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.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Travelling Outside the Box




Ecolodge in Sweden
Image:
Everyone enjoys getting away from the normality of their lifestyle and visiting somewhere new (and hot for us Irish). However a lot of us are also interested in trying not to have a large carbon footprint. So how do we balance both of these things, so that we can enjoy our summer holidays while not destroying our planet? Eco-tourism may be the answer. This means travelling in a sustainable way.  It is any form of tourism that does not reduce the availability of resources and does not inhibit future travellers from enjoying the same experience. However is this really possible to do, especially with us living on a small island and flying being the major transport option to get anywhere?
In the past 30 years the earth has lost nearly a third of its natural habitat. Aircraft emissions contribute to greenhouse gases and tourism development, in the shape of new hotels and resorts, continues rapidly in environmentally sensitive areas. However all is not lost; the number of travellers taking eco-tourism holidays is growing three times faster than those choosing mainstream trips and is predicted to make up 5 per cent of the global holiday market by 2024, according to the latest research by the tour operator Thomson.
With a bit of effort, we can all become more eco-friendly in our travels. One of the main methods for this is limiting the amount of air and car travel, due to their greenhouse-gas emissions. Although this is not always possible, perhaps we should be trying to travel by ferry, train and bus instead. Along with this, there are an increasing number of exciting companies promoting new eco-friendly ways to holiday.
Eco Tourism Ireland is one such company for those wanting to holiday right on our own soil. Their belief is to actively contribute to the conservation of local biodiversity and cultural heritage, and ensure that steps have been taken to minimise impact on local nature and culture. Going further abroad, companies such as Responsible Travel can find you an eco holiday which could include staying in tree houses in the Isle of Wight to living in a tepee in Tasmania. If it interests you even more, perhaps a holiday dedicated to conservation would be right for you, such as working on an organic farm in South Africa or rescuing animals in Ecuador. The options are limitless.
So next time you’re thinking about what you’d like to do for your next holiday, think outside the box rather than going for the usual pool-side holiday in Spain. Do something different, make new, exciting memories and care for the earth.
Sinéad Barrett

Monday, March 25, 2013

How Far Would You Go for Your Food?

When I went to university for the first time in the autumn of 2010, I was moving from a small upscale New England town, to the edge of a struggling impoverished city. Before university, I was used to having everything that I needed. I didn’t think about what I ate or where it came from beyond “this is what my mom is making for me” and “food comes from the grocery store.” Then I was introduced to the city of Baltimore.
Baltimore is a struggling city, with nearly 30% of its population below the national poverty line. Supermarket gaps, areas where there are no supermarkets because chain stores won’t do business in low-income areas, are prevalent. Many citizens of the city have little or no access to healthy foods like fruits and vegetables. Instead they are forced to eat fast food every day.
The Real Food Farm, Baltimore
Image: http://www.realfoodfarm.org/
As depressing as it was to learn this, it came to me in a context which was wonderful. I was introduced to The Real Food Farm, which is part of a movement in Baltimore to provide residents access to local foods, and to create community gardens where residents can grow their own food.
This movement is not limited to Baltimore. It is one cropping all over the United States and the world. Many are aware that “supermarket food” in the US is getting dangerously out of hand. Packed with preservatives, toxins, GMO’s, and additives, much of this “food” is bad for the environment and for people. Locally grown food, on the other hand, is fresh, healthy, good for the environment and good for the local economy.
Eating locally has a huge impact on the environment. First off, the average American meal travels 1500 miles from farm to plate. Assuming the food is driven by a typical 18-wheeler, that’s about 188 gallons (711 liters) of petrol per trip, and that’s only one-way. Much of the food is also shipped by airplane, which releases massive amounts of carbon emissions. On the other hand, those able to eat locally only have to drive a short distance, or they can even take the bus or walk. The bottom line is, if large amounts of people were able to start eating locally, there would be huge savings in the non-renewable resource department.
There’s also the matter of packaging. Shipping food long distances means packing of each individual item, which requires plastics, aluminum, etc. It also means packaging of the foods in bulk, and use of refrigeration trucks to preserve it en route. Locally grown foods cut out all this nonsense and are usually bought as is – no extra baggage needed.
Growing local foods also supports the lands they grow on. Small time farmers respect the land, because they need good soil, water, and plant life to grow sustainable crops. Protecting the land supports local habitats, and promotes healthy growth of both plant life and animals.
Then there is the most obvious benefit of locally grown food – it’s healthy! Cutting down on preservatives, GMO’s, and artificial additives, while increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables, is beneficial to your health. Improving health on a large scale means less need for medical interventions which in turns means less waste.
In summary, growing and eating locally grown foods is a win-win for people and the environment. Implementing new ways to give people access to and knowledge of local farmers markets and community gardens would be a great step towards sustainable living.
Here are some useful links which I hope you will find useful:
  • A list of all the farmers markets in Ireland.
  • Comparing the “mileage” of supermarket food to food from a local farmer’s market
Megan Hennessy

