage that occurs before products even reach the shops. Many perfectly healthy vegetables are deemed to be ‘unsellable’ due to their unusual shape or appearance. While food is wasted every day in first world countries such as Ireland, 239 million people in Africa go hungry every year.
Now that we are aware of the problem, what can be done in order to obtain our food in a more sustainable manner? Examples of sustainable initiatives at a nationwide level include:
·         In America, food collecting organizations have been established and collect food from restaurants, supermarkets and cafeterias that would otherwise be thrown out and distribute it to low income families and the homeless. If a similar plan was adopted in Ireland it would significantly reduce food wastage in supermarkets across Ireland.
·         Since the fall of the Celtic tiger in Ireland, there has been a growing trend towards allotment gardening where people can grow their own fruit and vegetables. I was interested to learn during the Living Sustainably course that anything grown in an allotment or garden in season is equal to 0g CO2e kg-1.If county councils across Ireland committed to supplying land for allotment gardening, carbon emissions would be significantly reduced.
·         In response to the emissions from agriculture, the Department of Agriculture has committed to a plan of planting new forests and maintaining good forest management in order to counteract CO2 emissions.
However real change is needed at the basic human level and it is up to each and every one of us to change our consumer habits to ensure a sustainable planet for the future.  By committing to buying only the food we really need, to buy food that is locally produced and in season and by avoiding unnecessary food packaging we can make a big difference to the planet.
 Additional Information can be found on:
·         http://www.allotments.ie/
·         http://www.agriculture.gov.ie/


Sunday, June 30, 2013

Quality v. Quantity: Mindful Living...or Frugality often gets a bad rap.

 Frugality often gets a bad rap.
Why is it that so often living “frugally” is often linked mentally with want, deprivation and hardship?  Mention the word and immediately people conjure up archaic images of teabags drying on radiators, cold showers and penny-pinching, when in reality frugality is essentially a means of achieving a quality lifestyle and fulfilling the needs of the individual in society, whilst leaving minimum negative impact on community, the planet and its resources. Admittedly, the word frugal itself is hardly the most onomatopoeically-endearing of the English language, but it does certainly does lend a solid air of reality which encompasses the essence of what frugal living is about.  For me, being frugal is a means of directing the materials and resources available to me towards a goal which I want to achieve, enabling me to complete such tasks in a less wasteful, more efficient and thoroughly-considered fashion.  In no sense do I consider there to be any level of deprivation; in fact I think cutting the clutter and distraction from ones life allows for greater clarity to shine through, enabling one to visualise plainly what are the real essentials in life and how best to go about maintaining these.  In the overwhelmingly materialistic, consumer-driven society in which we live, more and more excesses of all has lead to a devaluing of quality in favour of inferior quantity.  Here frugality can act as a life raft in the sea of superfluousness, a wake-up call forcing us to examine what matters.  Giving a brief run-down through this topic does not do it justice as by its very nature greater depth of thought is required, but frugal living can be broadly addressed in three main sections:  the why, the how and the outcome.
Frugal living is a sustainable way of life and can be viewed as a way of guaranteeing, to the best of one’s ability, that the life one leads is truly meaningful.  My own personal definition of sustainability would run something like: “Sustainability is the thought process behind mindfully living a considered life, endeavouring to maintain an equilibrium between personal development, integrity, and responsibility, such that the needs of future generations are not compromised through mismanagement of the earth’s resources by present generations.”  Lofty ideals you may think, but unless one strives toward an upward goal there would certainly be no motivation to continue on.  In the case of any goal that requires longevity, soundly-founded motivations need to be established before anything is ventured and frugal sustainability is no different.  We need to ask ourselves “Why should I do this?  What are the benefits to me personally and what are the benefits to the wider community?  Am I ready to accept that my personal decisions can and will have a large impact on those around me?”. If these questions can be answered honestly and solidly there will be sufficient motivational undercurrents to sustain one through the practical implementations of frugal living.  Starting small and incorporating small changes on a day-to-day basis, great success can be accomplished through the setting of many small, realistic and achievable goals. 
Avoiding procrastination is a definite requirement for living the frugal lifestyle, but once this reality is accepted as a hitherto-unrecognised benefit, the sky’s the limit for the creative ways in which frugality can be lived out, making your time, money and resources work hardest for you.  From practical applications such as reducing waste in the home, buying less consumer goods and increasing productivity by utilising goods to the very end of their product-life, to more fun and unique approaches such as going on self-imposed spending ‘diets’, enjoying frugal freezer-food meals and trying out ‘Meatless Mondays’.  Certainly we must realise that there is no one magic-bullet, simplistic route to achieve these goals, but we need to take every small avenue available to us, making numerous small changes.
The outcome of embarking on the frugal living path is that it allows for greater personal freedom.  Less “stuff” means a reduction in time and energy consumed whilst absorbed in (or perhaps burdened with) said “stuff”. We are afforded more time to reflect and think on our life-goals.  We are mindfully conscious of what we are doing and why we are doing it.  Savouring experiences and enjoying simple pleasures are incomparably more fulfilling than rushing through a series of tick-the-box life goals set up on a scale belonging to the Joneses.  Paring back the excess allows us to appreciate all the more how rich we really are – after all, our attention is no longer divided in multiple different ways but rather we are free to focus and enjoy the delights of a smaller number of better-curated occupations.  Each of us are the cultivator of our own person and our personal development, which in turn is amplified and combined with that of others to create the societies in which we live.  We have the right to enjoy this, but more importantly we have the responsibility to do so - not only for our own sakes’ but for the sake of our fellow man and frugal living is a powerful way to do so.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Carpooling: The Drive to Green.

