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.

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

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Living sustainably without hot water

Last week an electrical fault in my flat left me without hot water for a few days. At first, I shrugged it off as a cold shower was unpleasant, and didn’t leave me feeling as clean as I would after a hot one, but this lefty me increasingly annoyed. As the week went on, however, my attitude changed. Washing the dishes with cold-water was difficult and time-consuming. So too was the work-around  boiling water manually as both my kettle and microwave are quite small. They were inadequate substitutes for a broken water heater designed for 4 people.
I noticed though that without my heater, I was consuming much less water. Showers were uncomfortable and quick and the water used washing dishes was kept to a bare minimum, because of the time that would be used getting more. Then, in the middle of the week, the electrician called and fixed the heater. I had hot water again, more than I could ever want.
After that, however, I began to think, in terms of water/carbon footprints, embedded emissions, etc. What had been the difference, in those terms, between the days without my heater and any average day in my life? The difference seemed staggering, the average shower uses 3.5 litres per minute, and with cold water I’d gone from 5 minute to 1 minute showers. The amount saved, 15 litres, was already one third of the water poverty threshold. In the bigger picture, this was negligible; not even 10% of the daily average per capita usage in Ireland. But this was where I could exert control over my water usage, and begin to approximate sustainable levels of consumption. I can’t really know the specific environmental footprints of everything I consume, and while I have time to boil the kettle, I don’t have time to do an in-depth investigation of every different brand of bread.
In the broader picture, the change I effect in my own habits is marginal: most of the (unsustainable amount) of water I use is embedded in the products I use - 1,000 litres used in the production of a carton of milk, 1,300 litres in the production of a loaf of bread etc. Maybe my gesture is partially an evasion. The real problems we face with water are ones of distribution. It doesn’t matter if I use 120 litres or 180. What matters at this moment is that I will have access to this amount regardless. Of course I cannot change this on my own, but through my approximations of sustainable living, a proportion of the finite amount of usable water on the planet (my savings counted for roughly a third of what a person needs at minimum every day) is “freed up”. If this was done on a broad scale, it would be half the battle in constructing a global society that manages, distributes, and uses water sustainably.
Cathal Murphy

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Sharing is caring

We all know that using public transport is more environmentally friendly than driving your own car alone, but it is also often more costly, time-consuming and inconvenient. So to make life easier, but still make a difference, we should share; share the car, and share the journey.
Public transport options are vastly more environmentally friendly than private transport options. But if we simply share the journey, then emissions are similar to public transport:

·         Car (medium-sized) with driver and two passengers (40g CO2/passenger km)
·         Car (medium-sized) with driver and single passenger (60g CO2/passenger km)
·         Taxi (medium-sized) with two passengers (80g CO2/passenger km)
So with simply adding a passenger or two to our car/taxi journey we can greatly reduce the carbon footprint per passenger, even sometimes surpassing public transport options.
The idea of carpooling for the daily commute has been around in popularity since the 1970s but popularity faded over the years due to the fall in gas prices, lack of flexibility in routes/times, and lack of reliability among participants. However nowadays it seems to be making somewhat of a comeback, facilitated by the internet and mobile phones.
Dynamic carpooling takes advantage of smartphones` GPS to determine the route, match up drivers and passengers and use social networking for establishing trust and accountability. A number of popular websites exist globally and in Ireland to enable the success of dynamic carpooling: carpooling.ie, zimride.com, erideshare.com.
But instead of sharing just the journey, how about going one step further, and also sharing the car itself? Sounds crazy, right? Well we`ve all been doing this for years already, whenever we go on a holiday abroad and hire a rental car. Only this time, we hire the car for our commute/shopping trip/weekend away.
By paying a nominal annual fee and then per-mile rates, 24/7 access is granted to a fleet of cars parked in various spots all over a city. The beauty of the scheme enables customers to only pay when they actually use their vehicle; no insurance, VRT, road tax, NCT are payable by the customer. In fact, privately owned vehicles tend to only have a 5-10% utilization rate anyway, so why would you pay so many extra charges to only rarely use your car?
In addition, not owning a car might make us actually consider our transport choices and choose the most efficient means available. We could end up walking, cycling or taking the environmentally friendly public transport options if they are accessible to us, and only resort to the use of a shared car when we absolutely need to, thus reducing costs and CO2 emissions further.
Some of the more popular carsharing companies include gocar.ie and zipcar.com. Customer feedback indicates that up to 15 privately owned vehicles are taken off the road per shared vehicle, either when customers decide against purchasing cars in the first place, or from selling their car. This amounts to a substantial saving in the CO2 emissions that arise from the production of motor vehicles in the first place (via sourcing of raw materials, or manufacturing).
Finally, whether we choose to carpool or carshare, the net result would be a decrease in cars on the road, thus reducing emissions, traffic congestion, and parking demand, allowing us to commute cheaper, greener, quicker and more stressfree
In the end, we all have choices to make that will affect our wallets, but also the planet we live on. So if we truly want to start thinking and acting in a more sustainable manner, choosing to share is one way of showing we care.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Controlling Wildfires – Sustainable for Who?