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Buyer Be Aware!

Hiring a dress is a sustainable option
Image: http://www.cariscloset.ie/
When you think of carbon footprint you think about carbon emissions from car and heating emissions, am I right? Although these do make up the majority of household emissions, I am going to discuss other types of emissions that make up a massive amount of the world’s greenhouse gases.
People often forget about carbon emissions from consumerism. Our clothes are mostly factory produced with machines. In other to run these machines we need electricity, oil and other resources which produce emissions, not to mention transportation costs. These resources cause thousands of metric tonnes of emissions to be released into the atmosphere from all around the world on a daily basis.
Times have changed in recent decades as having the most fashionable trends is of huge importance, gone are the days when people bought clothes when they needed them and washed them after sufficient use (we won’t even go into the fact people wash their clothes after every use). Fashion has become costly for the environment.
Consider what you are wearing right now! Ask yourself how long have you had these clothes? Where were they made? Were you cautious of these factors when you were buying them? If the answer is no, you are part of a majority. Most clothes are made in factories in China, I’m sure you are aware of the “made in China” label. China is the world’s largest carbon emitter and with no plans to limit emissions the number is continuing to grow. EU regulations limit carbons emissions and large industrial companies pay for emissions, so they produce products elsewhere. This is carbon avoidance!
We as consumers should be aware about the products we buy and were they originate from. We could also make the change by going one step further as there are many ways in which we can be more environmentally friendly. Here are some options available right here in Dublin:
·         Renting: If you are only going to wear/use something once, renting is a great option you are not only saving emissions but being more cost effective too. Cari’s closet rents dresses from high street to designer labels and is a great example of renting for those special occasions ladies.
·         Reuse/Recycle: Charity shops such as SVP offer a great selection of clothes for all ages and sizes. Reusing clothes is a great way to keep your personal carbon footprint down, and doing a good deed too! I have recently stumbled upon a great selection of recyclable jewellery a brand called “Alex and Ani” (see photo). They produce their jewellery from scrap metal and plate them in gold and silver. A great idea that’s carbon friendly and very fashionable too!
Taking the small steps discussed in this blog would really contribute to help saving our planet. Next time you hit the shops think of this blog, think of the product you are buying, is there a better option. Remember to always “Be Aware”!
Alison Lynch

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Is cooking up insects for dinner an answer to increasing food shortages?

 Would you eat a seasoned and fried cricket or locust? Most of us would recoil at the thought. However, after a bit of research into enantiomophagy (the consumption of insects as food) it dawned on me how common it is around the globe to consume insects as a cheap and adequate source of protein and nutrients. Some of the most popular insects are mealworms, crickets, locusts and various beetle grubs, particulary so in developing regions of of Latin America, Africa, Asia and Oceania.

I believe that the worlds population today consumes and produces too much meat, especially beef. The raising of livestock is slowly but surely destroying our planet’s biodiversity and natural beauty. Animal livestock is the largest anthropogenic user of land and apart from the animal cruelty that takes place, apart from the destruction of native forests to grow animal feed crops, and apart from its contribution to global climate change, it saddens me to think of the volume of meat which is wasted by us in the Western world, while 870 million people worldwide still do not have enough to eat.