It was the summer of 2010; myself and a friend were on a trip of a lifetime inter-railing around Europe. For those of you who have never inter-railed, an inter-rail pass is a train ticket for EU members allowing you to travel between countries in the EU over a period of time.
Inter-railing is an experience to say the least. Leaving aside the crazy nights out, the sun, sea, historical sites and the people you meet along the way. You can often arrive in new location tired, hungry, and bagged down and with no idea of where you’re staying, or what you’re doing.
It was this mixed bag of emotions which we were carrying when we were hurled off an overnight train in Stuttgart mid journey from Munich to Paris. The train had been double booked, they had no record of our reservations, and no sympathy for the tired tears that ran down our grubby faces – Off we stepped at 3am into Stuttgart. We desperately needed to get to Paris on time –but how? Despite the lack of customers one solitary café remained open despite the lack of customers. This Café introduced us to a Danish girl who was fluent in English and German, she kindly helped us to look up tickets for the next train, and at two hundred Euros each we quickly resigned to the fact that we were doomed.   Seeing our reaction the Dane stepped up her game and introduced us to the Mid- European phenomenon of Carpooling.
The majority of us have heard of people sharing lifts to work or school in order to save; time, money and of course the environment. This goes a step further. We found a website advertising free spaces in a car which was travelling from one destination to another, each passenger pooled their money together to pay for the petrol. So there we were at 4.30 am calling a strange number arranging a lift to Paris from Stuttgart and by 7 am we were in a car with four other people! By pooling together we saved the money and the environment through more efficient use of petrol as it would take the same amount of petrol to take one of us from Stuttgart to Paris.

Carpooling evidently means more people in a one car, this means less cars on the road, this can directly lead to less pollution; Less air pollution, noise pollution, less carbon emission, less greenhouse gas emission. Evidently carpooling is a major and direct step towards a cleaner and greener environment.  When we arrived safely in Paris we wished our fellow commuters a nice trip and parted ways. For a simple 30 euro each we made an economical saving of 170 euro each, in comparison to the alternative train ticket, while simultaneously saving the environment.

Although many people have questioned the safety element of ‘getting in a car with a stranger’ this carpooling idea could easily be adopted to the business sector of Ireland with many people making trips from Dublin to Galway or Cork on a daily basis it would be a safe and easy way to save the money and the environment to simply set up a business carpooling community and drive towards green.
Jane Farrelly

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Internationalisation and long-distance relationships : the carbon impact of the ERASMUS generation’s air travels

 Since its creation in 1987, the Erasmus programme has developed into what is now considered a massive success and a considerable achievement in terms of connecting European Universities and people. From a few thousands students in 1987-1988 to about 180 000 in 2007-2009, more than 3 millions students overall benefited from this programme and grants and went abroad to study as Erasmus students. They were thus offered the unique chance to travel, discover new countries, learn about new cultures, mix with new people, in  the hope that, on top of often learning another language, they would create emotional bounds with other places and people which would make them truly internationalised European citizens.

However, as much as internationalising affections and relationships might have the capacity to bring European people closer, it certainly doesn’t shorten the actual distances which separates their countries. By allowing and encouraging young people to go abroad, and to become attached to places and people far from their home, the European Union has participated in creating an even more mobile category of people, whose nomadism is not primarily professional but sentimental. My point here is that such bounds have an ecological cost, particularly in regards to transportation use.

