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.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Eco Living, Ahoy Mate!

The idea of living in an 8 by 20 foot steel box is enough to get you a few raised eyebrows and ‘are you mad?’ comments. But what if that box was spacious, homely, fully transportable, cheap, fire and flood proof, fully functional and designed to your own taste whilst keeping your ecological footprint to a minimum? If that sounds a bit better than maybe you are in the market for the latest green home, a converted shipping container.

Taking reuse to a new level there has been an upsurge in the use of old, disused containers in to modern, quickly assembled and environmentally friendly homes throughout the globe. It has been estimated that there are up to 24 million containers that will never be used to transport cargo again and not only do these make great temporary homes for those in crisis (they were used as emergency accommodation for people after the 1988 earthquake in Armenia) they also make excellent contemporary office and living space (there’s even one down the road from me being used as stables!). One important aspect is that they are cheap to acquire in the first place. A quick scan of buyandsell.ie shows some for sale for as little as €1,600 + VAT.
The fact that these homes are making use of a discarded material already makes them smart ecologically but many of them have incorporated features to make them that bit more sustainable. Some containers sport solar panels angled on the roof and others have small wind turbines and energy efficient windows. Another eco-friendly aspect it that it takes very little time for the setup of these homes which facilitates less disturbance to nature and also that they are transportable meaning they are not permanent in that area. Timber is also not required in the way that it usually is for many other house builds. One company has designed an ‘ecopod’ container to show just how sustainable you can make them. The ‘ecopod’ has recycled flooring, a solar powered fridge, a compostable toilet, wall sockets and 12v lighting that is powered by the roof mounted solar panel.


If you think you need to compromise on the design aspect of the house in order to gain all these benefits think again. The containers can be piled high on top of one another, or fused together creating a manipulated masterpiece. They can be changed past the point of recognition or left in their original state bringing an urban renewal feel to the place there are also ones designed to disappear in to the natural background. The architectural possibilities are endless once you remember to think outside the box (a steel one in this case!).

Have a look at the links below if you want to see some globally inspiring uses of containers from skate parks to student housing: http://www.popularmechanics.com/home/shipping-container-homes-460309#slide-1

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Potential of Geothermal Power

The development of more sustainable, cleaner and cheaper sources of energy is being driven by the depletion of fossil fuels and their impact on our environment through release of greenhouse gases. Geothermal energy is one of these upcoming new sources that today is relatively untapped but its potential can be seen in countries such as  Iceland where 25% of its electricity and 90% of its heating is obtained from geothermal power.[1] This energy is derived from the thermal energy beneath the earth's surface that resulted from the original formation of the earth as well as the radioactive decay of elements uranium, thorium and potassium. On average one kilometre of depth corresponds to a rise in temperature of about 20oC. The temperature inside the earth melts rock and also heats up water trapped in cracked and porous rock to create geothermal reservoirs of hot water and steam. Geothermal power plants rely on these reservoirs to harness the heat energy to produce electricity by drilling deep wells into the earth and piping steam or hot water to the surface and using it to drive generator turbines.[2] This water is then piped back into the reservoir through injection wells to be reheated and thus with careful management to maintain the viability of these reservoirs  makes this process of obtaining energy, sustainable. Geothermal power plants emit approximately 1% of the sulphur dioxide, <1% of the nitrous oxide and 5% of the carbon dioxide that is emitted by a similar sized coal-fired power plant.[3] Geothermal energy has an advantage over other renewable energy resources such as solar or wind energy in that it can provide us with  a consistent and more reliable supply of power. There was 8,933 MW of installed capacity in 24 countries with geothermal power plants in 2005 and this has risen by almost 20% to 10,715 MW which generates 67,246 GWh/year  in 2010 according to a report by the International Geothermal Association.[1]               

The United states leads the world in the production of geothermal electricity with an installed capacity of 3,086 MW which is equivalent to the electricity obtained from burning 60 million barrels of oil.[1,4] This 3,086 MW relates to only less than 0.5% of the United states total electricity usage and shows how much of an untapped resource it is today. However there are a few problems that need to be overcome to promote the development of geothermal power plants. One of these problems is the high costs of drilling wells which can be between $2.3-4.0 million for a depth of 1500-3000 meters.[5 ]Another problem is the limited areas in which the conditions are suitable, which was normally  an area near the boundaries of tectonic plates. Although this problem is currently being resolved with the development of Enhanced Geothermal Systems technology that allows us to create our own geothermal water reservoirs. With most governments know realizing the effects of green house gases on our environment, geothermal energy will definitely be considered as a potential sustainable energy resource and may even be considered better option in countries such as Ireland where the development of a nuclear power plant will most likely be met with a large opposition.

Michael Rooney

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Recycled Art

The other day, while heavily procrastinating in order to avoid learning about Newton’s Laws of Physics, I came across an image when perusing my Instagram feed that grabbed my attention. The image was created by an artist known as Erika Iris Simmons who specialises in creating art using non-traditional media. This particular piece of art was a portrait of Michael Jackson and was produced using the inside reels of a cassette tape. I was honestly astounded by how recognisable and precise it was but the fact that it was made from such an accessible household item is really what got me thinking.

I proceeded to Google search ‘Recycled Art’ and was, again, blown away by what I found. More masterpieces including a chicken made from egg shells, a collage of a young boy made from newspaper clippings and even a portrait of Barack Obama made from old buttons and brooches greeted my laptop screen. Now don’t get me wrong, I know what you might be thinking. But I can assure you that I am not some kind of an art junkie who finds beauty in everything. The fact I am saying that this type of art is cool is definitely saying something! So, with further examination of the different sources of Recycled Art on the internet, I discovered an article on its benefits which again sparked my interest. I had not realised there were any benefits until I read this article which is my reason for sharing it in this blog post. I feel more people need to become aware of this amazing form of art that has been revealed to me and I’m going to try and expose it to you too while you’re here!

Anyway, in this article outlining the benefits, they talked about how using household items in art is not only
a fun thing to do but it also reduces your energy consumption. So let me ask you this: when you throw something into the bin, do you think about where it’s going? All waste must go somewhere; be it a landfill, incineration centre or a recycling centre. Classic recycling may be better than all waste being dumped into a landfill but that doesn’t mean it has a positive effect on the environment. It still consumes not only space but also man power and money. These types of artwork take all the non-toxic junk and make useful items out of them which gives something back to both the environment and the economy.

But, the prime benefit we can acquire from this is that it saves a lot of energy. The re-production of recycled materials always requires consumption of new resources which in turn, results in more pollution and less resources. By adopting this strategy of reusing household junk, we are minimizing the energy spent on new production which directly impacts positively on climate change.

So, if you’re in any way artistic (or even if you’re not!), why not try dabbling your hand in Recycled Art? It’s fun, unique and most importantly, eco-friendly. I’ll make sure to share a new blog post with you guys showing my attempts. Don’t hesitate to share yours in the comments below. ‘Til next time, happy sustainable living!

Aoife Mullally

Image Sources:
Image 1: http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/recycled-art-masterpiece-made-from-junks/
Image 2: http://www.wikihow.com/Live-a-More-Environmentally-Friendly-Lifestyle
Image 3: http://www.corvallisadvocate.com/2013/0131-corvallis-landfill-filling-up/