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

Monday, April 7, 2014

Ignorance is Bliss, but Knowledge is Power – the importance of education in the move towards sustainable living

I had always considered myself a relatively ‘eco-friendly’ person, enjoying time spent outdoors, despising litter and pollution, growing up in a countryside household that values the environment. I reassured myself that by recycling plastic bottles, walking short distances and by availing of public transport as opposed to driving a car that I was able to justify endless of television and laptop use, recreational shopping and an occasional flight to Europe for a holiday in the sun. In recent years I have since come to accept that I can no longer engage in the same consumption practices of the past without a sharp pang of guilt. The ‘you-should-know-better’ voice inside my head (that developed as a result of four years of environmental and sustainability-related lectures) now lingers when I queue to pay for a heavily packaged pair of shoes, or a box of fruit that has been transported thousands of miles from its source of origin. Education has indeed opened my eyes to the reality of my contribution to increasing carbon emissions and the associated consequences.

As suggested by the title of this blog, to me, ignorance was bliss. Although I was aware that my energy consumption practices far outweigh those of people my age in other parts of the world, it was a thought that rarely crossed my mind. Thus, for several years I was blissfully engaging in the unsustainable mass-consumption economy I was born into. Taking a rather Orthodox Marxist perspective, I would argue that the environmental issues at hand today are inherently interlinked with this capitalist system and that the current crisis of the situation necessitates a demand for scientific, technological and other developments to improve our current understanding and the methods employed for resolving these issues. This information then needs to be distributed to and understood by people of all ages, across all levels of society, in both the public and private sector. In short, we need education.

As my awareness of the extent of the global environment issues grew, I must admit the temptation to adopt a despondent, existential attitude was there – after all, given the magnitude of the situation, if nobody else was making changes what difference could I make? However I ultimately believe that knowledge, particularly knowledge pertaining to the effects of an individual’s lifestyle and personal choices, has the ability to empower and inspire meaningful action. The role of education in this regard has become increasingly recognised by actors and organisations across multiple spheres. Departments of Education worldwide and multinational organisations such as UNESCO and the WWF run programmes in support of sustainability-based education. Such courses aim to promote sustainable lifestyle choices and often take a particular focus on the education of younger generations. In August 2013 for example, the Irish Department of Education and Skills launched a plan to develop the ‘National Strategy onEducation for Sustainable Development in Ireland’. This strategy expresses the significance of education. It aims to establish sustainable development learning at all levels of the education system and to promote public awareness and create support for education for sustainable development. I strongly believe the implementation of such strategies, as part of a wider movement that recognises the importance of education, is the first step in the long road to sustainable living.

Claire Quinn

Further information:
Nevin, E., 2008. Education and sustainable development. Available at: http://www.developmenteducationreview.com/issue6-focus4
Journal of Education for Sustainable Development, 2013.  Available at: http://jsd.sagepub.com/

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/

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Seminar: Is biodiversity a driver in the health benefits of green space?

A  Special Seminar will be held on Friday 14th February 2014, 2-3 pm in the Botany Lecture Theatre  by Dr Jenny Roe, Senior Research Leader for Health and Wellbeing, at the Stockholm Environment Institute, University of York.  The talk

 'Is biodiversity a driver in the health benefits of green space?'

examines the effect of green space on wellbeing which is a hot topic just at present. Find out more about Jenny’s research  at  http://www.york.ac.uk/sei/staff/jenny-roe/


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

New look for Our New Climate website

Even in a remote part of rural Ireland you are never far away from contarils
Another year and another start to the Broad Curriculum course Living Sustainably.  This year we have altered the format of the website ournewclimate.com and hope to expand it further to support the course in a more direct way.  This year the 84 students on the course will be producing a wide range of exciting and challenging posts for the blog.  This year will also see the publication of a support course textbook for the course as well. So it’s going to be an exciting 2014.

Nick Gray