Erasmus students have to deal with two kinds of long-distance ties : those which precede their departure and that they wish to maintain when they’re abroad, and those they create in their host country, which they will attempt to conserve after leaving it. The first category typically includes family and childhood friends, and requires regular visit usually justified by specific circumstances (Christmas, important events, grave issues...). Romantic relationships are even more demanding, since visits are spontaneously expected to be as frequent as possible. They are also likely to receive visits from their friends and family during their time abroad. The second category may involve a girlfriend/boyfriend as well, and more generally friends, from the host country or elsewhere, but most likely not from the exact same place. Some of these people will remain dear enough to be visited later on, and they will perhaps visit too, which means that former Erasmus students will be tempted to travel around to see all their friends, those who stayed, and those who spread out as they went back to their home country.

It is quite clear that such intense travelling would have a massive impact on personal carbon footprint, in which transportation habits play a big part: it is estimated that approximately 56% of CO2 equivalent per year (CO2e yr-1) of the personal footprint derives from travel (1). Let’s take an example to verify and illustrate that. We choose Ireland as host country, which already implies that the vast majority of Erasmus travels (home country/host country) will be airline travels. Now, consider a German student from Koln, coming to Dublin as Erasmus student. If he stays 4 months, doesn’t get any visit and only takes a plane to come and go back at the end of his stay, the carbon cost of his Erasmus experience, in regards to air travels only, is 0.19 tonnes of CO2e (2). Now, assume he stays in Dublin the entire academic year, and goes back for Christmas and in March to see his girlfriend. She visits him once; his parents come as well, and so does his brother, and two of his closest friends. Overall, his Erasmus adventure will have caused 18 air travels, (9 return trips), resulting in the emission of 1.71 tonnes of CO2e (assuming all of his friends and family depart from Koln as well). To that, we should add the travels he does the following year to come back and visit his friends still living in Dublin (0.19 t CO2e), and as he travels to Barcelona to see a friend he met in Dublin (0.22 t). One of his Irish acquaintances also grabs the opportunity to visit Koln during the festival (0.19 t). That will make a total emission of 2.31 tonnes of CO2e caused by the air travels linked to one Erasmus student – and this doesn’t include embedded costs (construction and maintenance of airports and airplanes, extraction of fuels…). Considering that the Irish mean personal emission is 5.70 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year, it does represent a considerable amount of greenhouse gases – especially if it can be generalised to all Erasmus students.

Out of 15 Erasmus students studying in Trinity College for the academic year 2012-2013, and randomly picked among personal acquaintances 14 of them had had at least 4 visits from friends and family. They all made the trip home for Christmas, and the majority came back another time during the year. On average, being in a relationship with somebody from home cost 2 extra return trips. They all intended to come back to Dublin for holidays in the future. One of them, from France, had started a relationship with an Erasmus student from Latvia he had met in Ireland. They were looking up the flights and trying to find ways to meet regularly, anticipating for when they would be separated by about 2000 km. When asked what they meant by ‘regularly’, he answered ‘You have to spend some time together at least every two or three months, otherwise there’s no point, it can’t work, you know, you better give it up right away. Three months is already, like, a really long time.’

Of course, the impact on CO2e emissions will vary greatly depending on the duration of the stay, the closeness of the relationships and individual financial resources. But as a whole, it appears to increase considerably the use of aviation, which is a major component of individual footprint. It can be argued that some of these travels would have occurred anyway, as people grow used to going on vacation abroad. Erasmus students would then draw travels to specific destinations, but not actually cause them. On the other hand, international, uprooted students typically don’t have a car, which diminishes their personal footprint. More generally, we can hope that Erasmus students grow more conscious of global stakes, and that their international contacts and knowledge give them tools to deal adequately with collective issues such as climate change. Yet again, only a fringe of the population is allowed to become internationalised – and is therefore responsible for high emissions of CO2e due to air travels. Traditionally, internationalisation was reserved for the elite. Now, and thanks to the Erasmus programme so to say, it includes the educated middle-class. Fortunately, most of these ecologically costly international ties are likely to fade away with time, and the impact will thus reduce as years passes. The worst-case scenario in terms of greenhouse gases emissions is then international relationships resulting in lengthy commitments, as they create couples and families built between two countries and heavily relying on air travel. And we ought to hope that such intercultural successes remain scarce.