When people speak of sustainability they speak with the idea of creating a planet resourceful for all species, not just man. The human race will probably admit to being the leading cause of the disruption of sustainability so it’s fair that we also take responsibility to try repair it, not just for us but for all other organisms that inhabit earth. But what inspired me to write about this particular topic was that man is also trying to repair the disruption caused by other sources on the planet.

So what are the main disruptors of sustainability? Overpopulation, destruction of forests, burning of fossil fuels… all caused by man mainly. As a result of all these and many more, there is too much carbon being pumped into our atmosphere causing more disruption.  But we all know that and we are slowly trying to change ourselves to decrease our carbon emissions. Natural sources of carbon emissions however can’t change themselves and we’ve generously decided to also help combat their carbon emissions. But is this an entirely beneficial thing? Is this really sustainable for the entire planet or just us?

Wildfires are thought to cover 3–4 million km2 of the globe each year and are responsible for the release of 2–3 billion tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere based on estimates from previous years. I think everyone can agree that this is bad and due to global temperatures rising, forests are becoming drier and more prone to more frequent and larger fires. But do we really have the right to try stop these natural occurrences?

Despite the billions of tonnes of carbon emissions, wildfires do have their benefits, of which many species take advantage. It is said that fires cause the loss of nutrients through a variety of mechanisms however it has been shown that very high temperatures have to be reached to result in a significant loss and generally these nutrients are replaced by the organic matter left behind after the fire. Fires also remove overhead vegetation resulting in fewer leaves intercepting rain which allows more moisture to reach the soil.

It is also said that fires result in the loss of biodiversity due to the death of species caught in the fires. This has been shown incorrect in many cases. The longleaf pine savannas of the southern states of America depend on fire to prevent the invasion of deciduous forest trees whose shade eliminates both the pines and the species beneath. The diversity and abundance of these species is closely related to fire frequency. Natural fire regimes of the forests of British Columbia are important in maintaining a diverse assemblage of vertebrate species and different species have adapted to exploit the different stages of succession, regrowth and habitat change that occurs following a fire. Fires also cause the habitat to evolve differentially afterwards and influence how vertebrate species are able to use the burned areas. In most grassland ecosystems, fire is the primary mode of decomposition, making it crucial in the recycling of nutrients. There are also many plant species that depend on fires to instigate the germination of their seeds such as the Giant Sequoia.

Fire serves many important functions within fire-adapted ecosystems. Fire plays an important role in nutrient cycling, diversity maintenance and habitat structure. The suppression of fire can lead to unforeseen changes in ecosystems that often adversely affect the plants, animals and humans that depend upon that habitat. So with all that in mind, is controlling wildfires creating sustainability for all or are we just looking at the smaller picture?
Alice Kennedy

