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Archive for April, 2011

Week 12- Building Sustainable Communities

Week 12 is over. Our lectures are over. The module Sustainable Development is over. We studied this module over 12 weeks, 12 weeks of a broad range of topics. At the start of each week many of us students wondered what some of the topics had to do with Sustainable Development or even with our Energy Degree. We quickly and repeatedly learned that no matter what topic was being looked at it affected and will continue to affect us and the world we live in. Each topic is connected and each topic connects to our lives and to Energy. I started with questions and I now have even more questions Each topic raised questions, anything I thought I knew is now open to question and it seems to me there are no right or wrong answers, but there are questions that need asking and thinking about. This questioning I found good because I was forced to think about the many sides to every topic and to challenge answers- my own and others. There is a lot to wonder about.

Questioning leads to thinking about taking action. The one thing I am sure of, at the end of these twelve weeks, is that we all depend on each other and on the one planet- earth! The earth’s resources are finite and we each have a responsibility to care of this planet which sustains us. We are waking up to realise that we can do a much better job of caring for each other and for planet earth.

There is hope – Building Sustainable Communities. “Sustainable communities are communities planned, built, or modified to promote sustainable living”- en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainable communities (17-4-11). Sustainable Communities start out through the action of one or two individuals. The ripples from these actions spread out like the ripples from a stone thrown into a pond and others liking what they see happening start to ask questions and follow the example.

For me a sustainable community is Cloughjordan. I went expecting to find a village set in the past. I came back hopeful and surprised- modern homes, pooled resources that make use of the best of modern technology and ideas. It is a living village that seems to bring together all that is good from the past, present and is looking to the future. As we went through the weeks I was constantly reminded of Cloughjordon Village as it seems to me that they have managed to create this sustainable community that everyone else now wants. The ripples from Cloughjordan are spreading to the local community and beyond with the Community farm.

In lectures this week we talked a lot about who should be blamed for all the damage that has been done. I believe that too much time has been wasted blaming and discussing how serious or not the problem is. Living in a sustainable way brings benefits to all- it is a win, win way of living. I believe now is the time to do something to try to solve the problems we are living with. There has been enough blaming. I believe that the need to build sustainable communities comes from within each one of us.

When a few individuals come together and take action we have the beginnings of a sustainable community where people realize we all depend on each other and on a common planet-earth!

Sustainable development can actually be divided into 4 areas represented by North, South, East and West. North represents natural world, South is social, East is environment and West is who decides what happens and why? Together this makes a whole way of thinking about sustainability.

A lot of what we do we do because we are influenced by media, corporate business, government policies and our want of more and more money. When we look at the happiness index it does not follow that richer nations are happier nations but I did find out that each one of us have the same basic needs. These needs are best met in strong, sustainable communities.

Awareness of the driving force behind our actions can help us assess why we act in certain ways and also help us to question the need for our action and inaction. Awareness can also help us come to realise the effect our way of living has on others- peak oil, climate change, hunger, food miles, pollution, global warming …….

We are consuming resources at an unacceptable pace and facing a global population that is heading for nine billion by 2040, so we must change or face a crisis that we will not be able to fix within decades. Leading Australian environmentalist Tim Flannery speaking in the Irish Times recently said “I am not saying that we haven’t got an enormous job ahead of us, but you would have to say that we are slowly starting to make headway with some of the biggest challenges that are facing humanity….. but if you look back 10 years I think you will see that there has been some enduring progress made.” http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/magazine/2011/0402/1224293326182.html (21-4-11)

Flannery mentions the Montreal Protocol of September 1987 which saw nations coming together to ban CFC gases that had been in use in refrigerators and deodorants for decades and were eating a hole in the ozone layer. This protocol was very successful but was helped by the use of colourful images on Telly showing the ozone hole growing larger every year over the Antarctic. Climate change is harder to identify and CO2 is an invisible gas. This success however is a good example of the ability of people to instigate change.