Marion Lieutaud 

(1) Kenny, T. and Gray, N.F. (2009), ‘A preliminary survey of household and personal carbon dioxide émissions in Ireland’,  Environment International, 35, 259-272


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Consumerism: The enemy of the environment

The first decade of the 21st century saw the emergence of the importance of protecting our environment. Being part of the school system at the time meant watching as curriculums changed and seeing notices over light switches to remind the teachers about the new measures in place. I remember when recycling became more than just a phenomenon, it became a way of life. I recall wondering which bin my bottle went in to, until finally it all became second nature. For my generation, climate change is something that has been a part of our lives as we grew up.
Everyone knows that climate change is not something to joke about. Why is it then, that in approaches to climate change, it is always the economic impact that is considered first? Our finite resources such as oil are under risk and will run out relatively soon, yet we continue to burn through our resources at an alarming rate. Our sea-levels are rising, our species are dying out and we have reduced freshwater availability. These are only the beginning of the long list of climate change effects. Yet we constantly need a reason to make change. When considering making changes to our lifestyle to benefit the environment, the incentives are always economical – how much money will we save?
News outlets and politicians use buzz words like “environmentally friendly” or “climate change aware” but they have been thrown around for so long that they have lost all impact or meaning. No one seems to comprehend the extremities we are facing if our current pace of life does not change.  As a geography student myself, I am aware that the impact our current way of life has on the environment around us is vast. However, I was unaware of the EXTENT to which our resources are running out.
Consumerism has engulfed the developed world and millions of jobs are focused on selling the consumer products and convincing them that they always need more. Marketing campaigns that depict happiness upon purchase of a certain product place pressure on consumers to consistently be purchasing their new product, or they will not achieve this generated form of contentment.

Technological advances, though beneficial in many respects, feed into this consumerist lifestyle; the consistent desire to have the latest gadget. Our daily lives are consumerist driven, even on a college basis. Walking around with coffee cup in hand is no longer a source of refreshment, but a fashion necessity. The pressure to have a smartphone is outstanding, while a new laptop every year is a must. Wearing the same outfit twice in one week is unprecedented and accessories are expected to change all the time.

A busy shopping mall, another example of our consumerist society.
Why is leading a sustainable lifestyle not fashionable? As a global community, we need to generalise the idea of living a life where your demands on the planet are at a reasonable rate. The phenomenon of doing more with less is not scientifically startling, but it is challenging. I am of the belief that by a combined volume of small efforts, climate change can be tackled head on. Everyone knows that you shouldn’t leave the tap on when you’re brushing your teeth and that lights should be switched off upon exiting a room, but these were the things introduced when this climate change phenomenon started more than a decade ago. Surely we have made more advancement since then?
The next decade will be challenging for economists and environmentalists alike. While economists attempt to predict the financial future of the developed world, environmentalists will be trying to predict how much longer we have on the planet before something has to give. The experts in both fields need to take each other’s concerns on board, and recognise the validity of the alternative area of expertise. By combining the knowledge of two fields of people, a more feasible way of dealing with our every changing climate can be devised. Hopefully this will come into place before it is too late.
Bredeen Rooney

Friday, June 14, 2013

Learning from the Dutch cyclists – another important lesson

Learning from the Dutch cyclists – another important lesson
Mass cycling protest in Amsterdam
The Netherlands is famous for its cycling infrastructure and policy. In light of climate change and the push to engage in more sustainable lifestyles, cities across the globe have been turning to the Dutch cycling model and trying to integrate its elements into their own sustainability/transport plans and policies. The Dutch cycling culture of today; however, is certainly different than it was in the past.
In the years after WWII, automobile usage skyrocketed following the rapid rebuilding of a war-torn country. Congestion of city streets and marginalization of cyclists quickly became apparent, but one of the most terrible effects of this shift towards automobile use was the number of accident-related deaths of children (400 in 1971) that occurred (1). Mass protests, notable the “Stop Child Murder” campaign became popular, and public pressure to create safer, more cycle and pedestrian friendly streets ensued. Finally, changes in policy and planning were generated at the government level with amazing results. Child deaths were significantly reduced, many city centers became car-free, and infrastructure changed dramatically to reflect the high priority of cyclists visible in Dutch cities today.
While I could write a whole other blog post on the successes (and failures) of learning from and implementing similar cycling models in other cities, I have chosen to highlight another lesson we should be reminded of from the Dutch experience.
The shift from the popularity of the automobile towards a more sustainable means of public transportation was achieved through protesting and public pressure on the government. What alarms me is that the main driver of these protests was the loss of life. It appears as though the 3,300 accident-related deaths in one year (1) was what it took for the public to finally rally together and effect change.
When I think about the heaps of changes that need to be made in our current lifestyles to live more sustainably, I wonder what it is going to take before we get that critical mass of people that can influence our government to help us make these changes on a large scale. There is an overwhelming amount of advocacy groups, initiatives and campaigns geared towards aspects of sustainable living – could any one of these be the next “Stop Child Murder” campaign and cause a great shift towards another element of sustainable living? It is my hope that we can be proactive, that we can stand behind movements to help them reach that critical mass, but that this can be done before we begin to see such severe, direct consequences such as loss of life. Let us learn not only from the fantastic example that the Dutch sets on sustainable transportation, but also from the way this change was effected.
Heather Stark