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Source: http://kscst.org.in/
Last weekend I had the pleasure of looking out the window to endless hours of rain. It dawned on me that each house in my estate was failing to take advantage of  the potential savings to be made from the water falling from the sky. Out of shear boredom I decided to collect the rainwater in an old oil drum and then a few days later use this water to water the flower beds in the garden with a jerry can. Although it was unnecessary as the garden was saturated from the previous few days of rain, I carried out the task in order to evaluate the practicality of collecting rain water in order to utilise it for mundane water consuming tasks, such as watering the flowers. Not to my surprise, there were ample amounts of water for the plants and even a bit to spare.
This set me thinking of how feasible would it be to construct a water collecting unit in my back garden (possibly on the shed roof to take advantage of the forces of gravity), to which one could attach a hose pipe (I believe jerry cans to be a bit out dated) and hey presto you have a free water source. This may seem totally irrelevant at present but when water meters are introduced, and money is leaking from that external back garden tap then we will see the method in the madness.
The idea of collecting rainwater in order to use for mundane tasks extends beyond your mother’s flower bed (or even your own). There is no reason why rainwater can’t be used to wash a car, fill a water balloon or even clean the decking. It is evident that more sustainable methods of consumption (in this case for water consumption) exist all around us, it just requires a little ingenuity and innovation to realise a more practical and sustainable way of life.
When I eventually got around to researching “rain harvesting”, as it turned out to be called, I discovered that there already exists numerous companies providing such services (below are links to some of their websites). However, such companies appear to be under the radar with regards to public interests. No doubt this will change with some clever marketing post the introduction of water meters to Irish households in the near future.
To give some gravitas to my argument, the following quote taken from the Irish Water Treatment Association’s website, highlights, in my view, the necessity and complete feasibility of rain harvesting in Ireland;
‘Much of the water we use doesn't need to be of drinking quality. In fact studies show that 55 per cent of domestic treated water could be substituted for rainwater while 85 per cent of water used for commerce and industry does not need to be of drinking standard’.

It makes all the sense in the world, right? Even the ancients were at it!
Darren Morrell 
Some rain harvesting companies:

Friday, May 10, 2013

Reduce your carbon Paw print: Tips for greening up your pet

I can be green too!

In 2009, a couple from New Zealand, Robert and Brenda Vale, wrote a book called ‘Time to Eat the Dog?’ in which they discussed the devastating effect that being careless with how you care for you pet can have on the environment.  According to the book, the carbon paw print of a pet dog is double that of your standard SUV, making man's best friend the environment's worst enemy. Other pets targeted were hamsters, which were compared to a plasma television, and goldfish, which actually burn energy equivalent to two cell phones. With a few small changes to how you care for your animals, you can help reduce your carbon footprint by reducing their carbon paw print.

1: Adopt Pets
There are plenty of lovely pets just waiting in animal shelters to find new homes. As well as doing good, by adopting you are also reducing the demand for pets from mills, which have large carbon footprints due to their use of low-grade food (the production of which has high carbon emissions).
2: Recycle and Reuse
Lend a helping hand. Instead of binning your old toys, beds and accessories when your pet grows out of them (or just tired of them), drop them up to your local pet shelter. Not only is this better for the environment but you will also be helping out very worthy charities. You could also swap old pet accessories among your neighbours or friends who are also pet owners.
3: Pick up Waste
Instead of using plastic bags to pick up your dog waste, opt for biodegradable bags that break down in about a month – a lot better than the 1500 years it takes plastic to degrade. If you have cats, think about switching to an organic, plant-based litter.
4: Walk to Walks
Why drive your dog around to bring them for a walk? Look for parks and open spaces nearer to your house to reduce emissions. If you need to drive, try to carpool with other dog owners.
5: Buy them Green Goods
These days, eco-friendly pet accessories are everywhere. When buying your pets toys, look for toys made from recycled materials or sustainable fibres such as hemp. You can also buy hemp collars and leads, which are much better than the more common plastic or leather. You can also get beds made from organic materials or recycled PET bottles. Failing this, use old towels or cushions to make your own eco-friendly pet bed.
6: Be Careful about Food
When buying pet food, opt for higher-quality foods, which have used sustainable methods and are conscious of their carbon footprint when producing it. Take the time to read the labels on all pet food packaging, and look for foods that do not contain synthetic ingredients or chemically altered natural ingredients. Buy chicken and rabbit flavours over beef, which will also lower your pet’s carbon paw print. As well as this, try your hand at using up scraps of old food and vegetables to make your own dog treats. You’ll save money and also reduce your waste by using up odds and ends and not having excess packaging from store-bought goods. When you are buying pet food, buy in bulk to reduce the packaging.
Ailbhe Smith

Monday, May 6, 2013

The 21st century, The age of expiration!