Lucy Trench writing in the Irish Times on Saturday 19th March ’11 reminds us that when Michelle Obama digs up the lawn of The White House for a garden she is giving a very powerful message. “The first lady tackles present-day concerns about obesity, healthy eating and food sourcing…. would define the identity of their new country.” http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/weekend/2011/0319/1224292565679.html (21-4-11) Michelle Obama also involves local children in her gardening project, images of which are broadcast across the world, giving a very powerful message. “ “My hope,” the first lady said in an interview in her East Wing office, “is that through children, they will begin to educate their families and that will, in turn, begin to educate our communities.” “ http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/20/dining/20garden.html

Our planet is ill and we need to act together to do something about it before it is terminal.

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” — Mahatma Gandhi.

I really enjoyed this module as we learned about a broad range of topic. I believe all that we have learned will help us with our Energy course but also in our own lives. We have been given the knowledge to help lead the way to a more sustainable Ireland.

Week 11- Law and Policy: Local, National and European

What is the difference between Law and Policy? Who decides what a law becomes? Who drafts the policies? Why do we need laws and policies? “A law is a rule or body of rules of conduct inherent in human nature and essential to or binding upon human society”- wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn (15-4-11). A policy is defined as “a plan of action adopted by an individual or social group”- wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn (15-4-11). It is evident that policies and laws differ at local, national and European level depending on circumstances. EU law dictates the way the fishermen fish. Before Ireland joined the EU all the water surrounding Ireland belonged to Ireland but once we joined the EU we no longer owned all the fishing rights. Local fishermen were not happy with this ruling but EU law is looking at a bigger picture and the long term good.

Are all laws and policies good?

It seems that, whether it’s at local, national or European level, laws come about because of a problem and sometimes seem to be drawn up because policies are not working. In Ireland an example of this would be the smoking ban. We struggled with policies to reduce the number of people smoking in public areas but as soon as it became an offence to smoke in public the problem was virtually solved.

Laws that are enforced work whether for good or bad. Sometimes it is necessary to draft and enforce laws to make things that are necessary but unpleasant happen. The Smoking Ban in Ireland and Charging for the use of plastic shopping bags are excellent examples of laws that were painful but work. Ireland demonstrated leadership at EU level in theses areas.

Some Public Policies pose ‘wicked’ problems because there is no single solution and all the stakeholders have different views on what the solution should be and how it should come about. An example of a ‘wicked’ problem for policy and law at local, national and European level is Sustainable Development. This is one problem that everyone wants to solve but the solutions are numerous. When we visited Cloughjordon we saw that the local community have devised their own policy which is a viable Sustainable Development Policy. It did not require a law but the community saw it as a necessary step to Sustainable living and now others are following this local model.

The EU started out in 1958 with 6 member countries this has now increased to 27 countries. Ireland has being a member of the EU since 1973 and in that time has had a big influence on Irish law and policies. In the early days of the EU there was no mention of the environment. It was not a problem back then….

The first mention of the environment came in an EU treaty in 1987. The start of sustainable development policies and laws was in “1987 The Brundtland Report was published by the World Commission on Environment and Development. It draws social, economic, cultural and environmental issues together and sets out the ….. definition for sustainable development”- http://www.comharsdc.ie/sustainable_development/index.aspx (6-4-11). The Brundtland Commission was formed because of growing concern about the rapid deterioration in the environment and natural resources and the effect this was having and would have on economic and social development.

It is difficult and time consuming to draft laws and policies concerning Sustainable Development because all the stakeholders have to have input. It takes a long time for policies and laws to come into being and we do not have time, the world is in crisis.
“This crisis is very real. If the global temperature increases and the sea level rises, there will be massive changes in the weather which will cause migrations across the world as well as wide spread flooding. In this kind of environment, new and rapidly spreading diseases could wipe out large numbers of people and the food supply could be threatened. These kinds of disruptions could also lead to wars.” http://www.rickdoble.net/world_culture/CrisisToday.html (16-4-11)