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Environmentalism: the good, the bad and the ugly.

As an environmentalist – well, perhaps an amateur environmentalist - I would like to believe that I am part of a respected community, one which has directed the environmental movement upwards so that the earth and its billions of inhabitants can live in peace and harmony, thus satisfying my inner-hippy.  Idealistic as this may sound, the majority of activists have helped in some way to propel environmentalism to new heights.  Unfortunately, on occasion, the agents of environmentalism prove to be their own worst enemy, undermining the very cause for which they stand and representing a detrimental force in the environmental movement.
It’s 1974, and the Indian ‘Chipko movement’ catches the nation’s heart; a group of innovative peasant women demonstrate such courage and initiative that they inadvertently inspire worldwide action to be taken at the grassroot level.   Was this a step forward for environmentalism? Most definitely.  However, with the vibes of Woodstock and the ‘swinging sixties’ still ringing in the air, it did not take too long before these proactive pioneers were stripped of their glory, and instead faced a harsher identity as hippy ‘tree huggers’.  As the hippy subculture and the environmental movement grew in tandem, mainstream society grew increasingly intolerant and wary of such radicalism; suddenly, all environmentalists, as brainwashed ‘greenies’, were the outsiders, and a new wave of environmental scepticism and  anti-environmentalism surfaced.

Now don’t get me wrong, the sentiments and proactivity of these particular environmentalists must be admired, but considering that the media loves so much to highlight the more bizarre of their escapades, I cannot help but feel that they have somewhat compromised the validity of the word ‘environmentalist’.   More often than not, that word conjures up stereotypical images of long-haired, psychedelic pacifists who drive around in Scooby-Doo-esque vans solving environmental crimes, making the activities of all environmentalists easy to automatically dismiss.  The more visible efforts of many extreme or radical environmentalists have jeopardised the efforts of others, whose invisible work goes unacknowledged and unappreciated.                      

This controversial form of radical environmentalism, whether successful or not, threatens to slow down the pace of the environmental movement, but little else.   Is this annoying?  Yes.  Is this dangerous? No. What is dangerous, however, is the ever-growing threat of eco-terrorism, which is rapidly embracing its identity as the new ‘religion of environmentalism’.  According to the FBI, these environmental fundamentalists can claim responsibility for over $300 million worth of damage caused within a relatively short period of time (between 2003 and 2008).  The ‘fear factor’ which they have sought to (and regrettably, successfully) establish has made use of vandalism, tree spiking, arson and bombing, leaving one wondering how exactly they can call themselves ‘environmentalists’ if they are so readily willing to destruct the thing for which they fight.

These fanatical ‘eco-warriors’ live up to their name as they engage in battle, whether against the survival of
our own species in ‘the voluntary human extinction movement’, or as members of the infamous ‘earth Liberation front’ which, in the past, has topped the FBI’s domestic terror threat list.    The indirect consequence of such detrimental action is the further depletion of respect for environmentalists and their field of study; by taking such drastic steps towards environmental sustainability, this set of radical environmentalists achieve the opposite of what they believe in and prevent environmentalism from reaching its true potential. 

As environmentalists, we must not presume that all acts on behalf of the environment should be supported.  While the majority of us are good, it goes without saying that the world of environmental protection has experienced it fair share of bad and ugly alike.

Conor Grehan.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

More than just a pretty face? Yes, a sustainable face!

Mother Nature always knows best. But for those of us who what to enhance what she has given us, there’s makeup. And thank God for that!  Yet, I wonder, what cost is the environment paying for our beautifully made up faces? The answer, it appears is a high one.