The consumption of edible insect species as a food source has been suggested by many scientists and others alike as a more sustainable way of eating. Professor Arnold van Huis, an entomologist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and the author of the UN paper, says eating insects has advantages. "There is a meat crisis," he said. "The world population will grow from six billion now to nine billion by 2050 and we know people are consuming more meat. Twenty years ago the average was 20kg, it is now 50kg, and will be 80kg in 20 years. If we continue like this we will need another Earth.” Van Huis is an enthusiast for eating insects. "Most of the world already eats insects," he points out. "It is only in the western world that we don't. Psychologically we have a problem with it. I don't know why, as we eat shrimps, which are very comparable."


So why is enantiomophagy a more sustainable way to eat? In analyses of particular edible insect species, it was found that ectothermic insects can have an energy input to protein ratio as much as 12 times that of endothermic vertebrates. Livestock also contribute hugely to the production of greenhouse gases whereas insects produce very little in comparison despite a higher relative growth rate. In relation to another environmentally damaging practice, some people argue that the use of harmful pesticides is economically damaging and insufficient due to the fact that the insects killed by this practice can contain up to 75% protein, while the crop being protected by their destruction often contain no more than 14%. This strikes me as a typical example of a human activity which doesnt make any sense economically.

I realize that it could also be of some concern that if insects became globally more popular as food, their populations may decline, a common outcome of human exploitation, such as with the decline of fish in the sea or threat to the survival of the honey bee. It cannot be denied however that farming insects would be a lot more sustainable than farming cattle or pigs.
An interest in entomophagy is slowly growing in the developed world in parts of the US and Europe. It seems that its novelty is catching peoples attention and time will tell as to whether it will take a stronger, more permanent hold or if the novelty will simply wear off.

A good website  ia all that is required to find out which restaurants are currently offering insects on their menus and if you’re feeling brave, it also has some recipies for people to try out. 1,462 insect species worldwide are currently recorded as edible. So why not give it a go?

Danae Wollan

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Meatless Mondays: The Difference a Day Can Make


As increasing attention is given to climate change each year, researchers across various disciplines are coming to a common conclusion: our individual lifestyle choices have a direct - and quite profound - impact on the environment. Specifically, climate change researchers are emphasizing the extent to which the food we eat contributes to our individual carbon footprints.

According to the United Nations, the meat industry alone produces about 1/5 of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions across the planet (1). This stifling number is more than the CO2 emissions from transportation – that is: cars, busses, trains, and planes – combined.  As a response to these daunting statistics, Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has advised that people begin to take action by limiting their consumption of meat as a step towards reducing emissions and protecting the planet from the imminent global warming (2).

But is this feasible? Can we really expect people – especially in meat-loving countries like the US and across the EU – to reduce their meat consumption? The answer is yes, and it is a phenomenon that has already infiltrated societies across the globe. The way in which thousands of people are consciously reducing their carbon footprint is by going vegetarian – but for just one day each week. This idea of a “meatless Monday”, as it is commonly referred to in the US, is part of a public awareness campaign in which individuals pledge to go one day a week without consuming meat. Councilwoman Jan Perry, who helped promote the meatless Monday initiative in L.A., explains that by going meatless one day each week, “you can reduce your carbon footprint by over eight pounds per day…save half a gallon of gasoline per day; reduce your saturated fat intake by 15 percent (per meatless meal); and reduce your risk of heart disease by 19 percent,” (3).  So not only does Meatless Monday help the environment, but it is also presents numerous health benefits.  

While the concept of Meatless Mondays began in the US, the idea of going meatless one day a week is occurring in various countries. Meat-free days have taken off in Ghent, Belgium, where the entire city now goes vegetarian each Thursday. Similarly, in the UK, Brazil, and Australia meatless days are gaining increasing popularity.

