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 29, 2014

Ecotourism...creating a positive change

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 15, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Trinity College Dublin participates in first Intervarsity BioBlitz

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

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

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

 Dr Rachel Kavanagh