Most common makeup brands produce their products using a concoction of various different artificial chemicals such as parabens and petrochemicals. In particular, parabens have been shown to have very worrying effects to A) humans and B) fish that they come into contact with. It is a little known fact that up to 60% of the makeup that you put on your face is absorbed in to your body. So much for beauty being only skin deep!

It is therefore unsettling that chemicals, such as parabens have been shown to affect hormones and mimic estrogen in the human body, especially since excess estrogen has the potential to cause breast cancer [1]. Once off your face, these chemicals can then enter the main sources of lakes and rivers etc. This can be detrimental to the marine life of these waters and cause permanent damage to ecosystem. In fact, parabens have been shown to cause male fish to be transformed into ‘intersex fish’ – male fish with female characteristics. Mother Nature would not be impressed.

The next concern I have with makeup is its packaging. The packaging is often made of non-biodegradable plastics. So where does it all end up? The answer is a landfill site. Landfill sites are the horrible spots on the face of this planet. And concealer is not the answer! In fact, beauty products make up approximately a third of landfill waste [2]! Finally, the way makeup is manufactured can have a huge carbon footprint, not to mention the carbon cost of sending these products to the consumers world wide.

So what is the solution? The obvious answer is to go au natural and just forget about makeup all together. Realistically, however, this is never going to happen. And thankfully it is possible to look good and allow the environment to look good too. There are brands out there that sell natural cosmetics, such as Futurenatural. Its founder, Emma Pezzack, promises that the makeup she sells is made with 100% natural ingrediants and is sold in recycled packaging [3]. Once finished with your products you can then recycle them. Origins retail store accept empty cosmetics containers for recycling, regardless of the brand. The best part is that you get rewarded with a free sample of one of their high-performance skincare products in return.

To further reduce the carbon footprint of your pretty face, you should choose a brand the manufactures its products in an efficient way. Apparently, Eastman GEM technology is the way forward. GEM technology is better than conventional manufacturing processes in that it uses enzymes and closely controlled manufacturing conditions to produce its cosmetics. This in turn reduces unwanted by-products, consumes less energy and can lead to a 52% reduction in CO2 emissions. ‘The beauty is in the process’ [4].  So behind the pretty picture, there is an ugly truth. Makeup can cover up your flaws but it can create flaws in the environment. So, if you want to continue looking fresh-faced and beautiful well into the future, there is a need to evaluate what’s in your makeup bag. And remember, sustainable is always beautiful!

Megan Pendred
[3] http://www.thedailygreen.com/living-green/blogs/fashion-beauty/green-cosmetics-460407

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Re-educating the Family

 “Aaahhhhhhhhh….”. The exasperated sigh of a man whose eco-friendly advice falls on deaf ears. As a student of geography I find myself more aware of the current and developing problems associated with the environment in modern life and attempt to do what little I can do (without going completely out of my way, I’ll admit I’m not fully dedicated to the cause) to alleviate some of the stresses I personally inflict upon the environment. The little things such as short showers, flicking the light switch off, ensuring the recycling is done properly and plugging out all unnecessary plugs. As you can clearly tell, I’m not claiming to be the most eco-friendly person that’s ever lived but I’m certainly putting an effort in.

I have tried to instil some of these morals to the rest of my family but they either love to ignore my increasingly persistent advice or simply choose to do the opposite of what I’ve suggested. Each family member has their own bad habits that they just refuse to break. My sister and I have had more fights over her leaving the shower running for 5 minutes, with no one in it, simply to “warm it up” as she says. Apparently it’s different to when I take a shower because when I do it warms up in a matter of seconds. She also is a fan of leaving lights, TV’s and stereos perpetually on. Sometimes I feel that my only job in the house is to turn objects off after her. My Mam seems to have a particular disliking for the recycling. No matter how many times I show her that cardboard, tins and types of plastic go in to the green bin, I’ll still find the aforementioned objects in the kitchen bin when I’m throwing something (within the right category) into it. My Dad has a particular attachment to his car and has been commuting to work for it in years. I can’t remember the number of times I’ve told him to start using public transport at the very least and he has stoically ignored. This is the one place I’ve seen improvement however as one day, out of the blue, he bought himself a decent bike and began cycling to work and has kept it up since. Up until that point I felt my mission of attempting to “green” up my family was futile as no one listened but if I could convince my dad to make a pretty dramatic switch, I feel the rest is within my reach too. I understood, to a minute degree, what it felt like to be an environmentalist in the world we live in today. The majority of your advice is being ignored, simply for convenience purposes, but occasionally you can get through and make a difference. No matter how insignificant it may seem, a drop of water still changes the level.
Andrew Garland