I-phones, I-pads, MRI scanners, solar panels, computer chips, superconductors and spacecrafts, if I asked you what do all of these objects have in common what would you say? That they are all examples of technology, the age of science, products that are improving our lives and future? This all may be true but the answer I was looking for was that all of these products may not be around in the next century.
It may seem bizarre that objects that we associate as symbols of the future may not be around in the future. The rare earth metals and gases used to manufacture these products are non-renewable and are only present on earth in finite amounts. Helium which is critical for superconductors, space exploration and medical technology will run out in 25 years. Global hafnium supplies, which are utilised in the manufacturing of the chip in this computer, is predicted to be exhausted by 2017 (yes,it is the year 2013 now!) The screen you may be reading this off may be an LCD screen and if so say goodbye as indium, the main component, will be exhausted by 2020. Zinc...2037, uranium...2090, copper...2100...
It is disheartening, especially to me as a scientist, that the major advances of the past few years in medicine, nano-and micro-technology will probably not be commercially viable to expand on due to the lack of rare metals, that the recent advances in renewable energy such as hybrid batteries, energy-efficient lighting and solar panels will ironically come to a halt as the non-renewable resources used exhaust. But as well as being disheartened, a worry has begun to creep in as I consider how we are beginning to depend on these new technologies. 28% of helium supplies are used to super-cool magnets for MRI scanners. What will happen when this runs out in less than 30 years? Does anyone have a back-up plan?
We claim to be a caring species who are trying to live sustainably so that the future generations, our children and grandchildren, can have the chance to experience the amazing world that we live in today. Unfortunately, they will have to deal with the past generations mistakes, from climate change to ozone layer depletion and its consequences such as higher global levels of cancers and other diseases. These generations will need much greater control over their environments than we do today and therefore, much better technology in order to survive.
We need to claim responsibility, even if industries and governments won’t. Can more efficient goods with longer lives be designed? Is the recreational use of these rare materials acceptable? Awareness needs to be raised now if we have any chance of halting the exploitation and expiration, as I for one could not live with the guilt of knowing that in the future a sick child may die due to a lack of MRI scanners all because we wasted the helium needed to cool these machines in our party balloons!
Ailis O’Carroll

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Maybe creating an army of mini Eco Warriors can help?

Image by Art Revolution
The picture says it all, we talk so much about leaving a better planet to our kids, that we forget about leaving better kids to this planet. With our climate recently becoming more and more unstable, there seems to be a lot of concern and general talk about the environment. Phrases like ‘global warming’ and ‘sustainable resources’ are appearing more frequently in the media, so much so that we no longer take much notice of these articles.
Should we really be paying more attention to these issues though? Becoming desensitised to these common phrases isn’t going to make the problem go away now and it never will. It is our responsibility, whether we wish to acknowledge that fact or not, that this is our planet and what happens to it and its vital resources is down to us. But what can we actually do?
Reduce, reuse, recycle? Yet another common phrase often recited in response to questions about protecting the environment, which has lost its meaning for a lot of us. What about education as an answer? Education never seems to be brought up in relation to protecting our planet. We only end up learning about environmental issues when we already have bad habits in our daily lives. Driving to the shop that’s less than a mile walk away, throwing out plastic bags instead of reusing them or bringing your own bag shopping, leaving the tap running when brushing your teeth or washing up after dinner and buying way too much food in the weekly shopping, thinking that you’ll eat it all. Sound familiar? We all do it. We get to this age, living on this planet, using its resources without care like they’re never going to run out, purely because we have never had cause to worry before and because we didn’t know the bad effects our behaviour can have on the environment. It’s not down to ignorance that a lot of us young people have such environmentally unfriendly habits; it’s down to a lack of proper education around the topic.
Maybe if we had been better educated about the environment and its decreasing resources from when we were little, we would have different habits and different views now, at this age. It wouldn’t be a case of having to try and change how we live; more that we grew up being contentious, saving resources and trying to protect and appreciate the environment around us. I don’t mean to try and turn kids into mini eco warriors; I mean to better educate them earlier about what’s actually going on in the environment. What are the resources we need to be worrying about? Which resources are running out and what are the more sustainable options? Maybe try and make things like recycling and water conservation normal everyday things rather than a bonus, which is how they’re seen now.
Maybe if parents stopped worrying about infections and cuts and bruises and threw their kids outside during the summer to enjoy nature and have fun outdoors rather than letting them stay stuck inside playing with plastic toys and expensive electronics which are causing even more damage to the environment. Maybe if nature actually meant more to us from when we were little, we would be more bothered about getting out and doing something about environmental issues rather than sitting inside reading about and talking about global warming and sustainable resources on our smartphones and laptops.
Katie Smith

Photo reference:
Posted 24th September 2012 by Art Revolution
Labels: Anonymous Art