Meatless Monday’s are a simple step towards living a more sustainable lifestyle. So why not give it a try? Not only is eating vegetarian better for your health and the health of the environment, it is also a fun way to step out of your comfort zone. Whether it means trying a new recipe or ordering something you never have when out at a restaurant, going veg can be fun and exciting – plus, it’s only one day of the week!

Emily Collette
(1) http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/sep/07/food.foodanddrink
(2) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7600005.stm
(3) http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2012/11/meatless-mondays-as-a-program-for-environmental-stability-and-public-health

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Turn off that tap!


Although the concept of water conservation seems a daunting and impossible task, as the Tesco motto states- “every little helps”. With fresh water supply contributing to only 3% of total global water resources, the idea of domestic water conservation by individuals can make a significant difference. And with the introduction of water charges in Ireland next year, never has there been a better time to use our water more wisely- especially since these charges could result in an annual household charge of €370 (euro). On a survey carried out by world water day, 9 out of 10 Irish people were oblivious to how much water they consume - extraordinarily this number has been estimated at over 150 litres a day. So how can one person expend so much?
Ponder these points:
·         One bath can use up to 50 litres of water
·         A toilet that is flushed 5-6 times a day uses 40 litres of water
·         8 litres of water is wasted each minute a tap is left on
·         A dishwasher uses around 18 litres of water per wash
·         A washing machine uses over 20 litres of water per wash

From the above findings, provided by
water use it wisely, it is apparent that everyday processes can cause this incredible accumulation of water wastage. As a result I decided to spend a day attempting to minimize my water usage to around 50 litres. Straight away I knew this task was going to be difficult and that I would have to utilise my water sensibly. To begin, I normally spend at least 6 minutes in the shower so I quickly realised if I was to stay within my limit I would have to face the day without my morning shower- a terrifying thought. Also I knew by flushing the toilet 5-6 times a day I would nearly reach my target so there would have to be great consideration into how to reduce this-much to my roommates despair. Here is my account of the day:
·         Breakfast- porridge made with a cup of water and tea = 0.2 litres
·         Drinking water- 3 litres
·         Brushing teeth with tap off = 2 litres
·         Washing hands throughout the day = 2 litres
·         Flushing toilet 3 times (it was a challenge) = 24 litres
·         Dinner- boiled rice with grilled chicken = 1.2 litres
·         Dishwasher put on at end of day= 18 litres

Total consumption = 50.5 litres

While water conservation cannot happen without consideration, it is not an impossible task. I was successfully able to decrease my water usage to around 50 litres. Although this may not be feasible everyday (a shower is essential now and again, clothes need to be washed ect.), it shows that huge cut backs are possible. I found a few simple solutions can reduce water consumption particularly in individuals. By minimizing shower time to two or three minute (which none of us want to do) you can save up to 60 litres per shower. By installing water-efficient dual flush toilet you can reduce water use by 2 litres per flush (on a full flush) and by 4 litres per flush (on a reduced flush). Another aspect that I had not considered before this was turning off the tap while brushing your teeth- such a simple task that can limit water wastage to 2 litres a day. Granting that reducing water usage to less than 50 litres a day is a very hard task, there is still a lot to be said for the amount we can save- so come on… turn off that tap!

Shauna Quinn

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Adjusting to a 'Greener Lifestyle'

I never realized how different two countries and cultures could be until I moved from America to Ireland. The food is healthier, the stores are unfamiliar, the street signs are in different locations, and the lifestyle is much more environmentally friendly. In America, I can enjoy a hot, long shower whenever I please, I can keep the air heater on in my house as often as I like, and I can drive my car wherever I want without considering the impact on the environment. It only took about 30 minutes of life in Ireland for me to realize: I cannot live like an American anymore.

