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.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Am I sustainable?

“Ideal” sustainable living
I have my own vegetable patch. I try to only eat food that is locally grown, and I never buy things that are out-of-season.  Any paper I write on is recycled, and everything I use ends up in recycling or composting. I don’t use a dishwasher. I cycle everywhere, and if need be I take public transport. If I need to travel I never take planes.
Why, then, am I not sustainable? Despite all of these lengths gone to, I still use more than one planet’s worth of resources. How can that even be? The truth is, sustainability is not just about individuals making a difference. Don’t get me wrong – every person has a part to play in terms of sustaining our environment, but laudable as it is, if it is left to individuals it is futile. For example, although recycling paper saves a tremendous volume of water and energy over producing it anew, the process itself is still incredibly costly (source: nationalgeographic.com). My life and my work revolve around using a computer, as do the lives of most others in the modern world – as long as Ireland’s energy production is reliant on fossil fuels, this is unsustainable. I can’t choose to only use renewable energy, after all. Every time I step on a train, every time I turn on a light, I’m contributing, little by little, to the planet’s downfall. Every cycle of the washing machine costs around 95 litres (source: wearefreeradicals.co.uk). The clothes I wear, the bike I cycle, these are usually made in an unsustainable manner. I mean, even the meat I eat isn’t sustainable (cows are one of the biggest producers of methane and other greenhouses gases in the world).
This is all a bit depressing, isn’t it? Do I simply, then, appropriate the blame on everyone else? Do I tell off the restaurateur whose business I frequent for not shelling out on an eco-oven? No, the fault lies at least as much with myself. We make claims about our contributions to sustainability, but by our own complacency in daily life that fragile shell of using “one planet’s worth” is haemorrhaged. Do I stop using my washing machine then, or even construct my own bike? No, because sustainability is not mutually exclusive of a high quality of life. Sustainability can only be achieved if individuals stand up and say no. If we want to truly be sustainable, we have to do more than just putting paper in the recycling bin. We have to band together and force the hand of companies, large multinationals, and ultimately governments that engage in unsustainable practice. Legislation needs to be put in place to force the hand of those who do not provide sustainable services. Renewable energy. Recycled materials. Safe and sustainable production practices. It’s the only way.
This is a bleak scenario and a steep road to climb. It’s not going to be fun and it’s not going to happen overnight. But imagine if we succeed. Technology, life in harmony, not at odds with nature. A life safe in the knowledge that this world will continue to trundle on after us, that we are preserving a world for generations to come. I’m not sustainable, not yet. But I want to be; I will be.
Killian Hanlon

Not just for Christmas, take permanent steps to sustainability and accountability

Actual sustainable living is often confused with the trendy, hippy style message of green living. Companies are continually guilty of green washing as a form of consumer conscious advertising, and a very  large percentage of people are only too happy to go along with this in an apathetic manner, leaving responsibility to someone else and half-heartedly declaring that they are doing the right thing. We can’t keep hoping for the best and keep leaving it to others, it is time to take personal responsibility.
Making the right choices isn’t about hardship and poor me, reaching towards sustainability for our planet is about reaching towards personal and spiritual sustainability. We learned in this course that on average Irish people use three planets worth of resources to sustain their current lifestyle. While third world countries remain in their current low resource usage per capita the plant is still being used at a rate of 1.5 plants, if all 7 billion people on the planet were to suddenly have the capacity for the consumerism of the average American this would shoot up to 5 plants leading us rapidly down the path of cataclysmic event.
It is rare to meet with outright denial of global warming however we need to re-enthuse people to the goal of sustainability as a permanent way of life, like a healthy diet, not just to lose a few pounds and go back to the overindulgence when the initial excitement wears off. Personal commitment to what our families need and less of what is just wanted. We need to educate our children to be mindful of choices not blind consumerism.
Suzanne Harnett

Ireland and Water Scarcity

As we pass from spring toward the summer months, it becomes more important that we are aware of our day to day water usage. Water scarcity is quickly becoming a reality for many people, the world over with the current forecast being bleak – it is predicted that in twenty years, global water demand will exceed 40% of its value today. Two major factors affecting the water demand are the increasing global population and the impacts of climate change. Despite this being a global issue, solutions can be found at the individual level. Becoming more aware of our water usage and its impact on the planet can serve to alleviate this issue before it reaches a critical level.
In a survey conducted by Ideal Standard, a bathroom furnishings company, the average Irish person was found to directly use about 150L of water per day through toilet flushing, hygiene and other such activities. This is considered to be greatly in excess to what is actually necessary to carry out such activities. Consider this in addition to the fact that water used for boiling, washing and drinking is all the same in Ireland and that ‘cleaner’ water is consistently being used for tasks that do not require such treatment of water.
Common ways to save water in the home are to:
·         Take shorter showers
·         Fix dripping/leaking taps and pipes
·         Don’t over-water plants and gardens
·         Don’t flush napkins or cigarette butts
·         Don’t let the taps run while washing dishes/vegetables/brushing teeth.
There are hundreds more ways to reduce your direct water usage and by everyone making small changes to everyday tasks, we can help reduce the effects of water scarcity.
James Condren

Friday, March 30, 2012

Is water a renewable resource?