Saturday, June 1, 2013

My Carbon Cycle

The daily commute is something most people dread. Living in Glenageary and spending 5 days a week in college in the city centre, I spend approximately 90 minutes a day on buses (if I’m lucky and dodge the traffic!) which amounts to a whopper 450 minutes a week sitting on an over-crowded bus listening to other peoples music bleeding from their headphones. It’s time I loath to waste, but it’s not just time that I’m wasting.
My bus journeys make me accountable for about 20km of CO2 production weekly! Inspired by the clearing of the rainclouds and the signals that we may actually begin to experience something resembling Spring, I set myself what seemed like an achievable task: to forgo the buses for a week and instead cycle to college for the week. It seemed like a win/win situation: I’d be using a carbon neutral form of transport and I’d be saving on bus fare. “Why doesn’t everyone do this?” I asked myself as I set off on a crisp March Monday morning.
“Why doesn’t everyone do this?”

About an hour later, as I arrived panting into college, feeling like my legs were about to burst into flames, I found the answer to my own question: This is hard! Every tweak we make to our lives to make them more sustainable requires us making sacrifices.
I believe, in the developed world we are so accustomed to a plethora of amenities and indulgences which work their way into becoming part of our day-to-day lives. Removing even the smallest of these from your routine, is a huge shock to the system. It’s a change that can take a huge amount of adjustment to our daily routine and an element of sacrifice. Therefore, people living comfortable, perhaps financially sustainable lifestyles just simply can’t be bothered. Why go without when making a sacrifice which results in decreasing your carbon footprint puts extra strain or discomfort in your life when the benefits cannot be immediately seen?
It is an uphill battle that environmentalists face: convincing those so consumed with the present that they are directly contributing to the destruction of our future. The allure of immediate gratification is hard to compete with, however we must persevere and accept that seemingly small individual sacrifices now amount to huge collective benefit in the future.
This is a lesson I’ve heard many times, but only really rang true with me when I decided to make a personal sacrifice for the good of the environment in which I live. Taking the bus was by far the easier, passive option. But I had to ask myself, can I afford to knowingly be that selfish and not feel guilty? The answer was no. I’ve persevered with the cycling with some exceptions here and there (there’s no accounting for torrential downpour!) and have willingly made an achievable sacrifice for the greater good. Not to mention the bus fare I’m saving!
Stephen Lehane

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Self-Powered House

 With sustainability becoming the latest buzzword to infiltrate itself into our workplace, education system and media, isn’t it about time we took a serious look at in our homes? The increasing emphasis on our need to provide a cleaner, more green future for our children has lead to advancements in technology that have made renewable energy sources readily available for household installment.
Despite the technology being available and an apparent thirst for more sustainable solutions towards energy, we only see these techniques employed on the governmental scale and rarely on the individual household scale. Why is this? Is it cost, practicality, maintenance or some other reason?

Micro Wind Turbines
Wind turbines are generators that are installed on the top of a mast that harness energy from prevailing winds. As expected as wind speeds increase the amount of energy generated also increases. This mans that appropriate wind speeds are required for this renewable energy technique. The lowest wind speeds needed to generate energy is a reliable 3m/s (6.7mph) wind with the maximum wind speed being 15m/s (33mph).
Any energy created by the wind turbine will be consumed initially by the household property. If the household is unable to consume all of the energy then the excess energy created will be spilled back into the grid. The household will then be paid for each kWh exported to the grid.
The price for your excess energy can vary but currently in Ireland the rate is 19c/kWh for the first 3000 units and then 9c/kWh thereafter. There is currently no tax relief for wind turbines but a scheme maybe introduced soon.
The cost for the smallest 1kw tower is €5,334 rising to €22,643 for the much larger and productive 5kw tower. There is also cheaper DIY and special offers to be found on wind turbines. It is of course important to remember that once the unit is installed the energy is free.
More information on costs can be found at: http://www.windturbines.ie
The working life of the best quality wind turbines is 20 with annual maintenance check-ups. However, due to the nature of the generation damage can occur after the first strong storm.
The average time needed for an investment in an average size turbine is between 10-12 years, there are however, many factor affecting this such as maintenance, damage, power production and demand.