Assignment and Poster

Changing Global Population Affects All These Things In


Week 10- Sustainability Metrics

Sustainability Metrics are a new concept to me and appears to be about measuring the benefits, if any, of sustainability, not an easy thing to do I imagine. “Sustainability Metrics are tools that measure the benefits achieved through the implementation of sustainability. Measuring sustainability involves tracking indicators, or “bits of information which, added together, provide an overview of what is happening in a community and to a community””-http://www.centerforsustainability.org/resources.php?category=89&root=176 (2-4-11). It is very difficult to measure the sustainability of an area and its community, as the indicators used are and must be very broad and often intangible. Sustainability is often measured by comparing two regions using specific indicators but these indicators may not suit the two regions to the same degree. The difficulty in measuring the sustainability of two regions-Annacotty and Limerick City- was easy to see in Bernadette O’Regan’s lecture. Annacotty and Limerick City differed greatly in population and as a result the availability of services and access to amenities were very different. As population was one of the indicators used in this metric, it would seem that more information could be gathered by choosing a region with a similar population. The population of Limerick City is about “82,743” http://www.trueknowledge.com/q/population_of_limerick_city_in_2010 (2-4-11) while Annacotty has a population of about “1839” http://www.towns-ireland.com/annacotty-4th-best-town-in-ireland/ (2-4-11). Having said all that, I learned that both Limerick City and Annacotty are regarded as similar in terms of measured sustainability, which is not what I expected given the difference in population. It is clear that there is immense difficulty in calculating the sustainability of regions as it is difficult to find two exactly similar regions and there is no standard global sustainability metric to use at present.

While it is difficult to measure sustainability because of the enormity of its social, environmental and economic impact and the difficulty with choosing indicators:
“Much of the measurement of indicators has, at the end of the day, largely resulted just in the measurement of indicators. The actual operationalisation of indicators to influence or change for instance, policy is still in its infancy.”- http://www.cyprus.gov.cy/moa/Agriculture.nsf/0/61EF14864E9C2131C225726000351387/$file/Imagine%20sustainability-Simon%20Bell.pdf (3-4-11).

It is however important to measure sustainability in order to provide evidence that positive change can and is happening. Metrics are also an important way of influencing government and corporate policy development and opening debate on the whole area of Sustainable Development in order to lead to awareness and change.

The only sustainable metric I was aware of was the carbon footprint calculator. This calculator has a big impact on people because it puts a real figure on individual actions and is easily accessed on the internet and is easy to use. It is an example of a strong metric and it is easy to see why, as people see it as a Scientific measurement that gives a real result. When calculating our global footprint, Richard Moles, pointed out that a lot of science is based on theories as a lot of science is uncertain so there is always a possibility that serious underestimating and overestimating occur in these calculations. That said I believe that even if we get an overestimation, it is good that we are able to measure how we are affecting the world. It is a thought provoking exercise and can only have a positive impact on raising awareness. We can all go along happily thinking we are not doing too badly but using this measure raises awareness of our global impact. Even if it over estimates our global footprint, by for example giving a total flight calculation rather than individual results, this may have a positive outcome by having a bigger impact on some of our actions. The focus must I think be on individuals and the impact each of us as individuals can have when it is all added together. The Natural Steps framework uses the example of a football team to explain how individual actions can influence team results and make a difference “The Natural Step (TNS) Framework is based on ‘systems thinking’; recognizing that what happens in one part of a system affects every other part. Think of a soccer team. We can’t understand why the team lost the game until we look at how each player – the goal keeper, defenders and forwards – all worked together on the field. We won’t learn much if we just study one member of the team. The TNS Framework gives an organisation the tools to look at the whole team, understand the rules of the game, define success, and move towards it together.” http://www.naturalstep.org/en/our-approach#quick-overview (3-4-11). This kind of strategy is what I think should influence our approach to sustainable development metrics in order for them to be of benefit, we all must feel part of the team and realise we all have a part to play.

What comes up continually, for me, is that in every way our needs and our wants are far exceeding our planet’s capacity to meet these needs. It comes up again and again that the planet can not sustain us if we continue to do as we are doing now. In 2008 here in Ireland we became unsustainable and now that we have this information we need to do something about it, something that would shock us into adjusting. We need to be convinced that there are benefits in this for us and that we can make a difference. The ecological footprint is a good starting point as it focuses our thinking and gives each of us a measure to work towards. While each of us individually need to adjust so too do governments and corporations “as many governments and corporations still do not see that sustainable development can occur without impeding progress”- http://www.oecdobserver.org/news/fullstory.php/aid/453/decoupling_environment_from_economic_growth_.html (2-4-11). Sustainable Metrics can help to convince us all together of this and will in the end lead to happier people and a better society for all.

Why not measure your carbon footprint and find out the area needed to absorb carbon emissions generated by your home energy use and transportation?


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