Water is technically considered a renewable resource because it can be used over and over again and it has a rain cycle. However, it is only in the short-term that water can be thought of as a renewable resource and the sustainability of this renewable resource is questionable. In the next few centuries it is thought that there will be a severe lack of drinking water, and this effect can already be seen today but with less severity. Although there is the same amount of water on the earth today as there was when the earth was formed, only 3% of this water is usable and this figure is decreasing as time passes as more and more water becomes contaminated or polluted.
One of the main reasons that water may become a non-renewable source is the population growth. The population is expanding at a speedy rate, and this is putting enormous pressure on all our resources, even the renewable ones. As more and more people need access to drinking water, our groundwater and surface water reserves are being used up. The water is being used faster than it can replenish itself, and this will inevitably lead to a water shortage in the future.
In conclusion, water should not be regarded as a renewable, unlimited resource. Rather, water conservation should take main priority and we should try to reduce our water consumption in whatever way possible.
Blaithin Stack

Personal Definition of Sustainability - Jonah McGreevy

A system is sustainable and regenerative if the mean consumption is less than or equal to the mean output of the system. Consumption variance in a sustainable system is lower than output variance. Limited resources are sustainable to the extent that they are used for modularized, recyclable technology and infrastructure.
Jonah McGreevy, Genetics, Trinity College Dublin

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Saving the World, One Light Switch at a Time

Over the course of the 10 weeks of  the “Living Sustainably” course, I have continually wondered what this concept means to me. I’m still not entirely sure but I think that it means just being sensible about the choices you make.

If the recession has taught us anything, it should be that nothing lasts forever and you should live within your means. While this is true in terms of money, the same can be said of the planet. If we’re not careful, the problem may become too big to handle.

I’m not an optimist but I do believe that sustainable living is achievable. People who gear their entire lives toward saving the planet are admirable, but most people simply can’t deal with the hassle. I feel that accepting ways that you can contribute to saving the planet and changing things in your everyday life so that you don’t even realise that you are doing it make the real difference. Like turning off appliances and light switches when they are not being used has become so habitual to me that I am compelled to do it, when other people have left them on too. I do the same with taps, but that may have more to do with a song on Barney than environmental awareness. I now feel guilty when I throw something recyclable in the regular bin.

Just making a conscious effort to make a change is the key. Eventually even little things add up and make a big difference.

Ruth Daly

Personal Definition of Sustainability - Eric Conway

Sustainability is the long-term continuity of some process or function. In terms of environmental, social and economical sustainability  it is the endurance of the natural resources of earth at such a level that a high percentage of the species on earth can survive, while preserving the resources for future generations.

Eric Conway, Genetics, Trinity College Dublin      

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Personal Definition of Sustainability - Jasmine Patel-Bolger

I believe living sustainably means to stop unnecessarily abusing the earth’s resources. I don’t think this means depriving ourselves of a happy life but rather to teach us how to live and be happy without damaging the earth. It’s an opportunity to take a pause from consuming and just live.
Jasmine Patel-Bolger, Deaf Studies, Trinity College Dublin

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Dublin - Desensitized to Car Traffic?

Dublin has recently seen a massive increase in the number of people choosing to cycle as their main means of transportation. The short trips that most city dwellers make on a daily basis are easily manageable by bicycle. In many cases, especially during rush hour, cycling is a faster and more convenient mode of transportation. Bicycles are easily maintained with a little knowledge, and almost entirely recyclable. These and many other reasons are why Dubliners are cycling in ever-greater numbers. Unfortunately, city officials are far behind much of Europe in adapting the changing transportation choices of Dubliners.

While cities in Holland are well known for their bicycle friendly design, urban centres traditionally dominated by cars like Paris are changing dramatically. Paris now has bicycle lanes on all major roads, including lanes against traffic on many one-way streets. They also recently implemented a program where bicycles are only asked to yield at red lights to traffic instead of stopping – a commonsense approach that acknowledges the reality that cycling is closer to walking then driving. Dublin has two main tourist areas that are particularly attractive to visitors for one main reason – there are no cars.  We have become desensitized to car traffic and forget that we have designed our city around allowing the use of heavy machinery for personal transport. We need to raise our expectations for what city life should entail, and cycle more.