Solar Panels
Another common and accessible alternative to wind turbines is solar panels. Traditional household solar panels will be attached to the residents south-facing roof. There are A 6m2 solar panel can produce the energy equivalent of a 3kW immersion heater running for 2.5 hours each day, even in Irelands overcast climate. Solar panels work off radiation emitted from the sun and so can still generate power despite overcast skies. This allows Irelands climate to be as productive as Paris and 70% of the Mediterranean coast.
The two main types of solar panel instillation are those of photovoltaic panels and active solar water heaters. The solar water heaters reduce energy bills and carbon footprints along with producing a constant supply of hot water. The photovoltaic panels are like the wind turbines and provide a source of electricity directly to the house and connected to the grid for spill over. The payment for the spill over energy is the same as mentioned above.  
The costs of solar panels vary from product to product due to size, quality, power generation and lifespan. At the lower end of the scale a 20 tube water heating system would currently cost €3,300 and photovoltaic systems starting from €3,910.
There are currently government schemes in place to assist with the instillation of solar panels in Ireland calculated at €250 per m2 installed up to a maximum of €1800.
More information can be found at: www.eirgreen.com

Looking Forward
These two renewable energy schemes on scratch the surface of systems available at the household level today. Hopefully with increased awareness of these systems and continued government grants we will see a marked increase in the uptake of systems such as these.

Charlie Blakemore

Sunday, May 26, 2013

In-Vitro Grown Meat - a low carbon alternative?

Which scene do you think is more appealing? Lush green pastures, covering dozens of acres, filled with grazing cattle - or muscle cell culture, floating in a petri dish flooded with growth hormones, nutrients and stimulants. The end result of both: the beef burger you're going to chow down on for dinner. Easy decision, right?

Image source
Not so fast - there’s more to this “lab meat” than it initially seems. In-vitro meat – grown from animal tissue in an indoor setting - has the potential to be just as palatable and tasty as the "real deal".  The potential industry revolution has been garnering more and more attention in recent years: in 2011, PETA announced an award of $1 million to whoever managed to produce meat from cell culture which is as good as the meat from a whole animal (1). Though currently too expensive for the average person - a meat for a beef burger currently costs about £200,000 (2) - the costs will eventually drop, allowing those who find meat eating morally reprehensible finally have that steak they've been dreaming about for years.

But there is more than just an ethical benefit in replacing traditionally-grown red and white meat with the in-vitro variant.  The live meat industry is a massive contributor to global environmental change; it is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, takes up 2/3 of agricultural land, and costs 2500-5000 gallons of water per pound of beef produced (3,4). Clearly, reducing our meat and dairy consumption is a simple but significant change that each individual could take to reduce one's carbon footprint. But in-vitro meat is an interesting alternative; the production method results in less greenhouse gas emissions, requires less energy and could reduce emissions at other points in the supply chain. A recent study by Tuomisto and de Mattos (5 - include a diagram, possible?) estimated that lab-grown meat would require 99% less land use, 82-96% less water consumption, 78-96 less greenhouse gas emissions, and 7-45% less energy per volume of pork, beef and sheep (poultry would require more energy but much less land  and water). Though these figures are built on many assumptions, technological innovations could meet these targets. Meat appears to be back on the menu in our environmentally-turbulent world.

The possibilities of in-vitro meat do not end there. Meat could be produced in urban environments and delivered rapidly to food distributers and shops, reducing the eco-burden of shipping and transportation from the source of production. The monetary and energy costs of freezing the product would be reduced also, as excess fats and bone would not need to stored. More savings could be made by "vertical farming" - high rise buildings devoted to the indoor production of food stuffs in urban environments (6). These "food factories" aim to be as efficient as a normal ecosystem, recovering water by hydroponics and aeroponics. Though conceived of as being a means to locally source fruit and vegetables in cities or town, combining the concept with in-vitro meat culturing has the potential to curb the environmental impact of overall food consumption.

Reducing food wastage and the consumption of meat and dairy products is an effective way we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But unfortunately not everyone is willing to sign up for the vegetarian lifestyle for the sake of environment. In-vitro culturing gives us a chance of a future where environmental change is under control but the humble hamburger remains – even if it were grown in a test tube.

Kevin Daly

1. http://www.independent.ie/business/farming/peta-offers-1m-for-invitro-meat-26720454.html
3. http://woods.stanford.edu/environmental-venture-projects/consequences-increased-global-meat-consumption-global-environment
4. http://www.earthsave.org/environment/foodchoices.htm
5. Environmental Impacts of Cultured Meat ProductionEnviron. Sci. Technol., 2011, 45 (14), pp 6117–6123 Hanna L.Tuomisto and M. Joost Teixeira de Mattos
6. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-rise-of-vertical-farms