Upon my arrival at my apartment in Ireland, the landlord immediately explained the electricity system to me. I was handed six electricity cards- these cards are equipped with 20 Euros worth of electricity credits each. The cards are plugged one at a time into an electricity box located directly next to the front door. This box calculates how much electricity you use and it reduces the amount of Euros on the card simultaneously. In America, this pay as you go system is completely unheard of. In order to adjust to this new lifestyle, I only keep my room heater on for approximately 60 minutes a day, I only charge my electronics when they are incredibly low on battery, I always unplug all appliances when they are not in use, and I rely on sunlight to illuminate my room more often than the light switch. As a result, I find myself wearing warmer clothes, spending more time in public places, and cooking my food as quickly as possible.

The hardest adjustment I think any American has to overcome when moving to Ireland is the use of the immersion heater. Electric Ireland defines an immersion heater as, “a convenient way to heat water as they allow you to heat as much or as little water as you need”. The immersion heater simply has two switches: on/off and sink/bath. In order to take a hot shower, you must turn the heater to on and bath and then wait an entire hour before you can get into the shower. Once in the shower, you must wash your hair and body fairly quickly before the hot water turns cold. After your shower is complete, it is important to remember to turn the immersion heater off or else your electricity cards will be additionally charged. I certainly miss being able to wake up in the morning and instantly enjoy a long, hot shower, but I developed a huge appreciation for how conscious the Irish are of their electricity use.

According to the Central Intelligence Agency, the United States of America generates a total of 3.75 trillion kilowatt-hours annually and Ireland generates 26.1 billion kilowatt-hours annually (2). Dividing both of these numbers by the total population of each country concludes that the average American uses 11,948 kilowatt-hours annually and the average Irish citizen uses only 5,527 annually. This difference is extraordinary. Living in Ireland has certainly made me more conscious of my personal energy consumption and water use. Although it was difficult to adjust at first, I now realize that the Irish do it better. When I return to America in May, I plan to continue living the Irish “greener” lifestyle as much as possible.

Jenna Snyder

Thursday, March 7, 2013

100% Solar Sustainable Living


Solar panels powering the remote island of Tokelau

I recently embarked on a journey that led me to indulge in long haul flights and regrettably a bigger carbon footprint. Ironically, as I was sitting on the plane, contemplating the impact I was having on the environment, I found something quite compelling in the inflight magazine. Amidst the glossy pages of models and actors brandishing the latest perfumes and clothing, I came across a section explaining how the airline was contributing to different environmental projects and organisations. Amidst the two page spread dedicated to sustainable efforts, there was one article in particular that caught my attention. “The world’s first solar powered territory” it read. Intrigued by the idea of this sustainable haven, I read through the article and later went on to investigate the project a little more through my fervent Google searches.
The remote islands of Tokelau are found in the South Pacific Ocean between New Zealand and Hawaii. The islands are comprised of three atolls Atafu, Nukunonu and Fakaofo and are part of New Zealand territory. Recently, in November 2012, the installation of major solar panels in Tokelau was completed. These solar panels have been shown to provide enough solar energy to meet the electricity needs of the islands. It seems that previous to the introduction of solar power to generate electricity for the islands, imported diesel was the primary source of fuel having heavy costs on the environment as well as on the pockets of the local population. For the 1500 islander inhabitants, the move from expensive fossil fuels to solar energy has freed up a lot of money that can now be used for social welfare and other necessary expenses contributing to the wellbeing of the population. The fact that this very real and substantial method of sustainable living has been successfully implemented in these islands is quite an uplifting story, in particular, for me who has recently been exposed to the very real and harrowing consequences of environmental neglect. However I also had to ask the question; what impact do these small islands have on the rest of the world? Will other countries follow suit in the renewable energy efforts? Well, encouragingly, I found that Samoa, Tuvalu and the Cook Islands are planning to follow in the footsteps of Tokelau by 2020 by also getting all electricity from renewable energy sources. From there, my curiosities lead me to review some of the other global efforts for renewable energy projects. It seems that the blueprint and the intentions are in place for a lot of the bigger nations, but the financial cost of developing the projects overshadow the very apparent long-term benefits. However these South Pacific Islands are the pioneers and advocates for true sustainable living and hopefully the rest of the world is closely watching.
Joy Kennedy