Jonah McGreevy

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Restraint of Hope

David Suzuki writes that before we can hope to adequately tackle climate change we must internalise the fact that “we are the earth, and whatever we do to the earth, we do to ourselves [1]." Yet ‘hope’, to my mind, is not enough of a driving force for the promotion of sustainable living. It is has an air of sacrifice and persists in the idea that the way we live, with  daily power showers and avocados from Peru, is normal. In reality, living within your means, within your 1.8 hectares of a planet that you share in companion with 7 billion others, is simply what is right. This to me is the meaning of climate justice, that no other human being, present or future, should suffer due to the greedy consumption of resources that you neither need nor deserve.
Our grandparents did not live the way we do now, nor do the majority of the planet’s human inhabitants from whom we rob  the resources for a gluttonous way of life. I say ‘we’ for it is you and I, who rob resources, not ghostly governments nor ‘men in suits’, a fiction that allows us to abdicate responsibility for our contribution to climate change.
This is not to say that we should revert back to the hardship and injustice of life before the modern era, far from it. Instead I believe with David Suzuki, that the chance is at hand for “opportunity, beauty, wonder and companionship with the rest of creation”, that the human capacity for intelligence and adaptability that has brought us to this dire future will see us out of it.  Yet, practical action and change will not be driven by ‘hope’ of avoiding catastrophe but the welcome of individual responsibility to leave enough for lives after us to be lived in full and pleasant splendour.
Sinéad Mercier
[1] Suzuki, D. (2010) The Legacy: An Elder's Vision for Our Sustainable Future, Greystones Books, Canada. link

Friday, March 23, 2012

Willing to do Anything I Can to Preserve the Planet (so long as it doesn’t cause me any inconvenience or hassle, of course)


Like most people, I have always cared about the planet on which we live, and been willing to do anything I can to preserve it (so long as it doesn’t cause me any inconvenience or hassle, of course).  Yet during the time I have been studying Environmental Sustainability, I have been challenged to look beyond the confines of my cosy, comfortable lifestyle and fully accept that every decision I make has an impact on the ecosystems and natural processes of this great organism called Gaia.

What does a truly sustainable life entail?
For me, it means having the courage to look a bit odd sometimes, to let others watch me in bemusement as I walk halfway across the Trinity campus to get to the nearest solar compactor-bin, rather than placing my food wrapper into the ordinary litter receptacle right beside me. On the occasions when I do chuck my litter into the more conveniently located bin, I have often been gripped by a sense of increasing guilt and paranoia as I ponder the ramifications of my decision and imagine landfills rising higher and higher, choking up the Irish landscape. I have also stood in the fruit and vegetable aisle of my local supermarket on more than one occasion, agonised and indecisive as I contemplate whether to buy the organic apples flown in from New Zealand or the Irish apples which cost €1.70 per bag, but which have potentially been sprayed to death with pesticides. Which is the lesser of two evils? As I have learned over the course of this module, that is not an easy question to answer.
Yet in spite of the aforementioned landfills, in spite of the massive factory chimneys that belch out countless volumes of CO2, in spite of the degradation of the ozone layer – in spite of everything that humans have done to this beautiful planet – I am not without hope. I still believe that we can pull together, take responsibility for our personal and collective actions, and heal this planet before it is too late.
Aisling Cronin

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Personal Definition of Sustainability - Eoin Mac Réamoinn

For me, sustainability refers to the practice of competent resource management, in a manner that mitigates and ultimately halts the overuse and depletion of resources. Anthropocentric tendencies and lax use of resources must be very much abandoned and sustainable practices adopted to ensure resources are still available for successive generations. 


Eoin Mac Réamoinn, Genetics, Trinity College Dublin

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Personal Definition of Sustainability - Ian Teh

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Sustainability is the controlled consumption of resources to ensure timely renewability, achieved by innovation of science and technology to accommodate increasing demand, and the conservation of depleting slow-renewing resources.  It must ensure the preservation of the environment and the survivability of the human race and its way of life.

Ian Teh, Electrical Engineering , Trinity College Dublin

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Personal Definition of Sustainability - Andrea Waitz

Sustainability means that private and public sector as well as each individual on this planet chooses to act, consume and make decisions in a way that take the limited availability of resources into account and respects the right of all people, present and future, to utilize these resources.
 Andrea Waitz, Geography, Trinity College Dublin  

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Some easy energy saving eco-friendly tips for students!

TO all you couch dwellers! I’ve composed a (short) list of some easy energy saving eco-friendly tips for students!

Instead of buying a bottle of water a day to cure them hangover blues why not invest in one of STOCK’s filter cap bottles? The cap filters water as you drink so you can refill from any source and they last 3 months! OR purchase a stainless steel flask which will significantly reduce plastic waste, I’ve spotted a few stylish ones going for less than 6 euro in T.K.Maxx and they will last you yonks!

To all of you living in accommodation or even at home begin to imagine the red light on your TV’s and electrical equipment like a Justin Bieber song...bad and needs to be turned off ASAP! Phone chargers will use of electricity when left in the socket even when there’s no phone attached! This will not only reduce electricity usage but also save you a few quid on bills!

For all of you who buy those packaged lunches for a quick bite remember how much waste that one sandwich contains! The plastic wrapper, plastic film coating the sandwich and the amount of carbon emitted in making that one sandwich and shipping it off to the local shop! Why not bring in your left overs from dinner or make your own home lunch, its way cheaper and cuts down CO2 emissions significantly. Or you could always opt for a fair-trade meal!

Thanks for the read!
Jonathan Flynn

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Personal Definition of Sustainability - Christopher Fennell


Sustainability is the ultimate goal of sustainable development, which aims to improve or maintain quality of life but in a way that is within the carrying capacity of the environment. Economic and social necessities must be met but at a level maintainable by the environment.

Christopher Fennell, Environmental Science, Trinity College Dublin